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NAUTIL

The Power of Narrative

The Power of Narrative

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What future do we face? What future do we want? What must we do to get there?

These three questions preoccupy us all. We can’t predict the future. We can imagine it and even design it; no outcome is predetermined and, as cognitive human beings, we retain the agency to shape the world we wan...

Defined in the simplest possible terms, a narrative is a story about something. Stories are essential to us because as human beings and social animals, we are storytelling creatures. In his 1938 novel Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his s...

Robert Shiller, the “father” of narrative economics, goes one step further, linking narratives to the decisions we make: “The human brain has always been highly tuned towards narratives, whether factual or not, to justify ongoing actions.”

The rich scholarly literature about narrat...

In that sense, they equate to much more than the stories we tell, write, or illustrate figuratively; they end up being the truths, or the ideas we accept as truths, that underpin the perceptions that shape our “realities” and in the process form our cultures and societies. Through narratives, we ...

Narratives shape our perceptions, which in turn form our realities and end up influencing our choices and actions. They are how we find meaning in life.

Our narratives have carved the paths of history, some down the darkest roads. But our narratives also bring out the best in us. In his boo...

This is correct: On most metrics, if we had to choose throughout history the best time to be alive, it would indeed have to be today. And if we had to choose one quality that powers the better angels of our nature? Imagination.

Imagination is a glorious attribute. When its infinite possibil...

This is correct: On most metrics, if we had to choose throughout history the best time to be alive, it would indeed have to be today. And if we had to choose one quality that powers the better angels of our nature? Imagination.

Imagination is a glorious attribute. When its infinite possibil...

Narratives shape our perceptions, which form our realities and influence our choices. The expression “failure of imagination” captures this by describing the expectation that future opportunities and risks will resemble those of the past. Novelist Graham Greene used it in The Power and the Glory,...

Ever since, the expression has been associated with situations in which strategic thinking and risk management are stuck in unimaginative and reactive thinking. Considering today’s wide and interdependent array of risks, we can’t afford to be unimaginative, even though, as the astrobiologist Cale...

Like, well, weird viruses or new climate patterns,” Scharf writes. “In the face of such things, we can simply go into a state of cognitive lockdown, flipping from one small piece of the problem to another and not quite building a cohesive whole.”

Imagination is precisely what is re...

For decades now, we’ve been destabilizing the world, having failed to imagine the consequences of our actions on our societies and our biosphere, and the way in which they are connected. Now, following this failure and the stark realization of what it has entailed, we need to do just the opposite...

With respect to the assertion that there are things we don’t imagine to be socially or politically possible, a recent book shows that nothing is preordained. We are in fact only bound by the power of our own imaginations. In The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow (an ant...

 Over the past 300,000 years, we’ve pursued knowledge, experimentation, happiness, development, freedom, and other human endeavors in myriad different ways. During these times that preceded our modern world, none of the arrangements that we devised to live together exhibited a single point of ori...

 Antique industrial cities were flourishing at the heart of empires while others existed in the absence of a sovereign entity.

The point is this: Prior to our “modernity” that culminated with the idea of the Enlightenment, there was an incredible variety of social possibilities that most mo...

If ancient societies did not obey any specific organizational trajectory or evolutionary model, why should it be different in today’s world? What prevents us from imagining different pathways and new forms? What is it that constrains our ability to imagine better ways of dealing with our problems...

 It involves creativity and an openness to new ways of thinking, plus of course large amounts of disciplined analysis and the prospect of a business or policy application. Otherwise, to paraphrase the Brazilian economist Carlos Braga’s favorite expression, “vision or imaginat...

Today, all sorts of people are engaged in elaborating novel and imaginative ideas, products, and strategies. They do so by developing new ventures, start-ups, economic policies, or mammoth projects and, in so doing, create and shape the future.

Their original ideas translate into narrative...

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that nature gives freely. For centuries, not only have we taken this generosity for granted, but we’ve also exploited it to such an extent that we are now on the edge of a precipice.

Of course, nature is not “free”; it is priceless, and a degree o...

For economists and policymakers, valuing nature and assessing its contribution to our economies and societies is a recent endeavor because, for centuries, we’ve been overlooking the fundamental role nature plays in our lives and underestimating the risks that environmental degradation poses to hu...

We need to treat it as such and in the process reconsider our measures of economic prosperity. Recent economic studies conclude that more than half of the world’s GDP depends on nature. It renders services that are obvious and others that are much more difficult to comprehend (like the work of co...

 As stated recently in the Dasgupta Review, “humanity has prospered immensely in recent decades, the ways in which we have achieved such prosperity means that it has come at a devastating cost to nature. Estimates of our total impact on nature suggest that we would require 1.6 Earths to maint...

The Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) is a group of 91 central banks and supervisors committed to mobilizing mainstream finance to support the transition toward a sustainable economy. It is investigating many bold financial innovations that could (and most likely will) one day revo...

 In short, alongside governments (which have a much broader and more effective range of tools and policies available to prevent and mitigate climate-related risks), central banks will adapt their monetary policy operational frameworks to reflect climate-related risks. This will involve the mitiga...

Imagining what form this might take and devising policy tools and instruments to get there is the task of the NGFS, and largely depends on how climate risks will affect the economy and financial system through a range of different transmission channels. The menu of options available is extensive ...

Some ideas go into uncharted territory, well beyond the scope of what the NGFS is devising in terms of possible policies. Creating “carbon quantitative easing” policies is one of them. It’s a novel, untested, and somewhat outlier narrative that already sounds familiar because it plays a key role ...

Possibly oil companies could be paid to suck carbon from the air and then pump it back into the ground; they could also be paid to pump water from under the great glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland, which are currently sliding into the sea on newly melted subterranean water slides. Of course, l...

But the good news is that with these new strategies in hand, even in our current political economy, awkwardly suited at best to the task at hand, we might be able to pay ourselves to do the necessary things, and thus dodge the coming mass- extinction event.”

This idea is far-fetche...

Klaus Schwab is the founder and executive chairman of the WEF His latest books are The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a worldwide bestseller translated into 30 languages, and Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thierry Malleret is the man...

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