Tag Archives: Storytelling

Stringing Together an Innovation Story

How convergence and creative collisions fuel invention

Stringing Together an Innovation Story

GUEST POST from John Bessant

It was the Covid lockdown that did it. Got me into compulsive listening. As my physical world contracted so I spent more and more time taking voyages inside my head, carried along by music. These days the choice of vessels in my harbor is impressive; I can embark on a whole series of different journeys depending on my mood — jazz, classical, soft folky reminiscence or driving angry rock. But whatever the journey there’s a pretty good chance a guitar will feature somewhere in the mix.

(Confession; I’m a guitar player, have been since I was twelve years old and managed to persuade my parents to let me trade the trumpet I was learning as part of the school orchestra for a six string I’d seen in a shop window).

Even allowing for my bias and your many different musical tastes, you’d probably agree that taking the guitar out of our aural landscape would leave it a poorer place

And it would certainly be a commercially poorer one as well — the market for guitars is booming. It’s currently worth around half a billion dollars and is estimated to grow steadily. Covid-19 was an important sales agent, nudging millions of people to try and fulfill their dreams of converting air guitar playing to the real thing. Fender, one of the biggest names in the industry, had the best sales of its 80 year history during 2020 while James Curleigh, CEO of market leader Gibson, commented that during that year “we literally couldn’t deliver enough. Everything we were making, we could sell!”

But how did the guitar get here? And what role did innovation play in the process?

It’s an instrument with a long history — in fact if you take the idea of stretching strings across some kind of frame and letting the vibrations conjure sounds then we’re back at least three thousand years. There’s a stone carving of a Hittite musician entertaining at a Babylonian party in the Ancient Orient Museum in Istanbul and what he’s playing looks suspiciously close to being a guitar. It clearly didn’t take long for others to catch on the concept of the ‘chordophone’ (to give the technical term for a device which generates sound in this fashion). The Greeks and Romans had their harps and lyres, the Egyptians adding the lute, originally developed in Mesopotamia. And the Moors of north Africa have the oudh, an instrument with a lute-like body and a long neck, probably based on a dried gourd and later fashioned of wood. As it journeyed across to Spain it morphed into what we’d recognize today, a multi-stringed wooden necked device. Encyclopaedia Britannica has the origins of the Spanish guitar as something emerging in the 16th century, deriving from the guitarra latina, a late-medieval instrument with a waisted body and four strings.

Along with the lute, mandolin and other derivatives of the plucked instrument variety it became a widely-played instrument over the next four hundred years. Its popularity came partly from its versatility — it could sit center stage in an orchestral concerto but it could also accompany a lone balladeer or form the centerpiece of a fiery flamenco stomp. And partly from its portability — it was the ideal traveling instrument for the itinerant musician. You could find it in taverns and town squares, concert halls and at court and it spread far and wide, migrating from Europe with the early settlers to the emerging New World.

From the innovation point of view the guitar followed a classic pattern — plenty of experimentation with materials, number of strings, neck length and a host of other parameters in search of the right balance of sound and functionality. And then the emergence of a ‘dominant design’, the configuration which set the pattern, laid down the roadway along which the development of the instrument would travel in an extended period of continuous improvement. Most sources agree it was the Spanish guitar builder Antonio Torres Jurado who did this in 1850 with his invention of the fan-braced design. Bracing the hollow body with struts of wood meant it didn’t keep collapsing in on itself because of the tension in the strings and you could build a big enough body to give you the balance of tone, projection and volume which players required.

But by the end of the 19th century the guitar had come up against an increasingly frustrating limit. It wasn’t loud enough. You could have the sweetest, most lyrical tone but if you were trying to make yourself heard amongst the dance bands which emerged as the twentieth century dawned you had a problem. Innovation, of course, thrives on these conditions and a whole new breed of entrepreneurs began experimenting to try to make louder guitar. They explored many routes — making the whole instrument bigger (but more cumbersome), changing materials (like the steel guitars pioneered by the National company), and playing around with alternative sound amplification principles (like the resonator cone, a kind of dustbin-lid built into the guitar top which vibrates like a speaker and replaces the simple sound hole of the guitar).

This last was particularly embraced by the Dopraya Brothers, Slovakian immigrants to the USA who set up the Dobro company and gave their name to the guitar variant whose haunting sound instantly conjures the wide prairie landscape with its rolling tumbleweed in a thousand films.

Plenty of innovation — but no real breakthrough, nothing radical enough to bring a step change in performance. Until entrepreneurs began to borrow ideas from different industries and to import alternative technologies. As Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones expertly explained in a BBC interview looking at the history of the electric guitar, ‘all they did was put a phone in it….’ Then, after a trademark raspy guffaw, he added “But it was the right phone at the right time!

