Does Your Innovation Have a Story?


by Salem Baer

This is the 9th and last post in the Innovating Like a Startup blog series. Previous Post: Communicating Vision & Progress.

Behind every product launch, new company, innovation spin-off, or dramatic improvement in business processes, there’s a story. These things don’t just happen. They’re the result of individuals staying incredibly focused, pushing progress, iterating, learning and adapting. We love these stories, not because they offer a formula for success (from company to company and product to product, the paths to a win vary dramatically), but because they unlock insights, offer a fresh perspective, and inspire us. Documenting and sharing your experiences forces you to record and reflect on what you’ve learned. But beyond that, it significantly helps your chances of getting another opportunity to do it again, and increases the baseline of your team’s knowledge base, teeing up others to break through the next barrier to innovation.

What’s your story?

Whether you’re asked to present a project summary formally to senior level executives, or casually with a friend over drinks, you want to have a solid understanding of the story it is you’re going to tell. Think of the key elements of a story. Who are the main characters? What’s the setting? What was the conflict (or problem you set out to solve)? Was the conflict resolved? How? Are there themes throughout the story? A recap summary and deck highlighting the process, outcomes, and key learnings is a good format for this, but you’ll also want an “executive summary” version (1-2 pages) and an elevator pitch ready to share with co-workers. Be sure to use these opportunities to share the success with your team as well.

Tee up your next at bat

The best stories end with resolution and a bit of cliff hanger, leaving you wanting more. While your project summary should have clear outcomes and learnings captured, it may also present next steps and give a glimpse at a bigger vision.

Even if your initiative wasn’t a success (or as successful as you would have liked), being able to document what you learned is important; return on learning should be high, even if the project wasn’t a runaway financial success. Knowing what doesn’t work and why it didn’t work is incredibly valuable, but only if you share this information with your team.

Share share share

Take any opportunity you get to share your story, both internally and externally. Do you have a friend going up against something similar? Are there meetups or conferences in the area you can present your perspective? You’ve got a wealth of knowledge that has potential to impact others and create many new opportunities for yourself depending on who you share with.

Conclusion

In many ways, being an entrepreneur or corporate change maker means being a storyteller. Unlocking budget from executive sponsors, recruiting great people to your team and trying to drive adoption of your solution all require painting a picture that others can get excited about. Leading a team through product development means casting a clear and compelling vision of your end state and the project’s “why.” Staying focused will require persistence and repeating your mission and story to yourself and team as you push through setbacks. Finding an opportunity to do it again means sharing your story as much as you can.

Invest in your story telling. Take the time to craft your narratives and practice sharing your experience (whether a success or a failure) with others. This will help your team grow with more knowledge and experience to build off, paving the way for future innovations to get off the ground.

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