Creative problem-solving lies at the heart of a corporate innovation, yet it’s hardly the only creative endeavor within an innovator’s role. While many innovators struggle with it, storytelling is a critical component to build internal buy-in and empower executives to rally behind new ventures.
When building a narrative for new ventures, most innovators naturally focus on data and numbers. In the enterprise, hard numbers mean everything; for executives, however, numbers may not be the most effective way of fully understanding a project’s potential. Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind shows the importance of story in driving understanding.
Storytelling goes beyond simply sharing progress and presenting data that validates your project. Good innovation stories require structure and context that allow stakeholders to find meaning and value for the rest of the enterprise. As an innovator looking to build a compelling narrative around a new initiative, here’s how you can begin to frame your story.
OK, so we just said that data isn’t the most effective way to tell your story, but it’s obviously a critical element of any project. Most corporate leaders know innovation projects should not be judged by the same metrics as core business units – yet metrics and goals provide the context that frames any innovation story. The best stories have boundaries and a clear arc. As an innovator, it’s vital to align with business unit stakeholders around those boundaries and outcomes.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goals are a great way to frame the progress of an innovation project, especially when pursuing incremental innovation to existing products and services. Creating alignment around SMART goals early in the innovation lifecycle allows new ventures to be judged beyond the P&L metrics of the core business and help craft a timeline for progress.
SMART goals are rigid by design, which can hamper some innovators, but it also creates narrative pillars that project managers can build upon. Concrete ideas are more compelling than nebulous ones, and these goals establish the parameters for success or failure, allowing innovators to craft a story from what they’ve learned.
Create a Viable, Stable Product Feedback Loop
As new ventures move past the exploration phase to pilot programs and commercialization, narrative structure should move beyond SMART goals to real customer feedback. While that requires a commitment testing a new venture with real customers early and often, it’s critical to constructing a meaningful story around a new product.
Beyond early revenue goals or product milestones outlined in SMART, the true meat of a venture story should come from customer interactions. Gaining critical feedback from a trusted, friendly audience outside the organization helps explain new product decisions and lays a foundation of trust in iterative progress. Rather than following a hunch, project managers and executives can leverage real-world insight to validate decisions.
Fit Into the Brand Narrative
At its heart, your innovation story needs to be the company’s story. It should protect the brand and credibly reflect the values and challenges of the enterprise. Credibility is the innovator’s currency, and it requires constant transparency, accuracy and visibility within the enterprise. Innovators should consistently present their wins, admit their failures and share what they’ve learned through both.
Just like in marketing, your internal story should tell, not sell – your story must mean something within the organization. Communication without purpose is worthless; as you glean insights through MVP development and an iterative feedback loop, it’s crucial to tie those lessons back to core business problems.
How do you build an innovation story that encourages executives to say yes?