Electronics in the early twentieth century had already given us the telephone, the radio and the gramophone and it had become clear that converting sound waves into electrical impulses and then reversing the process offered opportunities for amplifying instruments like the guitar. Patents from around 1910 reinforce Richards’ analysis; people were putting telephone transmitters inside violins and banjos. By the 1920s hobbyists used the (by then widely available) carbon button microphones from telephones, attaching them to the bridge of their instruments. Unfortunately these had a weak signal and as you increased the sensitivity to try to make it louder the microphone picked up other sounds and generated the unpleasant squeal of feedback.

The breakthrough came in 1931 when George Beauchamp designed a one piece instrument, cast in metal and resembling more a frying pan rather than a guitar. Harry Watson of the National Company takes the credit for having built the design which qualifies as the world’s first electric guitar. The key innovation was the use of a device to convert the instrument’s vibrations into electrical signals which could then be amplified — an arrangement of coils of wire wrapped around a metal core and designed to ‘pick up’ the signal. The concept of the pickup belongs to Watson’s friend Arnold Rickenbacker; the idea worked and in 1932 the two of them formed the Rickenbacker company and in 1937 they were awarded a patent.

That breakthrough fired the starting pistol for another innovation race with established manufacturers rushing to bring imitations to market and entrepreneurs looking to exploit the new possibilities in new (and hopefully better) designs. There was plenty of innovation space to play in. Not least dealing with the main limitation of the frying pan idea which was that it was a lap steel guitar, designed to be played horizontally with the instrument resting on the knees. Whilst the ‘Hawaiian sound’ associated with such an instrument was popular it had its limits; Rickenbacker quickly came up with their ‘electro-Spanish model B’ which was designed to be played upright with a strap — the instrument we know and love today.

Some sought to move the new idea to scale through celebrity endorsement. The Gibson company was one of the biggest players in the rapidly-growing musical instrument industry; they launched their Electro-Spanish 150 with the backing of the celebrated jazz guitarist Charlie Christian and a price tag of $150 trying to create a Model T Ford machine.

There was plenty of pent-up demand in the market; with the expansion of the dance band era musicians needed to play louder. But the limits of the design were still there — even if you replaced the sound hole with f-holes or did away with it altogether you still had the problem of sound waves bouncing around inside a hollow-bodied instrument and generating unwanted feedback.

Enter a user innovator, one Les Paul. Already a guitar player with a big following on the country and western circuit he was also a tinkerer. And in 1940 he came up with a solution to the feedback problem — why not dispense with the hollow body altogether and make the guitar solid? He built the Log — a wooden post with a pickup attached along which he stretched the strings. Recognising that he might have trouble pitching his new design he disguised it by gluing two halves of an old Epiphone guitar to the wooden post to give it the familiar guitar shape. This was simply a cosmetic addition to reduce the shock factor; in terms of the sound it made no contribution whatever.

In classic user innovator style he wasn’t particularly interested in producing and marketing the device himself — he had plenty to do as a performer. So he took it to the Gibson company, reasoning that with their history they might be interested in a radical innovation like this. Gibson had built their success on (and took their name from) the ideas of an eccentric mandolin maker who revolutionised the design of that instrument in 1910, doing away with the round bellied Neapolitan model and replacing it with the flat-backed variety. Unfortunately (for them as it later turned out) their response was decidedly lukewarm and so Les shelved his project.

Innovation is often like a soup; market needs and enabling technologies being stirred together by various entrepreneurs and coming slowly to the boil. As it reaches the right temperature so a breakthrough idea bubbles to the surface in two or three places simultaneously. So it wasn’t entirely surprising that in another part of the country someone else was playing with a similar idea to Les Paul.

This one was taking shape in the workshop of Paul Bigsby, an engineer with a passion for two things, country music and motorcycles. He shared this with a friend, Merle Travis, another successful country singer who talked about his ideas for improving the guitar he played — making it easier to tune, capturing the sustain which he could get from a steel-bodied guitar but without the feedback. Bigsby built guitars as a sideline to his motorcycle business and was able to bring Travis’s ideas to life; together they developed their own version of a solid bodied electric guitar.

And meanwhile in another part of the galaxy, or at least further up the road in California another player was about to join the game. Leo Fender wasn’t a guitar player — his instrument was the saxophone. He was an accountant by training though his passion was electronics — he’d spent his childhood disassembling and rebuilding radios and enjoyed exploring the growing potential of the new technology. While working as a book-keeper in Anaheim he was contracted by a local band leader to build a public address (PA) system; it was a success and he was asked to build six more.

That nudged the entrepreneur in him; in 1938 along with his wife he opened a radio repair shop with a borrowed $600 — “Fender Radio Service”. He quickly built up a business repairing and servicing the amplifiers and occasionally guitars for the many roadhouse bands coming through. This was a valuable apprenticeship; through the many projects he worked on he developed a deep understanding of the typical problems and how to improvise solutions to fix them quickly. He was continuously prototyping and experimenting with new ideas and implementing those ideas in the next project which came through his door.

