Stories as a crucial part of your innovation process, part 3: winning friends and influencing people

men telling storiesIn the first two posts in this series, I talked about stories as products and indicators of your organisational culture, a means of bringing about change, and as valuable creative tools. So in this final post, I want to look at how you can use stories at the delivery end of the innovation process.


  • Raising your internal profile

In an organisation running at full tilt delivering the day-to-day, it can be easy to overlook innovation teams, who tend to be more focused on building the future. And sometimes, that’s just how you like it – being invisible allows you to fly under the radar and do some things that might not happen in the full glare of management attention. But you don’t want to vanish completely, or before you know it your budget’s been reallocated and your team’s been kidnapped to do something else. Good stories about what you’re up to, judiciously timed and in the right channels, are a must. They don’t have to be stories of success – in fact sometimes they’re much better if they’re about failures, experiments and unexpected results – but they do have to grab people’s attention.

For example, discussing a piece of customer research where he asked an entire family to drink only sparkling drinks for a week, Luke Mansfield at PepsiCo says:

“More importantly, when you start to talk to people about the work their first question is, “Hang on a minute, you did WHAT?” Before you even tell them the outcome they’re genuinely interested because you’ve done something weird and mad.”

(You can read the full interview with Luke at Innovation Conversations)


  • Winning support

There are many moments where you might need to win support for an innovation project: at any stage-gate review, for example. Or the crucial moment when a project moves from the innovation lab to commercial development, and you have to hand over your baby to a whole new team. While facts, figures and charts are good to win rational support, if you want people to commit to your project, you need to engage their emotional side too. Get them excited, engaged and interested and they’ll help you take your project to the finish line. This post from innovation consultants Inventium gives a really good overview of why and how stories are the best way of getting that emotional engagement.


  • Testing and iterating

Whether you use a Lean Startup methodology, design thinking or a classic Stage-Gate process, you’re going to need to test your innovations with real people at some point. While gathering quantitative data is important at this stage, you shouldn’t ignore the stories your testers tell you as powerful means of gaining insight. A while ago I wrote about Martin Lindstrom’s book Small Data, which shows the importance of looking for insights from small anecdotes in individual customers’ daily lives. One of the customer stories he tells is from an 11 year old boy, whose story about skateboarding led Martin to insights that helped bring the Lego company back to profitability (if you don’t have his book you can read a summary on Forbes).


And that’s it – nine ways you can use stories to support and enhance your innovation process. There are probably many more: if you want me to help uncover and tell the stories in your business, then just drop me a line

Also published on Medium.