Innovation through Storytelling

I’ve had a few discussions about my previous posts on the translation of consumer insight to guide the development of viable offerings.  Since then, a few people have asked me how exactly to translate what is learned into a better product specification, and who should be responsible for writing that specification.

What I have found to be most helpful is to see this in two steps.  The first step is to learn from consumers, and then create a story about their lives and the aspects of their lives that we can improve.  Storytelling is very useful because everyone in the organization can understand a story about a person’s life.  They can also clearly see how that person’s life could be better under a new set of conditions.  We then have a shared vision of what we are trying to acheive.

Ideally, after grasping the story, different groups begin to envision ways in which they can contribute to the new set of conditions.  For example, the engineer may say “Oh, I can solve that with existing technology and we don’t have to invent anything new.”  Or a marketing person may think of new ways to become more relevant to the consumer. 

Responsibility for writing the specification is shared and iterative.  The person leading the consumer insight work is responsible for making sure that the story accurately conveys the motivation behind the consumers’ behavior.  This person is also responsible for making sure that everyone on the team understands the story.  The people who need to execute the new solution can then write a specification that is meaningful to them.  It is their responsibility to ensure that everyone understands the implications of the intended solution.  In this way, the entire team can understand how each group’s solution contributes to the consumer story.  And each group has a meaningful specification.

The next time you hear specification discussions that sound something like “I’m waiting for the product manager to give me the spec”, “I did what the spec said”, or “Let’s build it this way because we did it before and we know how to do it”, think about whether the missing ingredient might actually be the consumer story.  I guarantee that when you have a good consumer story, it will drive more interesting, engaging, and productive discussions, and your company will be a better innovator because of it.


  1. Sean Howard says:

    Here’s a crazy idea that came to me as I was reading your post. What if we allowed the audience to tell their stories as well?
    What if we took the stories we crafted and at least played them back to the audiences affected/targeted? I’ve been experimenting with new ways to use the dreaded focus group and I think this would be a marvelous example. To see what they see from the story, what resonates, what new needs (latent) emerge, etc.

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