He wasn’t alone; in particular he shared ideas with another enthusiast — Doc Kaufman — who was a lap steel guitar player, with a day job working for the Rickenbacker company. The two of them played around with ideas and eventually launched their company, K&F, to build lap steel guitars; in 1944 they patented their version incorporating Fender’s own design for a pickup; Kaufman left in 1946 and Leo renamed the company Fender Manufacturing. He worked on their ideas further, coming up with a thin solid body electric guitar which would be easy to tune, wasn’t too heavy and crucially didn’t feedback in the way the hollow bodied machines did. Pretty much the specification which Merle Travis had brought to Paul Bigsby.

In 1950 he launched it as the Fender Esquire and then, having added a second pickup, renamed it the Broadcaster in 1951. The threat of a lawsuit from the rival Gretsch company forced him to change the name and so the guitar became known as the Telecaster. The new wave was about to break.

Fender’s skills weren’t just in electronics; he was a pretty good listener too. He picked up on plenty of feedback from customers in his service business and so instead of improving on the Telecaster for his next product he set about designing a new machine incorporating many of their ideas. This led to a guitar which built of the strengths of the Telecaster but which added innovations in pickups — 3 instead of 2, giving the player plenty of control via a 5-way switch. The result was the Stratocaster, launched in 1954 and about to change the world of music.

Its success owed a lot to timing; the growth of Rock ’n’ Roll changed the format of dance bands towards the smaller trios and quartets and the sound and capability of the machine lent itself perfectly to the loud driving style. (Fender also had a hand in changing the shape of the ‘back line’ of the band, displacing the double bass with his solid-bodied Precision bass, introduced quietly alongside the Telecaster in 1951).

The Stratocaster appeared in Buddy Holly’s hands on the cover of his 1957 album and around the world musicians began taking notice. In the UK Hank Marvin, lead guitarist in Cliff Richard’s backing band The Shadows, was one of the first to own one and their success with a strong of instrumental hits firmly established the new sound. Not least in the ears of a generation of youngsters who aspired to own one and make their own music; as one of them, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour said, ‘(the Stratocaster) is about as perfect as a guitar gets’. In the hands of another, one James Marshall Hendrix, the machine was pushed to its limits — not least through exploiting the very feedback which Leo Fender, Paul Bigsby and Arnold Rickenbacker had worked so hard to try and reduce!

The response from the other guitar manufacturers was once again one of copy and develop, rapid imitation and improvement. Gibson were quick to pick up on the new trend but had a long hard slog up the learning curve to reach the point where they could master the new tricks of building solid bodied guitars with complex pickups. In 1955 they launched their new guitar and went looking for another celebrity to help them promote their new product. They recruited one of the top performing acts of the time, Mary Ford and her partner — Les Paul. The man who they remembered as ‘the guy with the broomstick with the pickups on it’, and whose ideas they had turned down a decade earlier. They made slight amends by naming the guitar after him — and alongside the Stratocaster it is still one the most sought after models and has been widely imitated around the world — not least because of the exposure given it by a rising blues guitarist, Eric Clapton.

The rest is (recent) history. The market for both professionals and increasingly amateur musicians grew and with it a rising tide of innovation. Variations on the basic dominant design established by Leo Fender, Les Paul, Merle Travis and others proliferated with different shapes, different materials, extensive improvements around the electrics and so on. Bringing us to today’s world where — unless the person in the next apartment is at the early stages of trying to master thrash metal riffs — those innovations have helped create the soundscape into which we can escape, whether as players or listeners.

You can find my podcast here and my videos here

And if you’d like to learn with me take a look at my online course here

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

Navigating the Future to Ensure Long-Term Success

A CEO Checklist

Navigating the Future to Ensure Long-Term Success

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

“Trends are only useful when we look at them through multiple lenses as we gaze across all six time zones. We must think of trends as signposts that can illuminate the conditions we will likely encounter at some point in the future, even if that future is a century away.” — Amy Webb

No one will argue the need today to focus on back-to basics! Challenging economies dictate this type of focus. In my years of experience, those companies that cut to deeply in futures planning struggle more trying to rebound when economies improve. So why is it so important to be a futurist in today’s economy? It’s a formidable way to help you and your organization navigate the world of extreme consequences with optimism. But let’s face it, maintaining good organizational morale and motivation can be challenging as worldly events may create fear and anxiety. That’s why I want to talk to you about an effective method called “signal crafting.”

So, what is signal crafting? This healthy exercise provides insights beyond your day-to-day and even your year-to-year planning. It involves diving deeply into futuristic scenarios by crafting the best-case and worst-case outcomes. Signal crafting exercises help you anticipate future scenarios of global events, giving life and a 360-degree view of circumstances. In turn, by building out these signaling exercises, you are equipping your organization to plan better and, in many cases, alleviate and turn that fear into fuel.

