Which of these two movies does a better job of tapping into fundamental truths about professional success and fulfillment?
  • Is it Hidden Figures, where a trio of brainy scientists solve a huge scientific problem while fighting significant racial and gender bias?
  • Is it Soul, where a talented jazz pianist rediscovers his passion while restoring inspiration across the universe itself?
Okay, those are really big questions that we’ll get back to later.  For now, let’s just say that the films have a lot to share about the head and the heart; about science and art. I think my work in narrative intelligence and story typing does too.
When I first heard the term “narrative intelligence”—and found out that I’d pretty much devoted my life’s work to it—I was surprised.  The term seemed kind of wonky and cerebral; squarely located in the linear, left brained side of existence.

I learned that narrative intelligence was about recognizing and reading motivational patterns.  It’s entirely true that those patterns provide the structure and foundation for all the tales humans remember and tell.  Still, deconstructing something as sweeping in scope as a truly meaningful story into a cognitive pattern felt much more scientific and academic than the work I did helping build brands, cultures and leaders.

I liked the phrase “story typing” much better. Helping people and groups see who they were through the lens of a story type felt more creative, intuitive and vital to me. It seemed more about feeling one’s way into a character that could capture individual or organizational essence in a heart-felt, right brained way.  It was high concept in nature, and more like art.

I was completely missing the point.  And overlooking the real reasons why the frameworks and methods I love are so powerful.  

There’s no either/or here when it comes to narrative intelligence vs. story typing; only a both/and.  That’s because working with story and narrative is actually both right brained and left brained; concrete and conceptual; scientific and artistic.  And that’s exactly how people really show up and operate in the world, too!  Look at what actually happens in Hidden Figures and Soul:

  • The female scientists in Hidden Figures used their heads in working out how to safely launch astronaut Neil Armstrong into orbit—along with a lot of heart and courage to fight the considerable racial and gender bias that stood in their way. They were brilliant, but that wouldn’t have been enough to break down the barriers.
  • The jazz pianist in Soul was propelled by the passion and emotion of his artistry—and he would never have found that if he hadn’t developed his skill and capacity for playing in the first place. Great artists feel their music deeply and profoundly. They also practice it. A lot.

Most tools that coaches and consultants work with focus on one side of those equations or another, though.  There are instruments and methods to assess strengths and capacities; others to explore values and beliefs.  Very few address both, even though real people in the real world are shaped by the same dynamic combination of these that drive every beloved character in every story we remember and retell. 

The answer to meaning and motivation is yes.

Narrative intelligence and story typing help people see, understand and respond to what’s really going on inside and around them.  They both address two deeply meaningful questions.  Should we pay the most attention to our thoughts and perceptions? Or should we focus more on our emotions and feelings?  The answer to both those questions is yes.      

I should have learned this back in coaching school, where the training program’s core mantra was shared repeatedly:  Your clients are creative, resourceful and whole.  We may well have a preference for one side or the other—my Creator self certainly does—but we have to tap our heads and our hearts to be whole.  Developing ourselves (and our organizations) is about doing both.

The goal of coaching (and many types of consulting and facilitation) is fundamentally about helping our clients be whole.  Whole people and groups can know and leverage all of who they are; problem solve more effectively; see others in a truly clear-eyed and appreciative way; develop more resilient responses to their experiences; and much more! 

Take a look at the chart below and let me know if any professional (or person) you know should give up on one side of the pairs.  Together, they create a narrative structure that produces meaning, motivation and engagement.

Also think about whether you or a client needs to focus on one of the pairs (or one side of one of the pairs) to move forward.  The key to developing who you want to be or what you want to do is almost always to focus on something in one of those boxes.  It’s also the key to living your story and experiencing a whole-human existence–where you are more confident, resilience and adaptable, and where your performance power is aligned with a great truth of our shared story-based existence.










Also remember that while the framework remains the same, the shape of these patterns will ultimately be very different for every individual and group.  Okay, I’ll have to admit that I wouldn’t have had the mental prowess to get Neil Armstrong around the block (much less into outer space).  I would have had a much better shot at becoming a renowned jazz pianist.

I don’t share the same story types as those NASA scientists (they were Sages using their brain power and Everypersons fighting for justice).  I’m a lot more like Joe (a Creator fueled by his artistry and a Lover with a deep appreciation for his own aliveness).  We all have story-based, narrative intelligence-driven motivational patterns.  The difference in them is what makes us unique and compelling.  The common ground is what makes us human.