Stories as a crucial part of your innovation process, part 2: the fuzzy front end

book with a wave on the page to illustrate post on using stories in your innovation process by Cecilia UnlimitedIn the first post in this series, I talked about stories as products and indicators of your organisational culture, as well as a means of bringing about change. But as anyone who has ever tried to influence or change a culture knows, it can be a slow, frustrating and tricky process. So alongside bringing about change, what about the actual process of innovation from initial idea through to creating something new and valuable? Can stories help?

As you might have guessed already 😁, I think they can. Here’s how you can use stories at the front end of the innovation process.

  • Identifying opportunities – if you ask all your people or your customers what opportunities there might be for innovation for your organisation, you’re likely to encounter a lot of blank looks. Instead, try asking people to tell you stories about their jobs or their lives, and particularly any frustrations they experience: each and every story that emerges will contain the germ of an idea. (Not sure what I mean? Read my story about the water machine engineer for an example of this in action.)


  • Problem exploration and framing – Once you’ve identified a problem that might need solving, the temptation is to jump straight to coming up with ideas. In fact, it’s far more important to explore the problem thoroughly first, as re-defining it may point the way to the right solution. (This is even more important when dealing with complex problems, for example if you’re trying to bring about social change.) Gathering stories through interviews and observation can bring new insight to the problem and help you to understand your audience better. Build archetypes and personas. And don’t forget to examine the stories that influence your target audience’s mindset about the problem and any potential solutions, for example in the media.


  • Scenario planning to generate ideas – A tried and tested method of sparking ideas is to imagine possible futures, for your customers or your organisation. But for many people, it can be really hard to shake off the constraints of what’s possible now and think creatively and openly about what tomorrow might look like. That’s where stories come in: asking people to tell stories of the future rather than coming up with facts and figures liberates their thinking and opens up creative thought. (I wrote about this approach for Solverboard recently: have a read to see what futurist Nick Price had to say on the subject.)


The next post rounds off the series by looking at where to use stories at the back end of the innovation process. If you simply can’t wait that long, why not drop me a line? I love to chat about stories, communications and innovation.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Also published on Medium.