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!


Future Proof Your Marketing

“Strong Opinions Weakly Held”

This phrase originated with Paul Saffro, Director of Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. In a discussion about wisdom, Bob Johansen of the Institute allegedly explained to Bob Sutton that to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward, the Institute advises people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.”

Grab a compass and map. Plot your path, but be prepared to change your course when needed.

We are living times that can feel very fast-moving, volatile and uncertain. How do we prepare ourselves for this uncertain future? What skills will we need? What will the job market look like in 5, 10 or even 20 years? What new technologies are being developed that could create a threat to humanity? Where are the flying cars? Come on already I want one!

Ok, jokes aside, the world is changing. The old structures, silos, and routines that are part of most business’s day to day operations are becoming a hindrance to innovation. We are entering a new epoch that values agility, innovation, and creativity.

Welcome to the age of storytelling. We are standing on the precipice of a new world order, where visionaries will lead through their ability to tell stories. Storytellers are powerful. They create the world that we live in now and the one to come.

So Why Learn To Harness And Tell Your Own Story?

Your business’s organic story is unique. Unlike corporate colours, logos or taglines, it is not a conceptual piece of marketing. It is an organic narrative that unfolds with each passing day. It shifts with each decision, such as, new hires and evolving products and services. It cannot be replicated and it cannot be predicted. It must simply unfold. This is truly powerful when future proofing your brand or business. There can be similarities. But there are no two that are exactly the same. No other business has the exact unique blend of human capital and stories that you have.

Part of imagining where the future is going is understanding our current moment in time. To do this well we must understand our business’s story. It has a cast of characters, plot lines and twists and turns. An authentic and well-crafted story makes your business the main protagonist, as opposed to a secondary character. By focusing on your own story you let the narrative unfold and see how it moves you forward.

This unique story woven through content production, internal communications, presentations, and speeches creates memorable experiences. This attention leads to retention in your client or customer’s memory. This is the most precious real estate that you can own.

Storytelling is future proofing your brand. It is possible to copy a website’s look and feel. A competitor may develop a similar product or service. But no other business will have your experiences or diversity of skills of your unique story.

Let your story do the work. An organic story told slowly over time builds solid relationships and trust. A presentation featuring vision and dreams is always more inspiring than a bar graph. All the growth behind the spikes on the chart could not happen without the vision in the first place.

And the vision comes from the people. The empathy and connections formed via a strong story, allows a company to become agile, to reinvent itself as it changes. It works in partnership with the business and walks alongside it as it forges new paths into the future.

As a chronicler of business’s stories, I have seen this magic unfold again and again. And so I am calling all the brave and bold artists, corporates, business owners and change makers! The best way to predict our futures to create it. Let us all join together and tell the stories of the future we want to create. We have never had such an unprecedented ability to influence and affect our world.

And so I ask you, what story will you tell and where will it take you?

I recently ran an event at ACMI in November, The Evolution of Storytelling. I asked my presenters to explore the possibilities of storytelling in the future. Please have a look at the Hashtag on Twitter or on my Instagram.

A Story Bridges The Gap From Innovation To Implementation!

Working in an innovation space can feel lonely when only a small number of people outside of your team understand what you are trying to accomplish. Or you are proudly rolling out a new project that solves a client’s problem, but they don’t understand how they fit in the solution. The program may be badly needed, but if the people who need your service don’t understand how it helps them, it won’t succeed. It is impossible to sell a product or service if you cannot clearly define it to your ideal customer, clients or co-workers.

Seeing your concept with an unbiased point of view is sometimes called ‘The Curse of Knowledge”.  While you may understand the value that you deliver if you cannot concisely explain why someone needs your offering getting a ‘yes’ can be very difficult. This applies to work colleagues as well to clients. If you cannot convey why a new process is important or what the changes to a program mean it is very difficult to get people to comply.

We can solve this problem with a strategic narrative.

A narrative strategy distils a complex concept into a simple story to create clarity around a project, product or service. This shareable story assists in forming a culture of understanding around your innovative solution to motivate people to get on board.

Let’s explain this in further detail with a simple story.

