Story: A Tool For Design Lead Innovation


Once upon a time there was a president who was known primarily by his initials, JFK. He and the nation he represented was upset that Russia was beating them in a competition called the space race.

Every day the USA and Russia ran against each other to be the ‘first’ when it came to exploring outer space. Russia had sent the first cosmonaut into space. Since that first was taken, he decided that the USA would be the first nation to send a person to the moon. 

One day he delivered a speech to inspire all in the land to dream as big as he did.

“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

 NASA and the government and many, many others worked for seven years to turn that statement into a reality.

Because of that they worked and worked and worked until one day, a man called Neil stood on the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Until finally they learned that all innovations start with a vision for a future. If that vision is stated clearly and shared with passion that future can become reality.

Does this story sound familiar? Yes of course it does, it is the story of the space race in the ’60s that resulted in the first moonwalk. A dream that has long fascinated humanity and finally one day became reality.

That is not the only thing that should feel familiar, let’s examine the story structure itself. If you have seen any Pixar movie, you would have seen this sequence played out –

Once upon a time there was __________________

Every day, ________________________________

One day __________________________________

Because of that, ____________________________

Until finally _______________________________

Pixar uses this formula to tell all of its stories. The character and plot changes, the structure is the same.

For anyone working in innovation, working within an established structure to produce vastly different outcomes should feel familiar. Innovation projects work with its own framework, it is known as the double diamond of design lead innovation.

Story is an core part of the design process.

The double diamond creates a framework for innovators to solve complex problems in a process focused manner. What if there was a structure of gathering and telling stories that strategically worked within the double diamond process of innovation? What if I could you that such a framework exists? But first, a story…

Why Innovation Needs Stories

Innovators are at their core of their beings’ explorers. They are willing to go where no one has gone before, to visualise a future that others would say was impossible and make it their job to make those crazy visions into a reality.

How do you make a new future feel real? We must be able to state our goals as a vision with a mission for the future. We then must be able to connect the dots between where we are today and our desired future state.

In 1805 the explorers Louis and Clark were looking for inland waterways to connect the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean in the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Their mission was to explore the unknown territory, establish trade with the first nation people and affirm the sovereignty of the United States in the region.

Every day on their journey they wrote in their journals the things they did, the places they saw and what they learned. This helped them understand not only where they had been, but where they were going. These stories gave their journey meaning. The mission included establishing trade with the first nations people, in order to do that we must record stories about the people they meet so they can share all of the important information back to the US government.

Let’s dissect this exploration into three different story tools that slot into the innovation process.

Using The Ancient Wisdom of ‘Story’ To Shape Our Future

Innovators are the explorers of the new world and not the new world as in Christopher Columbus discovering America. The new world of the future, the world that is yet to come. The wisdom of our ancestors is important for shaping our future. They intrinsically understood and used the power of storytelling to navigate the world, because well, there was nothing else. Story was the most powerful tool on the planet, and what guess what it still is!

Bold statement, but true, I will lay out the process below:

Creating the Future Ideal State with Strategy Narratives

  • Establish your grand Vision and Mission For The Future, when JFK declared America’s vision to set foot on the moon, he was making a stance to inspire the nation.
  • This vision is co-created with the whole team and ideally the organisation
  • This is critical to get buy-in from the greater organisation, it answers the question of what we are working towards together and creates the critical empathic buy-in is necessary to move a project forward

Building Proposals and Progress Updates with Storytelling

  • Creating simple story-driven content as opposed to a long report that is hard to understand, read and digest. Stories create accessible, interesting and digestible content. This keeps the team and organisation abreast of the changes as they are happening.
  • To motivate your team or organisation, people must see progress to feel inspired to continue through the murkiness of exploration. Remember the journals of Lewis and Clark? This is exactly the same concept! Reflecting on the day to day creates meaning and provides insights. What are we doing? Are we headed in the right direction? And most importantly the meaning behind why we are on the journey.