But what are the benefits of signaling in planning for the future? Let me tell you:

  • Signal crafting is an exercise that helps businesses prepare for the future by creating scenarios based on different factors that affect their industry.
  • Companies must focus on attuning to signals of change in the world, including industry trends and emerging technologies, changing consumer behavior, social and cultural shifts, political and regulatory changes, and economic conditions.
  • By combining different factors that affect a business’s future, it can envision various potential outcomes and make strategic decisions based on the most likely scenarios.
  • The exercise helps businesses identify risks and opportunities and develop strategic plans considering possible outcomes.
  • The exercise fosters cross-departmental collaboration and gains multiple perspectives.
  • The exercise can be repeated periodically, allowing companies to adapt to new signals of change and remain future-ready planners and strategists.

So, how do you start the signal crafting exercise? Here are some steps you can take:

Focus teams on attuning to signals of change in the world, including industry trends and emerging technologies, changing consumer behavior, social and cultural shifts, political and regulatory changes, and economic conditions. Here are a few team exercises you could use to gain future insights:

  • Choose a signal of interest: Each team member chooses one signal.
  • Go as deep as you can to envision how the world is affected by this signal of change.
  • Envision the signal, including the details above; in the scenario, it’s ten years from today. What’s happening?
  • Write a futuristic story about that signal. Write about two different outcomes ten years from now.
  • Construct a positive outcome.
  • Construct a worst-case outcome.
  • Share your stories, both optimistic and worst-case scenarios. Talk about these and how each signal may impact your business, people, individuals, environments, governments, etc.

Company teams can create scenarios based on the categories they choose. The teams can then present their scenarios to other groups, fostering cross-departmental collaboration and gaining multiple perspectives. The exercise can be repeated periodically, allowing companies to adapt to new signals of change and remain future-ready planners and strategists.

By creating a range of scenarios that identify potential risks and opportunities, businesses can develop strategic plans that consider different possible outcomes. These actions enable the company to be better prepared for the future and proactively prepare for different outcomes instead of reacting to events as they unfold. The approach will ensure you maintain a competitive advantage, but moreover, you may experience a calming of fear and anxiety in the organization. So many benefits come from this one exercise, but overall it is a future-planning exercise to help the organization achieve long-term success.

These steps are helpful to you as you navigate the tough times ahead. As Amy Webb said, “Trends are only useful when we look at them through multiple lenses as we gaze across all six time zones. We must think of trends as signposts that can illuminate the conditions we will likely encounter at some point in the future, even if that future is a century away.”

Below is a more comprehensive checklist to Future-Visioning:

  1. Focus on signals of change. Pay attention to industry trends, emerging technologies, changing consumer behavior, social and cultural shifts, political and regulatory changes, and economic conditions.
  2.  Identify potential risks and opportunities. Develop strategic plans that consider different possible outcomes. Remain, future-ready planners and strategists.
  3. Choose a signal of interest. Each team member chooses one signal of focus.
  4. Encourage team members to become experts in their chosen signal. Gain a deeper understanding of a specific trend or factor affecting the business.
  5.  Envision future scenarios: Imagine the future based on different possible outcomes. Dive deep into how the world is affected by each signal of change.
  6. Build a 360-degree view of potential scenarios. Anticipate future events and prepare for them proactively. Alleviate fear and turn it into fuel for the organization.
  7. Write a futuristic story. Write a futuristic story about what could happen ten years from now. Construct a positive and worst-case outcome based on the chosen signal.
  8. Envision a range of potential outcomes. Identify potential risks and opportunities. Encourage cross-departmental collaboration and gain multiple perspectives.
  9. Share stories and outcomes
  10. .Discuss the stories and outcomes with other groups. Discuss how each signal may impact the business, individuals, environments, governments, etc.
  11. Foster collaboration and communication within the organization. Gain a better understanding of different perspectives. Develop strategic plans based on a range of possible outcomes.
  12. Repeat periodically. Conduct the exercise periodically to adapt to new signals of change and remain future-ready planners and strategists.

Develop a long-term strategic vision for the organization. Stay up-to-date on industry trends and emerging technologies. Remain adaptable and flexible to changing conditions by evolving these strategies on a periodic basis. Be ready when markets rebound!

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.

An Innovation Evangelist Can Increase Your Reputation and Innovation Velocity

Chief Evangelist Braden Kelley

Building upon my popular article Rise of the Evangelist, I wanted to create an article for the global innovation community focused specifically on the importance of the innovation evangelist role.

