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Storytelling to promote innovation

Storytelling is as old as the human species and our brains are hard-wired to absorb stories. We engage with stories in a way that we just don’t with factual information. In fact, people remember information woven into a narrative up to 22 times more than facts alone1. If you want people to understand, remember and engage with your organisational strategy storytelling is a great place to start.

So why does it work? There are two main reasons humans love patterns in data. We search for ways of making sense of our world and one way of doing this is to make stories. People like this so much that humans actually even try to make stories from unconnected objects1. Helping people integrate information into a common mental framework will help them relate to the message and remain engaged from start to finish. Secondly, the language and imagery used within stories engages more areas of the brain. There is far more brain activity during a story than when factual information is shared. This activity helps the listener literally feel like they are within the story, it makes it richer and more memorable for them.

If you want to create a story to talk about innovation then here are six ideas to get you started.

  1. Use detail and imagery. Paint a picture of what innovation looks like. Make it feel real. Allow your audience to feel like they are already there. Think about what they would see, hear, feel, and think.
  2. Use literary devices like metaphors, similes and irony. Use analogies. Illustrate abstract ideas with actual examples; not only is this engaging it will help listeners build the belief that they too can achieve something similar.
  3. Use emotion. Studies have shown that people who are engaged with a story will experience emotions as a result of it, and learning is strongest when there is an emotional response.
  4. If you want behaviour change, talk about someone who underwent a transformation. Show why their choices were the right choices and what thoughts they had. Again this can build self-belief and can guide behaviour in the future.
  5. Create suspense. People are more engaged with stories if they don’t know how they are going to end. Keep your audience guessing.
  6. Include both negative (solve the problem) and positive (capture the opportunity) messages.

And remember, stories don’t always have to be scripted and delivered. You can let your employees create their own stories by doing things that are dramatic and worthy of talking about which align to your strategy. Allow employees to take responsibility for sharing these spontaneous stories and encourage them to develop their own  it’s fun and it’s effective. Where employees are engaged/involved in the process of creating the story the commitment to the outcome increases by five times!3

  1. Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business
  2. Heider, F. & Simmel, M. (1944) An Experimental Study of Apparent Behaviour, The American Journal of Psychology, 57 (2), pp. 243 – 259
  3. Keller, S. & Aiken, C. (2000) The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management. McKinsey & Company


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