Design Thinking Requires Storytelling

Design Thinking Requires StorytellingStories inspire, motivate, and shift the way the people think and work. Many civilizations throughout history understood the power of storytelling. From ancient Egypt to modern China story-telling provided the foundation for nearly everything. For business, often there needs to socialize strategies within executive management, the board and senior staff and they include telling innovation, survival and hero/heroine stories. Most survival stories are around when organization had to overcome big challenges from disruptive business models that threatened its existence. It is an important piece of organization culture building.

There are a few universities offering storytelling degrees. I believe Columbia University offers a BA in storytelling an mythology and East Tennessee State University offers MA Storytelling, one of a select few fully accredited graduate programs in Professional and Applied Storytelling. All MBA should include a module for this.

From our daily routines to historic events, storytelling can be the best tool to uncover insights. Historians use storytelling to draw out the facts – and it can be used in the modern corporate world too.

Storytelling has been used as an insight tool to give idealized accounts of ancient life. Sometimes drawing from events and at other times drawing from art itself. When I was in Egypt, I learned about the poems found in an excavated workers’ village on the outskirts of the Valley of Kings. These poems contain insights into the life of ancient Egypt – a window that can still shed light on ancient life.

Design Thinking Requires Storytelling

In Japan, Kamishibai was a popular form of visual and participatory storytelling that combines the use of hand drawn visuals with the engaging narration of a live presenter. ‘Kami’ in Japanese means ‘paper’ and ‘shibai’ means ‘play’ or ‘drama.’ The presenter stands to the right of a small wooden box (call it a mini stage) that holds the 12-20 cards that feature the visuals that accompany each story. The presenter changes the cards at the speed that matches the flow of the story he is telling. Today, this type of performance is rare but the essence of what was achieved is still alive and well – to capture the audience with a story.

Anthropologists and ethnographers have long been using storytelling to communicate findings. By painting a picture of a situation, the insights gleaned become clear and understandable. Not only used to communicate the findings, anthropologists use the method as part of the research as well. Individuals are asked questions and in return, a story is told. CEOs are telling stories everyday from painting a future to crystalizating emerging market opportunities.

Despite the universality of storytelling, many research professionals that use classic research methodologies for qualitative and quantitative studies are reluctant to accept storytelling as an insight tool and some may be skeptical about how storytelling can be beneficial in applied research.

A few tips to keep in mind if you are willing to embark on a new story. First it is not about the number of stories that correspond to a particular segment; it is the quality of the stories. There is no need to be overly concerned about the factual accuracy of the story. And second, the focus should never be around the discussions. While it may be useful for the researcher to understand the questions in the client’s mind, a discussion guide is only useful in a limited sense. At idea Couture, storytelling is considered a leadership skills as much as it is an insight tool.

image credit: highheels&ddd & wikipedia

Like Innovation Excellence on Facebook
Don’t miss an article (4,500) – Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Innovation Excellence group!

Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of Idea Couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, many published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

Idris Mootee




Five CV skills of a business-minded individual

By Hubert Day | September 21, 2023

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash The skills listed on a CV help employers quickly understand your suitability for a…

Read More

Four ways you can ensure employees take accountability for their work

By Hubert Day | April 5, 2023

One of the most important driving factors for any successful business is a high-performing team. Having people working for you…

Read More

No Comments

  1. Chris Taylor on July 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Great article on a timely topic. I have a friend who specializes in education on the power of story and wrote up a great article called, “Once upon a time…” :

    In a world obsessed with data, the idea of a story can get lost, even though it is the primary way to inspire others. People aren’t wired to react to data, but to the stories of what’s happened and what is possible.

  2. Mark Minneboo on July 31, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    A nice article about the cultural value of storytelling. It reminds me of the use of storyboards in the design of user experiences in the development of festivals, events, theme parcs and even restaurants and shops. It´s about what the owners of these places want their visitors/ clients to experience. The storyboards mimic what clients/ visitors should experience and is much more useful than writing down concepts on paper en making lists. The story teller takes the users with him through the experience as if it was a story with the public as it´s main character. There are tons of examples of places where this form of designing the user´experiences using stories has resulted in groundbreaking new concepts. Disneyland, the rainforest café and electronic music festivals are amongst them. The use of storytelling/ storyboards is discussed profoundly in the book ´imagineering´, by Diane Nijs and Frank Peters. I don´t know if the book has an English translation, but it´s totally worth the read!

  3. Chris Witt on August 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Storytelling is one of the most powerful (and neglected) tools in a leader’s tool box.

    A good story well told opens up worlds of possibilities in people’s imaginations, and the results — discussions, ideas, decisions — that come about are almost always unexpected. Which is a good thing, when you’re concerned about innovation.

  4. CG on August 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    This is a powerful reminder on the basis and foundation of effective design. It’s not just aesthetics or “visual value” but it’s the essence of delivering a message consistent with your story.

  5. Mark Sampson on August 28, 2012 at 3:38 am

    A very informative article about brand storytelling, your points are good.

Leave a Comment