The Role of Storytelling in Innovation: Part 2

Observing isn’t enough.  Anyone can just sit and watch a story unfold.

With innovation, we must actively tell the story.

In part 1, we discussed getting the story of the customer by being a sort of armchair  anthropologist. A few weeks ago we introduced the idea of context.  Now it’s time to get beyond the theory and talk about what we should actually do with all of those observations.

We’ve got to move from passively observing the customer’s story to actively telling it.

(Rest of the series: Part 1, Part 3Part 4)

Why?  Because we need to take action, and that usually brings with it a whole bunch of people that need take action with you.

Not only do you have to tell them a story, that story has to be convincing.

You might have to convince someone in charge of funding a major project that the product you want to deliver is the right one.  Your story has to convince them that the budget they set aside will be a good investment.

You might have to convince a design team that the solution you’re working toward is the right one–it could mean the difference between creating a product that meets a real need, delighting the customer, or throwing a bunch of features and technology into a box and hoping that someone will buy it.

You might need to convince yourself that you’re solving the right problem.  You have an idea for a new service and you think someone will want it, but you’re not quite sure.

You need to craft a story about the customer.  But it can’t be a work of fiction.  You’ve got to base it in fact.  Do the research.  Create plausible answers to the opportunities you find.  Then you can test the story.

We need to take what we learn and put it into a form that will be useful for them.  Our end goal is to give our customers, whoever they may be, the tools to live out the story they’re seeking.

To do that job, we’ve got to do more than observe.  We’ve got to take those observations and turn them into something useful.  We’ve got to be able to tell the story.

One part of telling that story is to establish context.  Context sets the stage.

So how to you do that? Here are three tools for describing context:

Create Maps

You can create maps of the spaces that interest you.  What objects are there?  How big is it?  Where are things in relation to each other?

You can take pictures.  You can draw pictures.  It’s amazing how much easier it is to convey a sense of a place from a picture or a drawing than by trying to describe it.  Pictures and drawings will also give you a sense of how things move and where issues could arise.

Creating a map, with some sense of scale will also give you a tool you can use dynamically.  You can start to move things around.  What if I move this workstation next to that one?  What if I put the waiting area next to those big bright windows?

Describe the Rules and the “Happening”

Context is the story of a place, not just its physical setting.  It’s also about what’s happening in a place.  What are the rules of that place?  Who are the people in that place?  What are they each trying to achieve?

Think of a restaurant.  There are expectations.  You should be able to show up, give the proprietors money and, in return, receive food.

Beyond that, you have some general expectations:  the food won’t kill you or make you sick, they won’t also serve to dogs and cats at the table next to yours and, if the place expects to stay in business for more than a few days, the food should be edible.

There are rules for the customer.  You’re generally expected to wear clothes (especially if they serve hot soup). Customers are generally not allowed in the kitchen.  You can’t bring your own food and ask them to cook it.

These things are all obvious, but imagine if you were from another planet and were experiencing a restaurant for the very first time. Notice the rituals.

Groups of people come into the lobby.  Sometimes they arrive all together.  Other times they wait for a group to form.  They speak to someone at a podium.  That person takes them to a table.  Sometimes right away and sometimes they wait for a while.  Then, they sit and read.  What are they reading?  They talk to another person.  That person takes some notes.  The customers wait some more… 

What would you think of these rituals?  What are the rules of this encounter?  How does everyone know what to do next?  Why are the tables and chairs arranged the way they are?  What else is in the room?  What are those little stations where the staff type into a screen and fill water glasses?

Capture these rules.  Put them into a set of written instructions like those you might find inside a board game.

List Your Stakeholders

What about the people in the space?  Who are they?  In the restaurant we have customers who are guided by hosts and wait staff through their experience.  There are also people that the customers rarely see: the cooks, the dishwashers, the managers and others who aren’t a visible part of the show.

Instead, we see them through the well-prepared food, the spotless plate and the well-ordered team that keeps everything running smoothly.

Who are all of these people?  We can start by generating a list of those who are important in this context.    They are your stakeholders.

In the next post on this topic we’ll talk more about the stakeholders and their part in the story.

3 thoughts on “The Role of Storytelling in Innovation: Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Role of Storytelling in Innovation: Part 4 « story of design

  2. Pingback: The Role of Storytelling in Innovation, Part 4: Putting on a Production « story of design

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