Check your concept is credible by storyFORMing

15 November 2017 Story design
12 mins min read

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Business Innovation Brief

Entrepreneurs and innovators often get very excited about introducing a new solution that will improve people’s lives. Their passion is a key ingredient. But passion can lead to blind spots. These can slow down or even stop success. Also, business schools teach analysis relying on cold facts and figures stripped of human relevance. While quantitative analysis plays an important role in assessing the potential of new concepts, spreadsheets and data-rich models aren’t enough to win buy-in. To win hearts alongside minds, entrepreneurs and innovators need methods that tap people’s imaginations. Here’s where storytelling makes a difference in business.

Storytelling taps people’s imaginations

Storytelling is a vital method. If marketing or communications teams own storytelling, story enters the process too late. Delays, expense and even failure result when the people who understand story are too far downstream in the invention process. StoryFORMing is a visual thinking tool that helps you explain what you’re doing and why anyone would care. It takes the mental power of a Marketing Director and brings it to your meeting room or work station.

When to use storyFORMing, and why bother

You can embed storyFORMing at the front-end of innovation. Learn it once and use it throughout a project’s lifecycle.  Using it can make you more efficient in developing your initial concept and also make evaluation of your prototype or launch project easier and more enjoyable.  storyFORMing is a visual thinking tool that helps you generate a canvas that explains what you’re doing and why anyone would care. The storyFORM canvas sits alongside your Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas, and does a better job helping you connect the dots than Value Proposition Canvas. A good storyFORM will kickstart your branding process, saving time and money if you need outside skills to formulate your brand name and visual identity. You develop, launch and learn faster and more effectively.

Storytelling is a practical activity

“Tell me a story about concept development”

An NGO wants to curb malaria deaths. It knows the most vulnerable are infants, children under five and pregnant women. It confirms that regular use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets reduces mosquito bites that transmit malaria. The NGO plans a social marketing programme that will bring branded mosquito nets at an affordable price point to communities with high infection and mortality rates. The programme will involve community members in promoting and selling the ITNs and in setting up and maintains insectide retreatment services.

The problem

The problem is that in most households, men control the disposable income and they find sleeping under the nets without their children most comfortable. How can the nets be sold to men but used and cared for by women?

The decision and the discovery

The project team starts storyFORMing. storyFORMing clarifies for the project team that the people the project must serve are those at greatest risk from malaria deaths but also that they cannot be reached without men’s participation. The team creates a new StoryFORM canvas from men’s point-of-view; and uses what is learned to brand the product and its distribution channel to appeal to men’s desire to protect and provide for their families during the periods in life when women and young children are most vulnerable. This branding is compatible with the branding of the retreatment services which are led by women. The project succeeds because both men’s and women’s participation is evoked, and their different needs respected.

The lesson

This taught me: sharpening what you decide to do, and building a compelling positioning improves your success prospects.

The source

I made up this story based on my personal experience working in the 1990s within a global NGO. I worked as part of a team advising WHO on the pilot Roll Back Malaria programme. Roll Back Malaria is entering its third decade, with activities envisaged up to 2030.

storyFORMing shapes with Hero in Comic Book collage

“Tell me another story, this time about winning buy-in”

Peter Guber, a successful Hollywood producer wants to bring a minor league baseball team he owns to Las Vegas. He thinks the family fun of having a home team will improve the quality of life in Sin City. He arranges to meet Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Goodman is a force to reckon with and Guber is there to win Goodman’s support for building a state-of-the-art stadium where Guber’s minor league baseball would make its new home.

The decision and the discovery

Guber walked into the mayor’s office armed with data but without a story. It was as if he forgot everything he knew about storytelling in his Hollywood blockbusters and was imitating an inexperienced MBA student. Statistics simply aren’t enough when you’re want to sway someone into action and what you’re offering isn’t what they expected.

If you fail to connect with your listener, no amount of data will convince them to buy-in to your idea.


The failure lesson

Winning buy-in means grabbing and holding the listener’s attention long enough to convince her. A good story speaks directly to specific listeners, making plain to each what interest of theirs will be served by the hero-offer-value fit.

So, next time:

Use the data to form a story. You can wear a suit and still win buy-in telling a compelling story.

storyFORMing makes it easier and faster to sketch stories to appeal different audiences that remain consistent with the overall business concept.

The source

I told a summary of this story in a 2013 blog post here, which reviewed Peter Guber’s best selling business book, Tell To Win.

What will you gain by adopting storyFORMing

The filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard nailed it when he wrote:

“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”

Business fail by over-simplifying complexity too soon. StoryFORMing provides a way to keep the complexity visible without it becoming overwhelming.

When I explained storyFORMing to the innovation community in 2013, I quoted Roger L Martin’s 2012 HBR article:

“The successful strategists of the future will have a holistic, empathetic understanding of customers and be able to convert somewhat murky insights into a creative business model that they can prototype and revise in real time. To do all that, they’ll have to be good communicators, comfortable with ambiguity and ready to abandon the quest for certain, single-point answers.”

As I write this post in late 2017, Roger has just been named by Thinkers50 the world’s Number One business thinker. As a straight, Roger is great at explaining how we should approach business challenges. My role is to provide practical tools and trainings that make doing things well easier and more instinctive. It’s one thing to say “be a good communicator” or “become more empathetic, more comfortable with ambiguity” and quite another show you how and help you along the way.

If you’re working on a new business idea, or an idea for a new business:

Here’s what you can expect from storyFORMing.

If I do this: I can expect to:
Define who I want to serve


see clearly whether they have the resources, access and passion to make my concept a reality.
Determine what I need to offer to stakeholders versus buyers versus users


have a better map of how different groups connect with my overall concept. My branding plan and communications become more realistic.
Create a storyFORM canvas for each audience my brand must reach



I’ll be ready to brief a branding/graphic design agency without needing to pay them for a brand strategy fee and wait for them to deliver it

“Sounds exactly what I need! How do I start?”

If you’re good a facilitating your group’s thinking, then consider the card deck kits available from Ignite Shop. If you’d prefer more support — or you’d like a professional facilitator to help you co-design with stakeholders, buyers or users — please contact me. John Lord, CEO of TruNarrative, endorses the genius of storyFORMing with Kate Hammer
© 2017 Kate Hammer. All rights reserved.