Gathering Deep Customer and Coworker Insights with Short Antidotal Style Stories

  • Check-In interviews with team members who are actively using the innovations in their work. This is key to chronicling the ongoing stories for use in reports and other updates
  • All explorers must understand and share learnings along the journey. It is impossible to achieve great things if you are not aware of all the details. Think of the level of detail that the engineers had to operate under to get to the moon. Without computers. Without the intimate knowledge of every step from all key players, they would not be able to understand what went right and what went wrong.

And Then What Happened?

According to master storyteller and novelist Neil Gaiman, the most magical phrase in storytelling is, ‘And then what happened?’

This a magical phrase because it means you have the audience hooked. And now I am hoping that you are asking the same of the process outlined above. So now what happens?

I will be presenting a talk with a special collaborator, Marco Regis, in Melbourne in June on this topic. I would love to send you the details and invite you along. Simply fill out the formand I will be in touch.

Or for a one on one chat, get in touch here, I always love talking story!


Why is ‘Just Do It’ more than a tagline, how is it a Narrative?

In this examination, I deconstruct Nike’s Narrative of ‘Just Do It’. We look at how this simple statement acts as a bridge between its external communications and it’s internal communication framework of Mission, Vision and Values. A good narrative does that for businesses. It unifies the vision of what drives people internally within the company and then invites their customers and clients through their marketing channels to join in that vision. This creates a seamless experience and places their customer center stage. Not only is ‘Just Do It’ a marketing tagline. It makes the Nike customer the main protagonist of their stories.

Narrative and Tag Line: Just Do It

Definition: What is a narrative? A narrative is an un-resolvable statement that drives a collection of stories forward.

Why is ‘Just Do It’ more than a tagline, why is it a Narrative?

Because it is a statement with no answer. It is open-ended and it is up to the viewer or listener to fill in the blanks.

Let me elaborate, if I said to you out of the blue, just do it. Your answer could be any number of things:

“Just do what?”

“For how long?”

“Why?”

You would have no idea what I was talking about.

But in the context of a story about sports or an active lifestyle, it could mean anything from –

Just get off the couch and go for a walk

Sign up for that Marathon

You can win this competition

The list goes on and on…

And that is the point!

This is how Nike has been able to use the same tagline for so long, it can evolve with the brand.

Simple open-ended taglines can also be a narrative. And a narrative is what lifts a brand from a product or service into a movement.

That is their external marketing. Let’s look at how that relates to their internal communication structure. How does the narrative work with the brand’s Vision, Mission, and Values?

A good narrative should be able to sit at the very top of the Vision, Mission and Values. It shelters them like the roof of a house and holds all of it together. Let’s examine the components of Nike’s internal communications structure and see how it relates to its external brand statement of ‘Just Do It’.

Vision Statement
Definition: A Vision Statement is a dream for a future.

Nike’s vision statement is ‘To remain the most authentic, connected, and distinctive brand.” The business continues to apply this vision statement to the way it tells stories and sells its products. This vision statement was emphasised in the corporation’s global growth strategy for 2015.

Let’s dissect the following words of Nike’s corporate vision statement:

  1. Authentic
  2. Connected
  3. Distinctive

Nike wants to be seen as real, have multiple touch points with their customers and be unique. This mission statement also uses the word, remain. This is key in understanding that they already see themselves as the market leader and in the vision for the company’s future they are going to continue to hold their space.

A good vision statement should represent an ideal future, a place that cannot be reached and should always be strived for.

Mission Statement
Definition: A mission statement reflects the day to day strategic plans that a company or business makes to continually move towards their view for the future represented in the vision statement.

Nike Inc.’s corporate mission is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” The company further states that everybody is an athlete, based on Nike founder Bill Bowerman’s statement, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” This mission statement represents the company’s strategic goal of reaching out to the global leisure and sports footwear, apparel and equipment market. The following main components are in Nike’s corporate mission statement:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Innovation
  3. Every athlete in the world

It is important here to note what has been left out. They do not mention footwear, apparel, and equipment anywhere. This is a wise strategic move if they wish to provide services in addition to products in the future. For example, smart sportswear with monitoring and feedback through software may be a core service in Nike’s future.

