Innovation Stories

Stories are a vital part of the innovation process. A good story can help you pitch or present an idea, or describe the way you work to important stakeholders. So it’s amazing how often people fail to use the power of even the simplest stories.

Innovation stories – like all other stories – should have these basic ingredients:

It’s tempting to ignore or gloss over the emotional content of business stories, but don’t. Emotion directs our attention to what matters and helps people remember the point you’re trying to make.

And you shouldn’t just talk about positive emotions – those stories are literally “too good to be true”. You can use a classic story arc to give your story that roller coaster of positive and negative emotion that will make it irresistible. Even a humble iguana can experience a story arc:

You’ll need to tell stories about yourself (Foundation Stories) but you’ll find it easier to keep telling fresh stories about your customers  (Brand Stories). Here are two examples of one company telling both kinds of story. First, the Foundation Story, where the company is the hero:

And now the Brand Story, where the customer is the hero and the product barely gets a mention:

Get used to telling customer stories in sixty seconds or less. You never know when you’ll be able to drop them into business conversations.

Here’s a thought: can the different emotions you feel during your own innovation process guide you to where the best stories lie? This is my attempt to map the classic Double Diamond of innovation onto a study of emotions and design thinking by Charles Burnette.

Ask yourself this: did you feel any of these emotions? Did you go from good to bad or bad to good? If so, there’s almost certainly a story there.

Rules and rule-breakers are great ingredients in any story. We are so utterly dependent on social groups to survive that we pay very close attention to moral values. If they’re transgressed – or upheld – that usually triggers a story. So if you can set up a rule in your story and then have someone break it, your audience will hang on to find out what happens next. Will the cheat be punished or will the rebel be vindicated?

There’s a brilliant example of this in the US TV series Undercover Boss.

Here you’ll find the worksheets from the Innovation Storytelling session, and here you’ll find a Keynote version of the slide-deck (minus the video clips).

Good luck. And send me the stories you’re proud of!


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