Step 1: Creating new narratives

I n the world of networks, narratives provide guidance. They convey knowledge. They generate learning. They create coherence. They reflect and spread the positive mindset needed for transformation and resilience.

When confronting a complex regional transformation, we often focus first on the regional narrative: The stories people share with each other. This step involves seeking out positive stories that are often hidden in plain sight.

Changing this narrative is often a critical first step in regional strategy.  The default narrative is almost always negative. Creating new narratives is closely tied to Carol Dweck’s  notion of teaching a positive mindset. Dweck is a Stanford psychology professor who has focused her research on developing the concept of mindsets.  Her work has direct application in designing and guiding new networks.

Years ago, when we started working with millennials in Youngstown, we encouraged them to develop a new narrative. After a workshop, they attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting and asked the board to stop talking about the steel mills closing down. “We weren’t even born when that happened.”

This small group of young professionals then went about changing the story of Youngstown. You can see their success reflected in the work of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

Here’s a good example from Northern Michigan of a region intentionally building a new narrative for its regional economy.

A New Kind of Conversation on the Traverse City Economy

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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