The Innovation Narrative: Connecting the dots

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After spending eight years in research and development, we launched InnoSurvey®, an innovation management assessment tool and methodology based on the last 100 years of peer-reviewed science and hundreds of tests in real situations. Innovation360 was born, and we were ready to take on the world.

There Are Only Two Stories

Hollywood producer Jack Roberts, one of our good friends, once told us that there are only two stories: a stranger comes to town, or you go on a journey. You have to choose which story is yours. So we decided who we were and expressed our vision that our methods and tools should be used to help solve one of the UN’s 17 sustainability goals by 2030. Why? Because as human beings, we must solve these problems, even though we know it will be hard. If our methods and tools are as good as we claim they are, then achieving our vision should be possible. That’s why this is the perfect vision for us. It drives us to overcome all the obstacles in our way, including “looking bad” and potential confidentiality issues.

The Hurdle

We’ve published books about our approach that are being used today by top universities all over the world. We’ve created a technical manual and posted the details on our web page, including confidence intervals, the validation process, p values, and all the other technical aspects that people ask for. All of this is good and necessary, no question.

However, in the midst of our success, and with a growing number of clients, some companies expressed concerns that they could look bad as a result of an assessment and would have to deliver tough insights to their teams. The larger and more complicated the assessment, the more obvious it was how important the client’s story and their reason for change were. However, we realized that some clients hesitated to assess themselves truthfully when preparing to innovate, but not for the reasons we first assumed. Initially, we thought that they were sceptical about the value of an assessment, or that they didn’t think it was possible to quantify the soft aspects of an organization in hard numbers. But we were wrong. Many organizations were being held back by fear that the assessment would make them look bad.

Our Story

Over time, our client list has grown to include five of the world’s largest companies and the world’s largest fund, and our approach became established as the best practice for assessing an organization’s innovation capabilities, culture, leadership, and strategic intent (i.e., what we call their aspiration). That was our story’s turning point. What we learned from working with some of the most complex organizations on the planet was that we needed to tell their story. So we created trust and helped clients understand that by telling a story to their organization about how an assessment could contribute to achieving wonderful things—how they could remove cultural blockers and amplify positive, exciting behaviour—people would not be scared. With an inspiring narrative, we could motivate people and make them less anxious. Our clients´ executives could then be braver and achieve more. If your organization’s people aren’t afraid, they will work for you and not against you. We found that we could actually release the power of an organization by assessing them, creating a common understanding, and helping them to move out of unconsciousness and toward being able to see what needed to be done. And we could have some fun along the way!

Your Story

Most organizations fail to innovate and grow over time. According to the data we collected, this is due to them not having an aspiration or the ability to innovate; sometimes it’s a combination of both. The good news is that if you have the aspiration, building an organization´s ability is possible. Sometimes it might also be possible to increase the ambition for the aspiration, at least after revealing it might not be high enough to reach your growth goals. By assessing your aspiration and ability you set a baseline — this is the journey’s starting point — and we work systematically from there. A proven way to do that is to use storytelling in combination with an assessment. This defined starting point, with buy-in from stakeholders and an agreement on what the future state looks like, makes the journey possible, rewarding, and enjoyable. The timeless story of Alice in Wonderland captures this so well: when she was at a fork in the road, she asked the Cheshire cat which road she should take. He asked her where she wanted to go. She replied, “I don’t know,” to which the cat said: “Then it doesn’t matter.” If you don’t know where you are, then you’re like Alice, your story will help you keep on track.

The process starts with a straightforward but sometimes challenging path: (1) Get deep insights into your organization. (2) Accept the facts. (3) Build a great vision—your story—from there.

By telling your story, you’ll be able to handle the hurdles that crop up and create positivity going forward. When carrying out assessments and establishing your current and future states, you need to create a safe environment that encourages innovation and builds positive momentum. On the other hand, it’s important that the environment not be so safe that you don’t want to move out of your comfort zone—which is necessary if you want to innovate.

Your Innovation Narrative

A good story consists of a thesis (i.e., your core aspiration or intent) and an antithesis (what you need to overcome). The story must describe the past, present, and future, and use polarity and friction like a wheel to move you forward toward a goal or a vision. The story explains what you do, why you do it, and partly how you do it.

By defining and telling your organization’s story, you can turn worried people (and maybe even yourself) into fans, and you’ll open up for change and movement. That’s why we recommend that anyone doing an assessment or any other strategic initiative: to describe their organization’s current state and tell a story that motivates the necessary changes. This is what we call your narrative. And when you’re working with innovation, the story becomes your innovation narrative.

The Innovation Continuum: Your Story Will Guide You

After defining your organization’s current state and future desired state, your story will guide you in deciding what steps to implement, from transformations to single-decision events. Innovation will always be hard, simply because you’re dealing with the unknown. That’s why it’s so important to create an overarching narrative that can be easily explained and that connects all the dots. Over time, the narrative will become your guiding star, and an important tool for realizing your strategy. Ultimately, any strategy, including an innovation strategy, is just words. But once the story is told, the words matter. And that is how you can truly connect the dots between your aspiration and your ability to create innovation!

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