What Makes a Great Innovation Story?

What Makes a Great Innovation Story?

Five Principles and Five Examples from our 2014 Innovation Cities Tour

Everywhere I go – from big companies to start ups, people are talking about the need to share their innovation challenges and successes more effectively. They might not use the word “story,” but if probed, 90% of the people I talk to freely admit that communicating their (innovation) story or challenge – in a way that makes it easy to understand and engage in – is one of the biggest challenges they face. We agree! It’s no coincidence that 90% of the river of content on Innovation Excellence comes from people who have a story to tell and energy to tell it. We’re living proof. Now we’re taking our commitment to Innovation Storytelling and Story Tellers, a step further.

Innovation Excellence is going to curate 100+ Innovation Stories this year, share them on our site, on our Cities Tour, at the Front and Back End of Innovation Conferences and beyond. We’re going to give them away with the hope that they’ll make a big impact in the world. Why are we doing this? Because innovation requires courage. And we believe courage comes (in part) from stories, especially telling them and seeing them.

We invite YOU to join us and share your story…

Attend our virtual Kickoff on March 20, 2014

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…as we describe how we are going to prototype, curate and crowd-source, using HypeGo, stories of real innovators, caught in the act of changing the world, industry-by- industry, city-by-city.

We’re starting with stories of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award Winners, and some other inspired, pioneering organizations, like Fahrenheit 212, Hype, Communispace, and Kite, to seed the process (see below.)  Members of Hype, Fahrenheit 212 and Communispace will be on our March 20 webchat to share their stories.

Our goal, to borrow a phrase from one of our favorite books, Spreadable Media, is to help these (your) stories spread, so they can be used, told, and re-mixed in innumerable ways — contributing horsepower to that critical moment in the life of any innovator – getting the thing (idea, product, service, business model) understood, embraced and launched. And of course, we intend to discover and learn a lot along the way.

We think stories play a much bigger role than is currently understood inside of companies. Sure TED has crossed the billionth viewer line. But go deeper INSIDE of organizations and see if you can find dedicated resources to telling stories about overcoming resistance, skepticism, or simply inertia. We want them. We just don’t fully understand how to cut through the clutter and and completely value them!

We’re going to share these stories freely, and do the research on what helps them “spread,” with help from Sam Ford, MIT Media Studies Researcher and author of Spreadable Media, Frank Migliorelli, Experience Designer and Adjunct Professor at NYU. And we will also look at the patterns in the stories, as media forms and as news, with Kim Garretson, Fellow, Reynolds School of Journalism, and former head of of content at Best Buy.  Kim will also be be on hand and join us on our March 20 web chat.

Here’s what we’ll cover on the web chat:

• How to participate and share your own story
• What makes a great innovation story?
• What is spreadable media?
• The strategic role of stories in creating, disseminating and capturing innovation outcomes
• Crowdsourcing and open-innovation approaches to story capture and sharing

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Here are 5 principles that we have uncovered so far about what makes a great innovation story:

Principal #1 They’re always about overcoming resistance

Leave it to uber-storyteller Malcolm Gladwell, or was that the Bible? Well whatever, overcoming resistance is one of the oldest and most deeply felt story ever told. And because we’re human, we need to keep proving that we can continue to overcome resistance, real or imagined.


Principal #2: They’re visual

Stories come in all media, and some across “trans-media.” Most great innovation stories are entertaining and highly visual. Fahrenheit 212 shows that one idea, in this case, the intersection of “magic and money” can be told without words, but with a visual concept, Magic + Money, that true to their belief in it, runs through, literally, everything – including the furniture.


Principal #3 They’re personal –  told in a personal voice

Not because she’s Thomas Alva Edison’s great-grand niece, but because she’s relentlessly dedicated to increasing American competitiveness, Sarah Calidicott Miller researched and reclaimed Edison’s fabled “Midnight Lunch” – a practice of true collaboration after hours in the lab that powered Edison’s historic list of inventions. And while the book is a great read, it’s pales in comparison to hearing Sarah describe what it must have been like to roll up your sleeves, light a cigar, and talk over food and drink into the night about the day’s experiments. “Midnight Lunches” were Edison’s form of true collaboration.  Sarah is a one woman re-creation, preserving that tradition, “Midnight Lunch” an embodiment of a gem from Edison’s life and a teachable story for the rest of us.

Principal #4  They have real drama

9-11 decimated lower Manhattan, and in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy, the streets were…empty.   Craig Hatkoff, along with producer Jane Rosenthal, and Robert DeNiro decided there was job to be done: filling the streets again, and that a film festival might do the trick. The birth of the Tribeca Film Festival was a disruptive innovation. It disrupted destruction and disarray with hope, creativity and commerce. Hatkoff went on, along with Harvard Professor Clay Christensen and Rabbi Irwin Kula, to found the Disruptor Foundation, which curates the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, celebrating positive examples of disruptive innovation in all walks of life.


Principal #5 They fulfill a need

In 1999, before the dawn of social media, Diane Hessan had an insight – companies wanted to have conversations with their customers, and customers had a lot to say in return. The focus group was a pretty tired vehicle, limited in all the obvious ways. Diane’s insight led to the founding of Communispace, a pioneer in online communities, which has helped businesses develop more meaningful relationships with consumers for 14 years.

And finally, we’ll help you spread them! Add your OWN stories to our mix…right here:

You can upload your Innovation Story here: https://stories.hypego.net

image credits: malcolmgladwell.com, farenheit212.com, powerpatterns.com, tribecafilm.com, communispace.com

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Julie Anixter is the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence. She also serves as the Executive in Residence for the Disruptor Foundation. The co-author of three books, she’s working on a fourth on courage and innovation. She worked with Tom Peters for five years on bringing big ideas to big audiences. Now she works with the US Military, Healthcare, Education, Manufacturing and other high test innovation cultures that make a difference.

Julie Anixter




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  1. Joan Holman on March 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Fabulous article and insights, Julie. You personally continue to trailblaze the innovation highway through your inspiring leadership and through the platform of INNOVATION EXCELLENCE.

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