How often have you heard people talk about their ideas and immediately thought it was the greatest thing ever? When was the last time you went to a conference to listen to your fellow innovation practitioners and be amazed by the way they told the story about innovation in their company?
Storytelling is a vital ingredient for innovation success. Without it your idea might be great but if it doesn’t move people emotionally you fail to make a connection. Especially if you are trying to convince people about something that doesn’t yet exist, a new opportunity that addresses a recently discovered unmet customer need for example. Stories bring your ideas to life, creates a mental picture for people to relate to and visualize how it might work.
In our work with clients we emphasize storytelling, not to create a work of fiction (lipstick on a pig) but to help clarify the team’s thinking about why it is a great idea, what customer needs it addresses and how we should pursue the opportunity.
Innovation stories should always start with the why vs the what or how. Unless people understand why it is worthwhile they’ll tune out to what is the value proposition and how are we going to bring that to market. That is why at conferences you’ll remember the presentations that started with the aspiration (why did we do this) before explaining you their innovation process (how we did it) in great detail.
Stories are easier to tell if ideas are grounded in insights. Whether they be understanding needs of the customer, beliefs you will challenge, supporting trends or the unique capabilities of your company. Having these insights will give you the foundation for great storytelling. Ideas that originate from blank sheet brainstorm sessions do not have this and therefore it is more difficult to tell a compelling story that is going to convince senior management or external investors to support your idea or business venture.
There are some great stories already told and I’m sure you’ll remember a few of them. The story about why Lego changed their company’s belief about protecting intellectual property and opened up their product development process to their fan base. Or why a group of friends founded Innocent drinks but also lesser known ones such as why Shell ventured into algae biofuels are interesting stories to learn from. The one thing all of these stories have in common is they start with explaining you the why before the what or the how. A more recent example signaling the importance of storytelling is Kickstarter. There are hundreds of ideas vying for attention but only the ones that are part of a compelling story will get the funding in the end.
So the next time when you are about to present your idea consider what makes a great story and see if that changes how you would present yours. Good luck!