Narrative is the act of looking at an event, phenomenon, development and subsequently crafting a coherent compelling story around it, picking any variable deemed as supporting narrators point of view. But if sloppy not accounting for all important variables. Which is most of them. Like teaching English using only 13 of the alphabets. Most op-ed columns today are Narratives masquerading as Insight. Most LinkedIn posts are horrendously worded Narratives. As is the daily “news” on TV. CNN, Fox News. So Charlie Munger and Peter Drucker gush Insight, Tom Peters and Jim Collins sell slick narratives. Germ Theory Is Insight, Homeopathy is narrative fraud peddling as cure. Evolution Theory is Insight, Creationism is narrative bs aimed at low IQ victims. As Calvin below surmises rightly, most history books are faulty narratives. Anything overtly aspiring to be in the left circle below (Insight).
Took me embarrassingly long to arrive at this fundamental understanding : Most of what we read in books, blogs, newspapers and watch on TV is ‘Narrative‘ and not ‘Insight‘. Sneakily most Narratives are sold as the Insights while not being real insights.
Narratives are vapid hot takes and faulty syllogisms that observe basic storytelling tenets and we humans are biologically wired to seek them out since we went upright. Some are so good even the author is thinking he is dispensing Insight. Insight is more profound, hard earned and life changing. Something that comes from Second Order Thinking. And that takes deep time. Most informational buskers peddling narratives (think most columnists) are absolutely balls to bone convinced they are selling profound never-before-imagined Insight. It takes some experience to see the difference (it took me 3 decades to even know there was a difference). Low-Signal High-Noise environment is our current reality. Fake News but not in the way the tangerine idiot means it. More subtle. Narratives tend to be a damp tumid bedsheet clumsy writers want to lazily drape over a series of unrelated events (think most history books you suffered through in school) into what writers and talkers hope sounds and reads like a coherent narrative. Procrustean beds disguised as editorials and bestsellers. (“The Market today fell by X because of Y and Z”). Narrative is comforting to us homo sapiens. but it is insight that makes us so.
Made a resolution to read lots of longform articles a few years ago. Currently the 2018 goal is to reach 500. They need to be across all publications, on multiple topics and posses multiple points of view. No echo chamber bias if it can be helped. It slowly dawned on me that a lot of what I was and had been consuming was Crappy Narrative disguised as Insight.
Example – Event X was precipitated by P, helped by Q and made worse by J and now K is likely and there is a 40% chance S is now going to happen. The underlying reality could be totally divergent, unconnected and not even within spitting distance of the stated variables and odds. As long as there is coherency and style and readability. So think ‘In Search Of Excellence‘,’Good to Great‘, a typical magazine article or a NYT column. Phil Rosenzwieg and John Stewart made enviable reputations on puncturing a lot of these apophenias.
A minority of the narratives are superb and really help us understand the world we live in. Exceptional narratives since Illiad does exist, carrying 24 carat insights. The Godfather movies are narratives with great insights on business, family, decision making and relationships. Sadly, the volume of faux insights and weak narratives Niagara today dwarfs the trickling insight spring. Odds are this above essay is likely a weak Narrative on ‘Information Consumption‘ I am vainly hoping is strong Insight.
The maxim “Good Judgement comes from Experience; Experience comes from Bad Judgement” applies here. The ability to smell the distinction can be honed only by marinating long and hard in both forms early, to make sure later you are inoculated against crappy narratives and can sense them instinctively. When reading suspect material make it a reflex to ask these 5 questions of the info-peddler :
Time spend reading and thinking to get a insight is vastly more useful in life than time spent reading some simplistic narratives just because it is comforting and demands little of you.