In my previous article I defined five different types of evangelists that organizations may already have, or may want to hire, including:

  1. Chief Evangelist
  2. Brand Evangelists
  3. Product Evangelists
  4. Service Evangelists
  5. Innovation Evangelists

This specialization occurs when the evangelism an organization needs become too big for one evangelist to handle. At that point, a Chief Evangelist creates the evangelism strategy and manages the execution across the team of brand, innovation, and other evangelism focus areas.

When should an organization focus on innovation evangelism?

To continue to exist as a business, every organization should build an infrastructure for continuous innovation, but many don’t. If you’re not sure what this looks like, here is my Infinite Innovation Infrastructure (which leverages the Nine Innovation Roles):

Infinite Innovation Infrastructure

For those organizations investing in innovation, it is crucial to also invest in innovation evangelism when:

  1. Innovation is part of the company’s strategy
  2. Innovation is central to competitive differentiation
  3. The company wants to share their innovation stories
  4. The company wants to partner with customers to innovate
  5. The company wants to partner with suppliers to innovate
  6. The company wants to engage experts in innovation
  7. The company wants to engage the general public in innovation

You’ll notice many of these points hint at the need for an external talent strategy, and Innovation Evangelism must play a key role. Because of this, I encourage you to download and consult the success guide I created for Innocentive on Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation which focuses on the elements and importance of external talent in any company’s innovation efforts.

Bill Joy, a co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, once famously said:

“There are always more smart people outside your company than within it.”

Any external talent strategy must accumulate energy and then unleash it in a focused direction. And part of the way to do that is by establishing a common language of innovation. The process begins by defining what innovation means to your organization. Consider looking at this as the WHO – WHAT – WHEN – WHERE – WHY – HOW of innovation:

  • WHO is to be involved in your innovation efforts?
  • WHAT does innovation mean to you? WHAT types of innovation are you focused on?
  • WHEN will you be looking for innovation input?
  • WHERE can people go to find out more? WHERE do they go to contribute?
  • WHY should people want to participate?
  • HOW can they participate?

Continue reading this article on InnovationManagement.se

… where we will answer these questions and more:

  • Should innovation evangelism be a role or a job?
  • What does an innovation evangelist do?
  • What makes a good innovation evangelist?

Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

The Power of Storytelling in Driving Change Initiatives

The Power of Storytelling in Driving Change Initiatives

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

Change is an inevitability in organizations, and its successful implementation often relies on effective communication and engagement. In this context, storytelling emerges as a powerful tool that captures people’s attention, fosters understanding, and ultimately drives change initiatives forward. As Braden Kelley aptly states, “Stories help us understand complex ideas and remember key information in an engaging and emotive way.” By weaving narratives into change management efforts, organizations can inspire, unite, and galvanize their workforce to embrace transformation. Let us explore two compelling case studies that exemplify the power of storytelling in driving successful change initiatives.

Case Study 1: Disney’s “Casting Call” Transformation

In the early 2000s, The Walt Disney Company faced challenging times due to declining attendance and customer satisfaction. To address these concerns, CEO Robert Iger introduced a change initiative known as “Casting Call.” Iger believed that by actively involving employees in the change effort and sharing inspiring stories, the company could drive a cultural shift towards exceptional guest experiences.

The company leveraged storytelling by creating a daily internal newsletter, “The E-Ticket,” which featured stories showcasing exemplary employee behaviors. These stories celebrated actions that went above and beyond, inspiring others to do the same. They celebrated the “Disney Difference” and demonstrated how every individual played a crucial role in creating magical moments for guests. By amplifying these narratives throughout the organization, Disney stimulated a sense of pride, empowerment, and a shared commitment to delivering outstanding customer experiences. As a result, Disney’s “Casting Call” not only reversed the decline but also established a solid foundation for the company’s future success.

Case Study 2: Patagonia’s Sustainable Revolution

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, embarked on a change initiative to promote sustainability and combat climate change. CEO Rose Marcario recognized that to truly engage customers and employees, Patagonia needed to go beyond traditional marketing campaigns. She understood the power of storytelling in inspiring action and creating lasting change.

Patagonia launched the “Worn Wear” campaign, which encouraged customers to share stories about their well-worn Patagonia products and how they had been repaired rather than replaced. By highlighting these anecdotes on their website and through social media, Patagonia invited a global community to participate in the narrative of environmental responsibility and sustainable consumption. These stories not only strengthened the emotional connection between the brand and its customers but also inspired other organizations to follow suit. Patagonia’s storytelling approach effectively transformed the company’s mission from merely selling clothing to fostering a sustainable revolution within the outdoor industry.


The compelling case studies of Disney’s “Casting Call” and Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” campaign demonstrate the undeniable power of storytelling in driving change initiatives. Stories possess an innate ability to influence, educate, and inspire people towards action. By harnessing this power, organizations can successfully navigate the storms of organizational change, foster meaningful connections, and create a shared vision for a better future. As Braden Kelley succinctly puts it, “In a world of facts, numbers, and figures, stories are what cut through the clutter and create deeper meaning.” Embrace storytelling as an essential tool in the realm of change management, and unleash its transformative potential within your organization.

