I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. Writing stories provides a creative outlet for all those thoughts rambling around in my head that are not well-suited to email or the 240-character Twitter limit.
I’ve even passed my love of storytelling on to my kids. When my son was little, we took ’night walks’ around our neighborhood and made up stories about the people who lived in the houses we passed. “Why do you suppose there are no lights on at all and it’s 9 pm?” or “There’s a bike still in the yard and I smell spaghetti. What do you think this family is doing tonight?” We would spend the rest of the walk making up a story about a family we had never met. We didn’t talk about them. We told our version of their story. The difference is subtle, but critical.
The Role of Storytelling in Product, Technology and Innovation
In a technology world where data dominates every conversation, does narrative fit into the landscape? With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning becoming synonymous with progress and plotting our paths to the future, do stories still play a role in product, technology or even innovation?
According to Daniel Coyle, New York Times best-selling author of The Talent Code and The Culture Code, they do. He says not only do stories play a role, but they are “maybe our most precious asset when making a change.”
Viewing stories as an asset and a resource is not just an interesting concept; it’s a paradigm shift. At Geneia, we continue to grow our ability to tell stories and empathize with people in pursuit of constant improvement and building products that center around our users.
Uncovering and expressing the user’s unarticulated story fuels innovation
In a previous blog, I wrote about design thinking and the human-centered design concept. This approach develops relevance in innovation, in part, through empathy toward a person’s story.
Take our new Geneia intranet, for example.
When we began our research, the project team spent hours not just interviewing their colleagues, but also observing how they work. They noted how many different internal websites team members visited to find information relevant to their job: travel arrangements, expense reporting, recruiting, benefits information, performance management or simply when the next team corn-hole tournament would occur. They watched their peers scroll through long lists of options to pick out the two or three they consistently use. Their colleagues wasted several minutes multiple times a day looking through a multitude of irrelevant options, forgetting what they were looking for and abandoning the search. Return, rinse and repeat.
It happened to more than a handful of people, and even though many users coped through subconscious workarounds, the frustration was always just under the surface. When you work with high performers like we do, these subtle time wasters can be like an itch in your ear that drives you nuts because you can’t scratch it.
Our new intranet gives each individual user the ability to ’favorite’ the links he or she searches for all the time. Now the scroll list contains only the things that particular person uses consistently. Finding the unarticulated needs and uncovering and expressing the user’s true story fuels innovation.
Sometimes you have to dig deep, but it’s a good day when you find people with challenges they didn’t even know they were facing. My husband recounts a time a design team was tasked with creating an easy-open pill bottle. They visited a grandmother who takes medication on a daily basis. When they asked her if she had any trouble opening her medication, she said, “Not at all.”
They looked quizzically at each other and then at her hands, frail and severely arthritic. “If you wouldn’t mind,” one of the interviewers said, handing her a pill bottle, “Please open this for us.” She smiled and stood slowly, took the pill bottle from his hand, walked to her kitchen, fired up her meat slicer and sliced off the top of the bottle.
Geneia Team Lunches
Team lunches are one of the things I love about working at Geneia. Each week, we sit at a large table and talk about anything but work. What usually comes out? Stories. Funny kid quips, college antics, weekend activities, the time so-and-so did this-and-that.
Storytelling is something everyone has in common. It does not matter what country you live in, the language you speak, whether you are a man, woman, adult or child; stories are relatable to everyone.
It is these stories that help to create culture in our company. And stories help form bonds in families. Stories transcend one relationship and become a fabric that knits together a society. Although that society may generate a series of bits and bytes on which its members can engineer a solution to every new thing that comes along, it is the stories that breathe life into and define the society as a whole.