Customer Innovation Guide: Core Competency 1

Mastering the First Core Competency: Incorporating Story-Telling into Your Organization's DNA

March 28, 2007

Innovation spreads by word of mouth. It’s the stories that everyone remembers. We recommend formalizing a managed process for capturing and sharing customer-related stories. The learning that results from listening and sharing your own customer stories will help lead to new insights and innovations. This self-assessment guide will tell you how far along your company is on the road to making customer story-telling part of your corporate culture

In my book, "Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company’s Future," we specify the five core competencies to master:

  • Story-Telling
  • Community Building
  • Customer Co-Design
  • Open Development
  • Peer Production and Peer Promotion

For each competency, we provide context and a list of activities (methods/behaviors/programs) you should be implementing to reinvent your organizational culture around customer-led innovation. We also provide you with space to complete your self assessment: how well is your organization/division/department/group doing on fulfilling these requirements? We recommend that you identify those activities broken down into three categories (which mirror our Customer Scenario® Mapping methodology):

  • Things “We Can” Do —you already do this activity well.
  • Things “We Will” Do —you have already identified this activity as strategic to your organization, and you have a plan for implementation in place, complete with a budget and delivery date.
  • Things “We Should” Do —you aren’t currently committed to this activity, but you understand that you should investigate it and prioritize its value to your customers and to your organization.

Finally, we provide a place for you to make note of your next steps for each activity. We recommend that you include the name of a person who is to take responsibility for the next action, as well as a target deadline for completion of that action.

COMPETENCY 1: Story-Telling

Innovation spreads by word of mouth. The stories are what everyone remembers. So you should make customer story-telling part of your company’s culture. Encourage everyone to tell stories about customers, about the situations that customers are in, about the ideas that customers have, about the problems they’ve encountered, and the inventive ways in which they (and you) solved those problems. Celebrate customers’ inventiveness. And, remember, stories can be told in written words, pictures, video, spoken or even sung, and, often most effectively, through a combination of media. You may already be capturing case studies--how customers have used your products or services and received benefits. Now, push the envelope further and elicit and celebrate examples of the NEW and UNUSUAL things that customers have done.

Companies that recognize the importance of customer innovation share relevant stories whenever and wherever possible. For example, posted on the walls of the AXE brand room at Unilever headquarters, you see great examples of customers’ inventiveness in the techniques these guys have used to “get the girl.” At every sales meeting at National Instruments, sales reps outdo one another telling stories about the weird and wonderful things customers have done with their products. LEGO celebrates customers’ creations on its Web site and in its meeting rooms with pictures of customers and their creations.

So make sure that you have a great process in place for communicating and celebrating customers’ innovations. Tetra Pak, a manufacturer of packaging equipment and supplies for the beverage and food industry, has global story-telling down to an art form. For example, when a Spanish food manufacturer began packaging olive oil in light-proof cardboard containers, within 24 hours, Tetra Pak’s sales teams in China, Thailand, Chile, and Argentina were making presentations to their customers in those countries about this new cost-effective approach to packaging and distributing olive oil. You should make sure your customer innovation grapevine works as quickly.


Please download the PDF to see the table.

Where to Go from Here?

If your company already has a story-telling culture, you’re ahead of the game. You should further formalize the story-telling through a managed process for capturing and sharing customer-related stories. Find formal time to swap customers’ stories, and measure the success of the stories by the amount of laughter, identification with what’s being told, and the number of ideas that spring up after hearing the stories. Be sure to take the time to discuss the stories you share at these meetings. You’ll be surprised at the insights and breakthrough thinking that can result. Your customers’ stories are also the best way to get new people up to speed and to create a shared culture and value system.

If you don’t yet include customer story-telling as part of your organization’s standard operating procedure, start by identifying the great story-tellers within the company--you know who they are--and invite them to share their customer stories at a company function. Demonstrate to others how valuable you find their stories, and encourage others to submit stories for presentation at other events. Eventually, telling customer innovation stories will become ...


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