SPECIAL BONUS: Braden Kelley’s Problem Finding Canvas can be a super useful starting point for doing design thinking or human-centered design.

“The Problem Finding Canvas should help you investigate a handful of areas to explore, choose the one most important to you, extract all of the potential challenges and opportunities and choose one to prioritize.”

Image credit: Misterinnovation.com

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Change Leadership and the Power of Storytelling

Change Leadership and the Power of Storytelling

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

Change is an inevitable part of life, especially in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving world. Organizations constantly find themselves navigating through various changes, from mergers and acquisitions to technological advancements. However, with change comes challenges, and the success of any change initiative lies in effective change leadership. One powerful tool that change leaders can harness is storytelling. By utilizing the power of stories, leaders can inspire, engage, and drive individuals towards embracing and supporting change. In this article, we will explore two case study examples that highlight the impact of storytelling in change leadership.

Case Study 1: IBM’s Transformation

IBM, a multinational technology company, went through a significant transformation when Lou Gerstner took over as CEO in the early 1990s. Gerstner inherited a struggling organization that was losing its market share and lacked direction. To turn things around, he recognized the need to infuse a new culture within the company and get everyone on board with the forthcoming changes.

Gerstner realized that simply presenting a cold set of data and charts would not be sufficient to inspire and motivate a workforce that had become disillusioned and resistant to change. Instead, he employed the power of storytelling to connect with his employees on a deep emotional level. Gerstner crafted a narrative that focused on IBM’s rich history, its role in shaping the world, and the collective responsibility of each employee to revive the organization.

Through his storytelling, Gerstner effectively conveyed the urgency for change while instilling a sense of pride and purpose. This emotional connection ultimately resulted in the successful turnaround of IBM, transforming it into a leading technology company once again.

Case Study 2: Procter & Gamble’s Innovation Culture

In the early 2000s, Procter & Gamble (P&G) faced the challenge of how to breathe life into their innovation efforts. A.G. Lafley, the CEO at the time, recognized that P&G needed a culture shift to foster creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration across the organization.

Lafley understood that storytelling could bridge the gap between strategic objectives and people’s daily work lives. He implemented a company-wide initiative called “Connect+Develop” that encouraged employees to share stories about their innovative ideas and experiences. These stories, which focused on real people and real challenges, helped employees see the tangible impact of their work and inspire others to think differently.

By creating a storytelling platform, Lafley empowered P&G employees to become change agents and ambassadors for innovation. This cultural shift resulted in numerous successful product launches and allowed P&G to maintain its position as a leader in the consumer goods industry.

The Power of Storytelling

These case studies highlight the transformative power storytelling can have in change leadership. Stories have the ability to evoke emotions, create meaning, build trust, and inspire action. When change leaders effectively communicate their vision and purpose through storytelling, they paint a vivid picture of the future and create a shared understanding among individuals.

Furthermore, storytelling engages both the rational and emotional aspects of individuals, making change feel more relatable and personal. It helps people see how they fit into the narrative and how their contributions are instrumental in achieving the desired change.


Change leadership is crucial during times of transformation within organizations. The power of storytelling as a change leadership tool cannot be underestimated. By crafting compelling narratives that resonate with employees’ experiences and emotions, leaders can bridge the gap between resistance and acceptance, ultimately driving the success of change initiatives.


  • McNamara, C. (n.d.). Transformational Change, IBM Style. Retrieved from https://managementhelp.org/organizationalchange/transformational-change.htm
  • Denning, S. (2011). The case of storytelling in organizational change. Journal of Change Management, 11(3), 325-347.

Image credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Unlocking the Power of Change Leadership Through Storytelling

Unlocking the Power of Change Leadership Through Storytelling

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

Change is an inevitability in life and in business. It is essential to the success of any organization and its people, but often it is met with resistance and fear. To bring about lasting transformation, organizations must be able to move beyond the traditional methods of change management and embrace the power of change leadership through storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for change leadership. It is a way to engage with people on an emotional level and to help them understand the importance of making a change. When organizations use storytelling to convey the message of change, it can help to make it more palatable and easier to accept.

Storytelling can be used to illustrate the positive impact of change and to encourage people to believe in it. People can be inspired by stories that show how change has made a difference in the lives of others. It can also be used to show how organizations are adapting to new situations and how the changes will benefit the organization and its people.

Storytelling can also be used to help people make sense of their own experiences with change. People can learn how to cope with their own fears and doubts and how to manage their reactions to the changes. When people understand the stories behind the changes, they can more easily accept them.

