“StoryForm”: A work in progress

StoryForm is a new project Throughline is gestating. The aim is to create a tool for driving, inspiring and shaping BUYING (business and consumer purchasing) and BUY-IN (commercial decisions, especially around innovative concepts). As such, it relates to and also goes beyond our work in KILN around catalysing innovation.

Business Model Canvas

Back in late February, I heard Alexander Osterwalder speak at the Front End of Innovation EMEA conference hosted by the Institute of International Research. The keynote was about the Business Model Canvas. Indy had received Alex’s bookBusiness Model Generation (co-authored with Yves Pigneur, designed by Alan Smith of The Movement) when the first, rough-bound edition appeared in 2010. So I knew about the canvas, and had a notion of its immense usefulness.

Still, knowledge pales against experience.

It was great fun to work with Christian-Andre (C.A.) Weinberger on quickly populating a canvas relating to a story of our fellow table mate at FEI EMEA. The usefulness of visualising a business model was immediately apparent. And Alex and team’s success at applying Dan Roam’s ideas about crystallising thought in drawings as simple as those many of us draw on the backs of napkins was as obvious live as it is in the book. Watching Alex draw on the iPad he connected to the projector cable part way through the talk was really fun. Lines loose and free, flowing at the velocity of thought.

Story for "buy-in": A game led by SEEK

The Business Model Canvas experience during Alex’s keynote was brief.

Especially in comparison to the time C.A. and I spent with others, working on “story” as a buy-in principle for innovation processes. This was inspired by a game called Allegiance created and led by the American innovation boutique Seek. Hats off to Ben DoepkeGreg Hewitt and the Seek team for taking a lukewarm audience of innovation workers in corporate, public and academic settings…and converting a good many of us into avid game players.

C.A. effortlessly emerged as the “story team’s” leader. Our challenge was to complete an impressive book in which Seek was guiding us into conversations that crystallised story as a tool for buy-in conversations. The conversations were fascinating. C.A. agreed I should photograph each page before we handed our book. I keep hoping Ben can manage to get the hardcopy back to me. A lot of passion went into its fast development. And, of course, there is so much work still to do relating to using stories to win acceptance and activate people towards executing on novel concepts.

Using stories in innovation work

Some of that work has been undertaken by KILN, the innovation catalyst company I was fortunate enough to co-found in 2010 with Indy Neogy and Gregg Fraley.With KILN, we’ve developed Future Tense Storytelling. (Please read one of KILN’s own “future-tense stories” for an example.) Future Tense Stories are about winning buy-in. Here’s a recent post about stories for innovation buy-in.

But my experiences with Seek’s game and Alex’s introduction to the Business Model Canvas got me thinking. Was there a paper tool that would help me organise my thoughts around brand stories? The specific case I’m interested in developing is around purchasers as heroes of the brand story.

Purchasers as heroes

It’s a theme that started taking shape when I was driving marketing for a software start-up called Legion. The founders wanted the conversation to start with the science and wizardry embodied by the software. But the marketplace quickly taught us (and, more slowly, we learned) that to drive early adopters, they needed to be the heroes of the stories we told. Since then, across projects, I’ve worked with companies larger and smaller to craft stories that made users, purchasers, beneficiaries the heroes.

What the FEI conference experience allowed me to do was connect this thinking with the buy-in process. I came to see in March, that a robust tool would help support consumer-centered “buying stories” as well as innovation “buy-in” stories. My pencil hit the page, as much at Indy’s behest as my own initiative.

The timing is important. In July this year, I have an important invitation to fulfil. Hundreds of retailers from North America (perhaps, beyond) are meeting in Chicago for a trade conference called Shoppers Insights. In the past, keynote slots have been filled by my friend Grant McCracken, P&G’s legendary CEO A.G. Lafley and writer-wunderkind of the Wired Generation Jonah Lehrer. To see whom I speaking alongside, click here.

Heroes of the Purchase Journey

My talk is called “Heroes of the Purchase Journey”.  Billed a storyteller, I’ll share stories, many of them from Britain, that come from brands who are keying into the centrality of the purchaser, with branded product or store playing second fiddle. The creative work belongs to others. (Since Throughline isn’t a conventional agency…and since nigh on 90% of my time in the nine months has been spent growing KILN, these are not stories I claim as my own.)

In my quest for stories, I was really pleased to e-meet London digital wondersWeapon 7 yesterday. Creative Director Jeremy Garner shared a story from their stable (more on this another day). Londoners, please look out for Jeremy and team at Digital Shoreditch – next week, they’re presenting a session called “Online Consumers are the Hero of their own Epic Adventure” which promises to be terrific. Jeremy’s posts at Brand Republic’s The Wall here and here capture some of the aspects Weapon 7 is seeing, where the consumer in our digital age is a hero on a journey.

I don’t earn the place on IIR’s speaking roster simply by being a curator, though. I know business people need tools to drive discussions and decisions. (The assets Throughline has made have always been geared to stimulate conversation. KILN explicitly is a catalyst company, providing stimulus and scaffolding to enable company teams to do different things, not just do things differently.)

Forming StoryFORMs

The scrawls I made back in March are beginning to take shape as one such tool. So far, I’ve called it StoryForm. Like the Business Model Canvas, which allows people “to describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot” a business strategy, StoryForm aims to empower people (who may also participate in those strategy discussion) to work through the story at the heart of a business, innovative concept or brand campaign.

These stories-at-the-heart feature heroes who aren’t brands. They’re people. This work is about getting people squarely centre-stage. Like Tristan Kromer says to technology start-ups, don’t start with problems, start with people. (He goes so far as to say: Problems don’t exist.) Yes, Tristan, I hear you. People, people, people.

These stories-at-the-heart aren’t branding briefs or advertising campaign concepts. But they could well drive better briefs and campaigns.

The StoryForm won’t look like or be a storyboard or wireframes, like those UI and UX designers develop. But I was introduced to wireframes back in the early 2000s by Johannes Hoech then of 8020 (which has now merged with Milestone Group). When I added a note to Brendan Coram‘s blog Five Whys, I was so pleased to feel a conversation opening up with people working in that space.

Shoppers Insights

New conversations lie ahead. I feel very fortunate to have the Shoppers Insights conference ahead, to look forward to. Also to be drawing in others to the conversation in my head. Architect David Rosenberg from Velorose here in London and dramaturg/creative facilitator Pam de Sterke of Firm Dada in Amsterdam are sitting down with me next week.

If work continues to take shape, I hope to arrive in Chicago not only with stories to tell and a tool to share, but with actual pieces of paper the audience members can take back to their desks, and use in their work. It would be wonderful to be useful to that audience.

If you’re able to join Shoppers Insights in Chicago (18-20 July), please go here to review the agenda and register. If not, please pass by Throughline’s watercooler or let’s meet up at KILN.



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