Staff Picks

Story Driven: You Don't Need to Compete When You Know Who You Are

Sally Haldorson

April 11, 2018


Bernadette Jiwa teaches us to be better marketers, marketers who insist on authenticity and truth, and so much more in the process.

When I write a business book review, I often start by collecting quotes from the book as though I’m clipping pictures for a mood board. I choose lines that resonate strongly with me, nuggets that strike me as more weighty, phrases that hint at the bigger picture. I believe every book has a mood and a message that hovers above and vibrates around the words and instruction offered on the page, revealing the deeper intent of the book, and that’s what I’m always trying to suss out as I prepare my review.

You might be surprised that business books lend themselves to the search for subtext and/or reading between the lines, but locating the author’s intent helps us connect with the heart of the author, and the heart of the matter at hand. Why did the author write this book? How does the author want me to read this book? All of these motivations exist for the business author as much as any author.

So, with that said, let’s try a thought experiment. As I collected bits and pieces from Bernadette Jiwa’s Story Driven, I began to replace the word “company” and its iterations with “people” and its iterations. To wit:

“Great companies have something in common: they don’t try to matter by winning. They win by mattering.” That becomes: “Great [people] have something in common: they don’t try to matter by winning. They win by mattering.”

“Whether it’s articulated or not, every [person] is driven by one of two philosophies. A [person] is either competition-driven or story-driven.”

“We’re used to leveraging the power of storytelling commercially to attract attention or gain an advantage over our competitors. … This attention-getting strategy not only sells storytelling and our[selves] short; it also means that we continually have to reinvent ourselves, with bigger and better stories, to stay in the more-eyeballs game.”

You get the picture. Jiwa’s Story Driven will not only offer you smart, encouraging, and insightful advice about how to market your company in a way that is consistent to the company’s values, but will also offer you smart, encouraging, and insightful advice about how to discover and communicate your personal values through your business. Bernadette Jiwa intends, I believe, to encourage us to locate and put to work our very best selves, both within and without our companies.

Jiwa warns that “We have created a culture where we’re not winning unless someone else is less-than or losing.” And concludes that "We must act in accordance with who we say we are and use our narrative to guide us to become the people who build the kind of organisations we want to exist.” Our souls, and the souls of our businesses, are what is at stake, Jiwa believes. And, as in all good books, the reader senses that risk and looks for the author to provide a resolution. It is found in the examples of those who lead with a greater focus on their values than their competition:


Ironically, the people who create fulfilling lives and careers—the ones we respect, admire and try to emulate—choose an alternative path to success. They have a powerful sense of identity. They don’t worry about differentiating themselves from the competition or obsess about telling the right story. They tell the real story instead.


Tell the real story, and you will find your true self in that story. That story will begin to lead you to make decisions that are rooted in your true self. And that story will bring you closer to others (customers, employees, peers, friends) who connect with you.

But telling your story is only a start. 


Differentiation begins by showing, not just telling, and every action should serve the purpose of advancing us towards our goal. We make better decisions when we understand why we’re making them.


In short, we begin to behave in kind. We differentiate ourselves by focusing on who we are, on our values and reason for being, and focused on telling that story, not on our competition.

The easy cadence of the writing, and Jiwa’s earnest intent, or conviction perhaps, about the subject of you comes through. Her Story-Driven Framework reads to me like building a house: your backstory is your foundation; your values are your frame; your purpose constructs your walls; your vision is the roof, and your strategy is what fills the rooms. (You can download a free PDF of the framework from Bernadette’s website.) And 60 pages of case studies of companies big and small, and the leaders who drive those companies, will guide you on how to apply the Story-Driven Framework and build your own home. She self-published this book, so there was no pressure from a publisher to add filler for page count beyond those 60 pages. The book is a quick and concise 153 pages overall. The concepts aren’t over-explained nor is every anecdote wrung dry, and yet there is plenty of there there to change you and the organization you work for.

Bernadette Jiwa very much wants to teach us to be better marketers, marketers who insist on authenticity and truth. But in the process, she also helps us become better people—the nexus of the two leading us to being better businesspeople. The Story-Driven Framework offers an immediately applicable methodology for doing just that. But the deeper current running through the book, the mood and message hovering above and vibrating around the words and methodology on the page, implores us to start that work within ourselves, and by doing so, to make the world a more authentic and truthful place, as well.

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