Stories can also be used to demonstrate the power of collective leadership. People can be inspired by stories of how a group of people worked together to create change and how they overcame any obstacles they faced. This can be used to show the importance of collaboration and how it can be used to bring about lasting results.

Finally, storytelling can be used to help people develop the skills necessary for effective change leadership. People can learn how to lead without fear, how to engage with others in meaningful dialogue, and how to build trust and respect in the workplace. These skills are essential for successful change leadership and can be taught through stories.

Storytelling is an invaluable tool for change leadership. It can help to make change more palatable, to inspire people to accept it, and to develop the skills necessary for effective change leadership. By using storytelling, organizations can unlock the power of change leadership and make sure that their people are ready to embrace the changes they must make.

Image credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

What’s Your Innovation Story?

What's Your Innovation Story?

Many, but not all, innovations involve some kind of technology, and start as an invention. Many of these technology-based inventions that may eventually become innovations are created by startups, but many are created inside large companies as well. In both cases, these technology-based potential innovations are often created by engineers or technologists that are well-versed in the problems they are solving to make the technology work, but not always with the problems that the technology may solve for customers. Often the inventors speak the languages of science and technology, which is not always the same language as that understood by the potential customers for their invention that they hope will become an innovation.

As I wrote before in the always popular, and often linked and liked – Innovation is All About Value – there are three keys to achieving a successful transition from invention to innovation:

1. Value Creation

Value Creation is pretty self-explanatory. Your innovation investment must create novel or incremental value large enough to overcome the switching costs of moving to your new solution from the old solution (including the ‘Do Nothing Solution’). New value can be created by making something more efficient or effective, possible that wasn’t possible before, or by creating new psychological or emotional benefits. This creation of new value is what most people focus on, but you can’t achieve innovation without achieving success in the next two components as well.

2. Value Access

Value Access can also be thought of as friction reduction or experience design. How easy do you make it for customers and consumers to access the value you’ve created? How well has the product or service (or the experience of using it) been designed to allow people to access the value easily? How easy is it for the solution to be created? What is the employee experience like? How easy is it for people to do business with you?

These are some of the questions you must ask and answer as you seek to create success in the value access component of innovation.

3. Value Translation

Value Translation is all about helping people understand the value you’ve created and how it fits into their lives. Value translation is also about understanding where on a continuum your solution falls between the need for explanation and education. Incremental innovations can usually just be explained to people because they anchor to something they already understand, but radical or disruptive innovations inevitably require some level of education (often far in advance of the launch).

Done really well, value translation also helps to communicate how easy it will be for customers and consumers to exchange their old solution for the new solution.

Unfortunately, not all three parts of innovation success are equally understood or valued.

Most people understand that the creation of new value (aka value creation) is a key component of innovation success.

Many people understand the concept of barriers to adoption and that value access is thus also a key component to whether or not an invention successfully makes the transformation into an innovation.

BUT, few understand that value translation is probably the most critical component to innovation success. Because value translation inevitably requires both explanation AND education in varying amounts, having a good Evangelist (see The Nine Innovation Roles) that is a gifted storyteller on your innovation team will prove crucial to your innovation success. If people don’t understand how your new solution fits into their lives and why they should abandon their old solution, even if it is the ‘do nothing’ solution, then you stand no chance of your invention becoming an innovation.

And what’s the difference between an invention and an innovation? Wide adoption…

Achieving wide adoption comes not from some catchy advertising campaign, but from creating ridiculous amounts of value in the solution itself, the way that people access the solution (or the experience that they have), and in the story you create around it.

The Role of Experience in Your Innovation Story

Many true innovations create an experience that someone wasn’t able to have before, or take a painful experience and turn it into a delightful one. The automatic transmission liberated millions of people from the struggle of successfully starting a car on a hill and the worry of grinding their gears every time they go to shift gears.

How does using your potential innovation make people feel?

What is the experience like?

Where is the experience awkward or full of friction?

Could it be better?

Experience design has become increasing important because a good or bad user experience, customer experience, or employee experience creates stories, stories that get shared, stories that sometimes take on a life of their own. This is what happens when something goes viral. Sharing of the story itself becomes a new story, meaning that people are now sharing two stories (the original story, and a new story about the sharing of the original story). The power of these shared stories is why the various fields of experience design are growing both in terms of visibility and the numbers of people employed in these kinds of roles (customer experience, customer success, user experience, human-centered design, etc.).

When it comes to innovation, experience and design matter.

Bringing It All Together

Crafting a compelling innovation story requires both a compelling value proposition and a memorable experience. When you have both, your innovation story will be more engaging, easier to tell, and more likely to be shared.

