Innovation can often feel like a struggle.
Especially when you’re leading a team to build something that’s never quite been done before, while also convincing stakeholders to buy-in to something that has no guaranteed success. So you re-read The Innovator’s Dilemma, compile data in support of your proposal, google “innovation success stories” and somehow come across this blog post.
Hi, welcome. I’m glad you’re here.
Let’s pause and talk about those “innovation success stories”.
Innovation success stories are always about innovations that already exist. From the invention of the wheel to driverless vehicles, these stories recount what has already occurred through the typical story structure: a beginning, middle and end. That’s what stories do — they tell us what happened. The stories we tell about how those great ideas became innovations don’t necessarily guide us as we seek to overcome our innovation struggles.
Yet the innovation narrative is different. A narrative is a larger system of stories, woven together with a beginning and middle, but the end has yet to be determined. It has a hoped for end, and a number of individual stories that support it, yet it’s evolving. And with innovation, when we are creating and implementing something new, we cannot know the end state ahead of time. We have an idea, but not certainty. We must evolve, tapping into what we do know, and following that journey of ideation to implementation.
The innovation narrative guides us in the innovation process, providing engagement, alignment and mobilization to deliver new value. It’s a mechanism for agility and motivation, giving companies the North Star they need to transform a desire into reality.
Here are three ways the innovation narrative can support you and your team:
One of the most challenging aspects of innovation is engagement. If you’re an organization that is struggling to get support for a new endeavor, or your team is overwhelmed with their other tasks, a narrative provides an effective tool to grab everyone’s attention and cut through the noise. As Caroline Bartel and Raghu Garud note, “innovation narratives are powerful mechanisms for translating ideas across the organization so that they are comprehensible.” With the innovation narrative, complex ideas are made relevant and compelling, helping everyone prioritize the project.
Another key asset of the innovation narrative is the ability to develop consensus and direction. Innovation invites diversity, tangential thinking and association. It requires the ability to embrace possibilities, while also finding a way forward. A narrative is able to find commonality, framing multiple perspectives into a cohesive, aligned strategy. As Carl Rhodes and Andrew Brown argue, “[innovation] narratives frame ambiguity, complexity, and even paradoxical situations in an approachable way by visualizing possibilities
Most critically, the innovation narrative goes beyond the hype and promise of what’s possible, and instead mobilizes the organization to deliver their innovation goals. Francesco Zurlo and Cabirio Cautela write,“the [innovation] narrative acts as a tool that the company uses to implement innovation processes. In the current competitive context dominated by open innovation, where the companies become permeable to spurs, ideas, technologies, and relationships, the ability to structure the narrative becomes fundamental in attracting the resources and relationships necessary for the company’s competitive and innovative goals.” The innovation narrative becomes a part of the company’s culture and behavior, transforming the day-to-day operations into an engine for value creation. Through the power of narrative, innovation is not an ad-hoc, wishful-thinking approach to competitiveness, but rather a paradigm shift in the “how-to” and “why” of the company. The innovation narrative provides guidance and meaning for each individual, team and organization to create what has yet to exist.
While storytelling is essential for celebrating successful innovations, it’s narrative that provides the fertile ground for innovation to be realized. With the innovation narrative, we are able to engage, align and mobilize throughout the innovation process. Too often innovations are lost in the unpredictability of human interaction, trounced by competing demands and vague goals. With the innovation narrative, we can always find our North Star, and keep moving towards that new reality.
Acknowledgement: A special thank you to Matthew Lewis for his feedback, Jennifer Kenny for the mentorship and groundbreaking work in innovation, and researchers Rebecca Price, Judy Matthew and Cara Wrigley.
Ari Mostov is a narrative strategist, creating innovation narratives for category disruptive companies. Learn more at www.wellplay.world
*updated August 30, 2023