Your ‘Story’ needs to cross the bridge that divides a ‘New Project’ from the land of ‘Implementation’. Once the ‘Story’ journeys across this bridge it explains where it is going to people in the land of ‘Implementation’. ‘Story’ is successful on its journey because people in ‘Implementation’ understand how they can help it on its way.

This is how a story can work to bridge the gap between a new product or service and being embraced by clients, colleagues or the community.

True innovation relies on a clear vision for the future. This is where understanding your unique story becomes truly powerful.

Stories are not born spontaneously in a magical puff of smoke; they are shepherded into the world by a guide and supported by a flock. This shepherd is a strategic narrative advisor who creates clarity around the story of your work so it can move into the future.

Creating the world that we will live in tomorrow requires a bridge to connect your vision to a community. Let your story do the work for you.

Let’s chat! Schedule your 15-minute strategy call now!

Psst, Hey Wanna Get High? On Stories?

Stories make us feel good. Yup, that good.

According to novelist and neurologist, Robert Burton, when we hear something with a beginning, middle, and an end, we get a hit of dopamine. Dopamine is our natural feel-good, high chemical. This is why we love and are addicted to stories. From childhood fairytales to novels, to TV shows and movies, stories have us hooked.

From an evolutionary standpoint getting high on stories makes sense. Stories serve many purposes in society. A few of the primary functions are to educate, inspire, motivate or entertain. A story that creates a shared point of view allows us to see from the same place of understanding. This is key to creating a culture of agreement and shared values.

The following is a story my mother told me about road safety when I was a little girl.

When my mother was a girl she lived next door to a boy who liked to play basketball in his front yard. One day, when he was playing ball, it bounced out into the street. He ran after it, without looking both ways. A car swerved to miss him, but it was too late. He was rushed to the hospital with a broken leg and needed a cast. Even worse than that he needed bed rest and his birthday was a few days away. He had to miss his own birthday party. And that’s why you always look both ways before crossing the road.

When you are a kid death is a big concept to grasp. Even as an adult, it is difficult to come to terms with. But missing your own birthday party? That is terrible, we all know that!

I am now an adult, but I will never forget that story. It has taught me to remember to look before crossing the street and become a useful storytelling tool. Thanks, Mum!

It is a simple story, but the message is clear, ‘Always look both ways before crossing the road.’

Are there any challenges you are facing within your business or organisation? A simple story maybe just the thing you need. Imagine a story that explains how a product or service works, or a narrative that inspires your customers to follow you on a social media storytelling journey.

A narrative strategy could be just the ticket. A narrative strategy uses the power of stories within your personal or professional realm to create a strategic way to inspire, education or motivate your employees, co-workers or clients.

I used the story of the little boy who missed his own birthday to explain how attaching a story to a message is effective. It conveys a message in a memorable and efficient way. The right stories addressing the right pain points within your business or organisation will create the same results.

If you want a hit of story, get in touch about my mini-narrative strategy sessions. I come to your location and run a short session to create a story for a problem that you need to solve.

Feed your story addition with me, it will feel good, I promise!

Play To Overcome Your Fears!

Have-no-fear-spendlove-and-lamb

“WE ARE AT A CRITICAL POINT WHERE RAPID CHANGE IS FORCING US TO LOOK NOT JUST TO NEW WAYS OF SOLVING PROBLEMS BUT TO NEW PROBLEMS TO SOLVE.” -TIM BROWN

Have no fear!

Overcoming your blocks is a very difficult thing to achieve. How do we overcome our blocks? With play.

When was the last time you sat down and played with an idea. Change your approach to unblock yourself.

Instead of getting bogged down in an idea. Pull it out of your head and get it on the table. Literally! Write it down, build it out of cardboard and create connections with string.

We fear what we cannot see. Overcome your fear by building it with your hands. Make it real. When we see it, we can understand it. The more we can feel, touch and explore the better we understand how to solve any problem.

This sounds time consuming, but it is an investment.

What is this process called? It is Design Thinking. It is a process embraced by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO to address user focused design when problem solving.

This approach is a successful way to solve any problem.

If you feel overwhelmed, play! We solve problems when we look at situations with an open mind.