Your innovation story also requires the same type of design thinking process to achieve. You must:

  1. Understand who your audience is
  2. Define what they will find convincing about the value proposition and the experience that your innovation will create
  3. Come up with ideas on how you will tell your innovation story (including the appropriate level of explanation vs. education)
  4. Choose one and prototype your innovation story
  5. Test it with people
  6. And iterate until you find that your innovation story (as well as your potential innovation) is resonating strongly with your target customers

So, plan ahead. Design your innovation story at the same time you’re designing a compelling innovation value proposition and innovation experience. Think about what people will say about your potential innovation as they begin using it. Show it to people and ask them for feedback about your potential innovation. Craft an explanation for it, build an education plan, and test both. Take all of what you learn from asking and testing these things to begin crafting your innovation story, while also refining the design of the product or service, and the experience of using it, to make both more compelling. In doing so, at the same time you’ll also make help your innovation story that much more powerful, and increase your chances of achieving innovation success!

If you need help telling your innovation story, I can help you on the tactical side (commissioned articles, white papers, webinars, collateral, keynotes, workshops, etc.) or by building you a complete innovation evangelism strategy (for an external audience, an internal one, or both). Click here to contact me.

This article originally appeared on CIO.com

Image credit: Dreamlightfugitive.wordpress.com

Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Creating a Culture of Continuous Innovation

Creating a Culture of Continuous InnovationIn this economic downturn there is more pressure than ever on executives to find new sources of growth, and as a result leaders are increasingly talking about innovation. In some organizations the leader may say “we need to be more innovative” or “we need to think out of the box” and stop there. While for other organizations it may become part of the year’s goals or even the organization’s mission statement. Only in a small number of cases will there be any kind of sustained effort to enhance, or create, a culture of continuous innovation.

By now everyone has probably heard of six sigma and continuous improvement, and maybe your organization has even managed to embed its principles into its culture, but very few organizations have managed to transform their cultures to support innovation in a sustainable way. For most organizations, innovation tends to be something that is left to the R&D department or that is thought of on a project basis. Some organizations create new innovation teams, but it is rare for an organization to invest in transforming their entire culture. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Support from top leadership is required
    • Challenge: Most executive teams are focused on short-term results and transforming organizational culture is a long-term investment of financial and leadership resources.

  2. Clear goals and guidance are needed
    • Challenge: This is a bigger barrier than you might think. Most organizations struggle to understand how to set innovation goals and to provide a vision for employees on how they might get there. Goals to ‘be innovative’ or ‘think outside the box’ are not specific enough to be successful.

  3. Every organization is different
    • Challenge: The starting place, needs and barriers to creating a culture of continuous innovation are different for every organization – making easy implementation of best practices impossible

  4. Most companies lack a shared vocabulary for innovation
    • Challenge: People in different parts of the organization use different terminology, methodologies, frameworks, and have different understandings of what innovation is. The lack of a shared vocabulary prevents organizations from achieving shared success.

  5. Change is painful
    • Challenge: Creating a culture of continuous innovation threatens the power base of a critical few, and disrupts the way people think about their jobs and the organization. Even if change is for the better, people tend to want to avoid change.

    Accelerate your change and transformation success

  6. Change needs to be managed
    • Challenge: This means pulling employees off of their day jobs or hiring consultants to commit to the leadership and communications surrounding the change effort. This investment may prove challenging in the current economic climate.

  7. Change takes time
    • Challenge: Organizations seeking to create a culture of continuous innovation must realize that the transformation will not happen overnight. People can only absorb so much change at once. The transformation will likely have to be broken up into separate phases with discreet goals (don’t try to do it all at once).
      • Make sure to stop and share the successes of each phase, and also to identify what you’ve learned that can be implemented in the next phase.

  8. Visualize the outcomes of participation
    • Challenge: Often people withdraw and choose not to participate in organizational transformations because they don’t believe that their participation will positively impact their daily lives. If those who choose to participate don’t see an impact from their early efforts, might choose to disengage as the process continues.
      • You must celebrate participation and highlight the impact of individual contributors throughout the process.

  9. New systems and processes may be required
    • Challenge: To innovate continuously, you need to be open to receiving great ideas from anywhere in the company, and must have systems and processes to manage idea gathering, evaluation, and development. Often this requires a financial and personnel investment.

  10. Change efforts require lots of communication and storytelling
    • Challenge: You have to bring the change to life for employees. This requires involvement of employees early and often in the communications surrounding the goals and outcomes of the cultural transformation
      • Create a story that is easy and fun to tell – this will make it easier to cascade the change downwards through the organization

This should give you a better idea of why very few organizations embark upon the difficult work to enhance or create a culture of continuous innovation. It may not be an easy or a short journey, but creating a culture of continuous innovation is the only way to increase your chances of avoiding organizational mortality.

Successfully creating a strong culture of continuous innovation also represents a huge opportunity for an organization to attract the best talent, to lower costs, to continuously add new revenue streams, and to better achieve competitive separation.

Is your organization ready to invest the hard work towards achieving the rewards of a culture of continuous innovation?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.