Halting narratives

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I'm off to Colombia next week for the latest element of a great project to look at entrepreneurial attitudes across the country – this trip is to present some interim findings, develop some experimental interventions that we'll monitor in the next phase of the project.

I notice that friends in the UK's first reaction to a trip to Colombia*, as it was to Rwanda, as it was to Ethiopia before that, is "is it safe?"  Now while that's a sensible question for many places, it's usually fuelled by the underlying pattern of narrative that they've got about the country in question – which will usually have stopped at the point that the country fell out of the headlines at some point in the past.

If you haven't heard any micro-narratives or news pieces from a particular place, you'll assume nothing's changed since you last heard it mentioned – but Rwanda is now 20 years past when you last heard about it, Colombia probably 15 years since it was in the headlines.  But without any evidence since, you're left with the narrative pattern that you had back then.

The same, of course, goes for meeting old friends that you haven't seen in years. "You mean you're not still living in that squat playing guitar?  You've got a job in the City and kids?  Who'd have thought it?"

And then, of course, the same goes for organisations – and the people we think know about us.  If people aren't hearing little pieces from us on a regular basis (but not too frequent), they assume the organisation has stagnated at the point they last had contact.  In that sense, a population's overall narrative of an organisation is the accretion of the micro-narratives it hears all the time – and if they're not gathering new material, then they've ossified…



*The second reaction to a trip to Colombia is usually "what's it like?"

To which I have no answer – the last visit was a  week of meetings and presentations

Arriving at Bogota 11pm after long flights, picked up the next morning at 5am to fly to another city, present, meet, debate, fly back to Bogota and be deposited at the hotel at 10pm, for a similar trip to another city the next day.  Rinse and repeat for the week.

And I fully expect next week to be just as hectic. We've got five cities to get through in five days! Don't expect any replies to email all week!