Story Archeology – Guiding Innovation Through Storytelling

A leader’s well told story has the power to guide an audience through a message of innovation by creating unforgettable images that bring their vision to life.  Our brains are hard wired to accept, translate and share the meaning of messages through story. We store our memories in the form of story.  The sharing of a past business experience can create clarity and provide direction for your team’s latest project. What better way to initially lay a foundation of curiosity and inspiration than your story!

As story archeologists, we help leaders unearth the stories that lie within themselves and the history of their organization. The term story archeology came out of a continuing dialogue around the impact of story on leadership and learning, reflections and insights.  Many of these stories are embedded in the everyday activities of employees. These are stories of an organization’s true values and culture.

We then help leaders to polish and present their stories with imagery, detail, passion and excitement. These are the stories that that stir the heart and fire the imagination.  They speak to the longing within every person’s heart to be part of something greater than them selves. These are the stories of us.

We asked for insights from a friend of ours, Paul Bottino, who founded the Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Harvard’s School of Engineering, “How can a leader leverage the power of story to guide innovation within an organization?”  We have adapted his answer below:

  • The leader must first remind others of their heritage. They do this by unearthing and sharing success stories of the past. Where and who were we? What vision did we have for ourselves? What obstacles did we have to overcome to achieve success? The listeners will recognize themselves in the story and be drawn in. This allows them to celebrate their finest attributes.
  • The leader must discover the stories of the confusing present. These reside within the people of the organization who are in touch with its customers. What has changed? What is being asked of us now? The leader must collect, interpret, synthesize and validate them for the rest of the organization. These stories include a vivid picture of what could be, as well as the challenges that must be overcome to achieve it.
  • The leader must then tell the story of the innovative future. Are our current beliefs, attitudes and ways adequate to handle the path forward? What attributes must we embody in order to meet and exceed the new challenges? This story ties back to the spirit of their beginnings and models the new behaviors necessary for success.

As story archeologists, we help leaders recast their organization as the protagonist, the main character, of their own innovation story. Our story process assists leaders to clarify their message in the context of their innovation strategy and then share it in a compelling manner with Story Presence.

As the protagonist there are key elements to understanding their story:

  • They are very good at something
    • This is the unique value they bring to the marketplace
  • They want something
    • This is their vision of the future
  • There is an obstacle that they must overcome in order to get it
    • They must define the problem to be solved. This can be their competition, the changing marketplace, rapid cycle of change, etc.
  • They must go through some kind of transformation in order to get it
    • This could reflect any sort of innovation be it business model, product, or processes to solve the problem
  • They discover meaning together
    • The journey of transformation has created a deeper bond to the innovation message.

Story archeology reveals high impact moments and messages that leaders can use to create buy-in for their innovation strategy. “Emotions are mechanisms that set the brain’s highest-level goals.,” states Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist.  We’ve helped leaders build a practical bridge between the intellectual process of strategy and the key emotional driven behaviors needed for innovation initiatives to be implemented successfully.

The power of a well-told story can deliver a high leverage tool into a leader’s hands, just when they need it the most. Lisa Cron, author of Wired For Story, reinforces this point further.  She states in her text that the audience of a story “Must feel for the protagonist: When we’re fully engaged in a story, our boundaries dissolve.” We’ve found a well-constructed story can continue to guide a leader and their team by updating the organization or protagonist’s progress with innovation. A leader’s engagement peaks when employees identify themselves with the transformational story of the company’s innovation.

The stories that have been undiscovered or forgotten may hold the solutions for guiding your organization through successful innovation. As story archeologists, we dedicate ourselves to helping you uncover and display the valuable resources you already have stored within your organization. We look forward to your next dig.

Rob Salafia and David Sollars are story archeologists. They help leaders and top teams discover the story that sticks. They assist leaders of change find solutions to challenges by uncovering knowledge and insights that are often buried within their own experiences. They engage with organizations during pivotal crossroads to clarify current priorities, shape the newly formed message for guiding the actions of an organization, and coach confident performances from each leader. They utilize a range of engaging learning techniques drawn from their extensive experiences in the fields of theater, martial arts and medicine. Through a process of self-discovery, leaders learn the skills to find their story, carve out and customize high impact moments, and differentiate their personal leadership brand by leaving a message that resonates with their audience long after they have left. Contact us and tell us your story! robsalafia@gmail.com.

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