Every new product, service, or system we create and offer needs a transformation story. The story fuels our creation’s escape from the status quo’s gravity and gives it a shot at finding a stable orbit. The struggle to tell stories is part of the sensemaking dance that produces our innovations and adaptations. Storytelling neglect happens in two ways: failing to craft a transformation story and failing to tell a transformation story. Before we dive into storytelling neglect, what is a transformation story?
When we create something new or adapt something for new purposes, we create a magic bridge. The bridge is magic because it takes people to a place where they can do something they couldn’t do before. Magic bridge also sounds better than “an innovation.” A transformation story lets people see themselves crossing that bridge, shows why it’s worth it, and makes the journey look easy and familiar.
Transformation stories aren’t about the bridge; they are about what the bridge can do for someone. A good transformation story helps people understand the new powers they’ll activate by crossing the magic bridge. What will their new powers help them do? Who will they become by crossing the magic bridge and activating their new powers?
Storytelling neglect happens when we put something into the world without a transformation story that shows how crossing the magic bridge leads to new powers (failure to craft) or that does so poorly (failure to tell).
Failure to craft is a failure to see the stories we tell as we create each magic bridge. Every magic bridge starts with stories about what might happen if people are able to do a collection of new things, or old things in new ways. That’s the seed that grows into how we frame problems worth solving (or, better yet, questions worth asking) and guides us through creating, testing, choosing, and launching our solutions. That seed becomes the hundreds of small stories we play with as we design and create. This storytelling path doesn’t end with a solution launch. It flows into transformation stories that help people choose to cross the magic bridge by using your solution.
The design and creation path is built on the hundreds of stories we tell to find our way to a solution that responds well to the problem we’ve framed. To send that solution out into the world, we have to wrap it in a story that gives the people we serve reasons to try our solution, expect good things, and believe in the journey. We have to create a transformation story with this pattern: (people + problem + influence) X (bridges) X (evidence + outcomes + better world).
People. You need to know the WhoDo. WHO is your audience? What do you want them to DO? We have to understand who we hope to reach with our transformation story. At a minimum, we’re speaking to the people we serve and the people who will deliver and maintain what we create for the people we serve. Once we find our people, we need to know what we want them to do. How do we want them to respond to our story? What actions do we want them to take? To choose those actions well, we need to connect them to the problems people are trying to solve.
Problem. We want to think about what we want people to do after encountering our story, but this isn’t all about us. In a transformation story, we’re thinking about what we want the people we serve to do in relation to a problem they are trying to solve. We begin with what people are trying to achieve in the world. What is the problem or set of problems the people you serve are dealing with? Next, we look at ways people might start applying our solution. In our story, we make it clear that we understand the problem, and show actions start people on a path to addressing it.
Influence. We can talk to our people about problems they care about and what to do about them, without influencing their behavior. The COM-B behavior change model gives us a way to think about influence in transformation stories. The simplified version: for people to do the target behavior (B) they need enough capability (C), opportunity (O), and motivation (M).
“Capability is defined as the individual’s psychological and physical capacity to engage in the activity concerned. It includes having the necessary knowledge and skills. Motivation is defined as all those brain processes that energize and direct behaviour, not just goals and conscious decision-making. It includes habitual processes, emotional responding, as well as analytical decision-making. Opportunity is defined as all the factors that lie outside the individual that make the behaviour possible or prompt it.” Link.
Motivation relates to how deeply people feel the problem. Learning about the problems people face, and showing what we’ve understood, helps us connect our solutions to their motivations. We also connect to motivation by creating solutions based on our research about how people experience the problems they have. Showing the actions people can take now and the sequence of actions that will follow reveals immediate opportunities. If we’ve done our research well, we know what capabilities people have. Connecting existing capabilities (C) to their immediate and future actions (O) helps people see themselves (M) using the solution to solve their problem (B).
Bridges. Bridging is the heart of a transformation story. Bridging connects people, problems and influence to the solution we’ve created. Bridging means describing the solution to people in terms that focus on their problems and what influences their actions. People don’t care about the generic description of what your solution does. They only want to understand it well enough to evaluate what it will do for them. Bridging also requires evidence that your solution works, examples of outcomes people can expect, and a glimpse of their better world created via our solution. Bridging is showing all of this in ways small and large, direct and indirect. Bridges are the words, images, sounds, videos, colors, shapes, and lines we use in our story to accomplish bridging.
Evidence. We need to include evidence that our solution was built well and does what people hope it will do and need it to do. This is where we talk about expertise, experience, craft, choices, and tests. We want to show evidence that we’ve solved the problem well. We also want to show ways people can test it for themselves. Provide people with everything they need to decide for themselves whether they will benefit enough from the journey you describe to take the first step.
Outcomes. Do not confuse outcomes with a transformation story’s destination. The outcomes are what your solution will allow people to do or experience. Those outcomes can be benefits gained or pains avoided. They are the actions, features, deliverables, outputs, interactions, or connections your solution makes possible. Clearly describing outcomes is part of providing evidence and connecting what your solution does to the problems that people want to solve. Outcomes help show the value of the transformation story’s destination, but they are not the destination.
Better World. Every transformation story has the same destination: a better world. The better world is the world people will experience when the problem our solution addresses is no longer holding them back. The better world is the world the people we serve create using the energies unleashed by what the outcomes do for them. Being able to see this better world helps with motivation to act because it is a vivid description of a future world without a problem or set of problems. Our transformation story’s people, problems, influence, bridges, evidence, and outcomes interact to make the better world we describe believable and desirable.
Fluid Hive’s Transformation Story Questions
Develop everything you need to craft a transformation story by asking these questions.
- People: Who are our people? What do we want them to do?
- Problem: What is the biggest problem our people are wrestling with? What is it like for them to live with that problem? Why does it matter to them?
- Influence: What early steps must people take to apply our solution? How might our story show people that they are capable of acting now? How might we make opportunities to act visible in our story?
- Bridges: How might we describe our solution in terms of people and their problems? How might our story reveal the step-by-step pathway to solution adoption? What expected outcomes must we describe? Does everything in our story lead to the better world made possible by our solution?
- Evidence: How might we show that we have created a high-quality, effective solution to problems our people feel strongly about? What, from the perspective of the people we serve, is meaningful information about the solution? How might we weave that information into our story in ways that let our people evaluate our solution?
- Outcomes: How might we show what our solution generates or allows people to do or experience? How might we show how outcomes connect solution effectiveness evidence to the problems people are experiencing?
- Better World: What is a vivid description of the world where people are benefiting from our solution? How might we give people a sense of living the better world’s reality?
I’ve created an Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tool download to help you use these questions to craft transformation stories. The next part, Protect Your Solutions with Transformation Stories: Part 2 — Telling Well, is about helping your story reach the right people in the right ways at the right time.
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