Stories Can Build an Innovation Culture or Destroy It

compound innovation modelThis is Part II of the report on Thursday’s innochat where a group of innovation experts and practitioners tackle some of the innovation challenges facing organizations. Part I is here.

Turning to her third question, moderator Gwen Ishmael (@Gwen_Ishmael) asked how the different types of innovation being discussed — incremental, breakthrough and transformational — impact execution.

“Breakthrough innovations are fragile and require incubation. You can’t just throw them in to Stage-Gate or they will die,” said David Culton (@davidculton). Harvey Briggs (@OBX_Harvey) agreed. “Stage-Gate misapplied will kill a great idea,” he said.

Ned Kumar (@nedkumar) advised companies to build an innovation framework and to understand the different types of innovation they can pursue.Cathryn Hrudicka (@CreativeSage) said organizations should look at themselves as outsiders. If that fails, they should bring in “outside visionaries” to help.

Execution can come from any source in the right environment, said Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar). “In a social business, with clear transparency and acceptance, every employee has the opportunity to drive innovation,” he said.

“Put a disruptive or transformational team in place, separate from ‘Business As Usual’ organization” and experimental teams across departments, advised Hrudicka. “It’s best to have a champion/owner for innovation backed by a cross-functional team [it’s] good for problem solving and buy in,” said Alicia Arnold (@alicarnold).

Saul Kaplan (@skap5) warned about terminology. “One person’s tweak is another’s breakthrough and still another’s transformation,” he said.

“Why try to control innovation,” wondered Lois Martin (@LoisMarketing). “Isn’t it innovation because it isn’t controlled?”

Innovation Stories

Ishmael’s final question asked what stories need to be told to gain support for each type of innovation. In his talks about IT in the business, Prof. Joe Peppard often talks about an organization’s culture and how that can be determined by the stories people tell each other about the workplace.

An anecdote about a company innovator, for example, can tell how that person measured risk and went on to bring an idea to life. But Peppard said that, in addition to tone, the story’s outcome sets the firm’s direction. The innovator could fail and be advised on how to do better next time, for example. Or the innovator could be shown the door. Either way, the story is easily understood and the message is clear.

“Stories are always key to organizational culture,” said Hrudicka. “The Polaroid camera came from a three-year-old asking why you had to wait for pictures,” she said. Judy Gombita (@jgombita) suggested setting an “organizational narrative” to include the three innovation elements.

“You don’t need to tell stories to gain support for incremental, but you need to sell your vision of the customer need for disruptive,” said Jeffrey Phillips (@ovoinnovation).

Kevin McFarthing (@InnovationFixer) said the stories could be about customers and their needs, habits, emotions or insights. “Stories, not numbers,” he said. “A story needs to address the six human needs: security, variety, significance, connection, growth and contribution,” said Venkata Sashank (@svsashank).

But Steve Koss (@SteveKoss) was not convinced. “Storytelling is over rated at times. How many times have you encountered Pinocchio or have staff that carry x-files to spot one?” he said.


“You can’t keep new wine in old wineskins, and you can’t manage disruptive ideas in existing processes and decision models,” said Phillips. “It is, in fact, easier to disrupt a business you already know than a business you do not,” noted Jose Briones (@Brioneja).

Sommelier Jenny Neill (@JennyNeill), however, picked up on the wine theme. “You actually can’t use old wineskins because they’ll break from the acidity of the wine,” she said. Phillips then explained that the wineskins were a Biblical reference.

“So are wine tanks ‘scaleable’ innovation?” McFarthing asked.

“Not scalable but perhaps reusable innovation. But certainly not Biblical,” Phillips quipped.

“Biblical innovation sounds scary,” said Briggs.

John Lewis (@JohnWLewis) then joked, “Isn’t that creation — which is beyond creativity!”

Image by Brilliant Forge on Flickr.

3 thoughts on “Stories Can Build an Innovation Culture or Destroy It

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » “Even Cavemen Learned That You Innovate or Die!”

  2. John, terrific the weaving of the tweets with a great evolving story makes such an enjoyable read- thanks. Especially the Oenology part leaves you with a great smile for the day.

    John Lewis’s “creation” sums up #innochat

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