The point here is that there is room to grow and move.

A good mission and vision statement should not be revised every year. It should have enough room to grow so it stays true for the foreseeable future. It should be as short as possible so it is easy to remember and repeat.

For a business to be a truly powerful communicator it must co-create their future with their clients and customers, a cohesive narrative is what holds it all together.

The question now is does ‘Just Do It’ sit cohesively at the top of the framework we just explored? I would answer yes. ‘Just Do It’ does encourage authenticity and connection. If we look at the Vision statement it is inspirational and does provide room for innovation.

Want to learn more about how your business narrative can work for you? Get in touch for a free consultation.

Who Is The Mysterious Lady?

There was nothing unusual about the small wooden pipe except for a tiny glass rectangle protruding from the bottom of its bowl. This piece of glass is so small it could be easily missed. For those who don’t miss it will see a black and white image if they press their eye against it at just the right angle. A magnified image of a woman wearing a peasant style dress with loose dark waves of hair around her face sits within a gold frame.

The woman in the image has a slight smile on her relaxed lips, not unlike that of another mysterious famous lady, The Mona Lisa.

How can one compare the Mona Lisa to a miniature photo of a peasant woman magnified on the bottom of a pipe? The similarity lies not in what it is, but what it represents.

The image in the tiny glass window the size of a hole in a large knitting needle is fascinating. Who was this woman? Was she the wife, daughter or lover of the pipe’s owner? And who was the skilled crafts person who created such a small and perfect magnified glass image on the bottom of this pipe?

This is something that I am not ever likely to find out. That is what makes this story great. It is a mystery with more questions than answers. This pipe and its hidden treasure are very old and the woman, the pipe’s creator and the original owner are all long gone.

A good story does not have all of the answers. A good story leaves something for the imagination of the reader to insert his or her own interpretation into. A story that asks questions allows the audience to create their own meaning in the story.

Who is the lady in the pipe? Who do you think she is? Tell me in a comment below!

Is Your Message Intuitive?

Creativity is a byproduct of our intuition. Free flowing expression feels good because it comes from a place that is not governed by rules.

When creating a message for social media, a blog post or any other type of communication our connection with our own intuition is powerful. Understanding what we feel connected to is a creative way to produce content that matters.

There are analytics and algorithms galore, but they cannot replace good old fashion empathy.

If something is important to you, it will be important to other people as well.

Communication is a delicate balance of give and take. It is about listening and speaking. Explore what you already have inside of yourself and then show it to your community.

There is power in the insights you gather from yourself!

Let Go To Let Come

Letting go to let come. Letting go of something that you have created and love can be hard. Remember, letting go doesn’t mean gone. Letting go is making room. We only have so much time and attention in our lives. And sometimes the best thing to do is to set something free so someone else can look after it. This letting go allows more come into your life. Take for example, writing a song. If this song is never performed it means that no one will ever be able to give it back to you. If you perform it, other people will hear it and absorb parts of it as their own. They in turn may sing it and give something of themselves to it. This interpretation of your work transforms it into something you could never imagine. It also creates a connection that wasn’t there before.

That doesn’t mean you should give everything you have away. Certainly protect what must stay with you. We all have to own things. Just be mindful to never hold anything so close that it can never change. Let it get out there, experience and experiment and come back to you a little bit older and wiser! Layers of meaning come from a variety of sources, and creates a deeper, richer maturity. Let your creations explore and find a life you never could have dream of.

Life is good when you know when to let go. Holding on to too many things is a huge responsibility. It is ok to let other people carry some of the load. You never know when things are going to come back your way and often when you least expect it in the least likely places. If you want to improve your vision make sure to focus on the things that aren’t right in front of you. Remember the things on the periphery are just as important.

When you let go, learn let it come back. Give something to your community so they can give it back to you. This shared experience brings us all together and we can create something new. This is how a community is built.