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London, EC2Y 8DD
United Kingdom

+44 20 3318 5728

London-based creative training, consulting & strategic design company providing onsite & public courses on the Creative Problem Solving Process, team-building, leadership, entrepreneurial mindset, business storytelling, applied improvisation and innovation facilitation. We run ideation sessions, we mentor, we coach, we deliver. In all we do, we're here to make you more agile & more successful in the face of change. 


Not (just) data, not (just) pictures: The whole story

Kate Hammer

In HBR last month, Roger L. Martin writes of the “new capabilities” he knows businesses need. The piece is called “Don’t get blinded by numbers.”

New capabilities include empathy and ambiguity tolerance

Capabilities is a great word. It that implies not simply system or framework but people, talent, time, attention.

Like Kieran Levis, a man I count as a friend and whose work I admire, I use the word “capability” often. Capabilities aren’t inert. The term is meaningless without people doing something. In other words, capability connects up system (which can be inorganic) or framework (which can be abstract) with people’s behaviours.

Martin says:

“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.”

Future-Tense Storytelling™

When we at KILN do Future-Tense Storytelling, we’re  using empathy to convert a dry concept into a story that comes from a possible future and shows us in the here-and-now why a concept might be worth developing.

Future-Tense Storytelling is a tool to win buy-in that invites decision-makers to think beyond the formal business plan or the existing archive of data. It drives conversations inside companies about what products and services to invent…and why. Developed fully, the story is bigger than the formal tools applied to organise action. Story isn’t just one component. Revenue projections, operational plans are like pages – the story is the book.

Winning buy-in with Future-Tense Stories means having a conversation that gets to affirmations like:

1) Great, let’s take this concept further….now what’s the best next-step? (Team, have answers at the ready to keep momentum. Using tools like paper-prototyping, role-play, and quick-and-dirty surveys not just of consumers but of all the stakeholders easier to reach will help you grow the concept without huge up-front expenditure.

2) Ok, I’m seeing some value for some people. But I don’t feel there are enough of ‘em. Can you tell me more about the size and distribution of people like this now….and in the future? (Team, mine the research you have before tapping into discretionary budget to learn more.)

3) Hmm. I’d like us to be the company meeting the need you flag. But is this really the best concept to fulfil it? (Team, think more around “In what ways might we [verb] for [user group]?”)

In all this, it’s worth remembering that innovating inside companies is as much about growing conversations — because they create the trust and passion for a concept — as it is about passing through formal mechanisms. Grow the trust and passion, and often the investment will follow.

Of course, fails will happen. Just because a concept fails to make it through the final gate, doesn’t mean the conversations weren’t worthwhile. Fails don’t need to be total – in every fail there’s something to take forward into the future, a learning, a new relationship, an insight to drive more ingenuity.

Striving for continuous learning

Learning continuously is  perhaps the most important (if toughest) dimension of the ambiguity Martin asks us each to embrace.


You can learn Future-Tense Storytelling by following FuseTrail, KILN’s workflow framework for a rapid Front-End of Innovation cycle. We work alongside you in a rapid cycle in our facilitated workshop/work experience called TrendTriggers. Or, if you’d like to learn with KILN in seminars and trainings, start here.

2013 Update: future-tense storytelling has grown into StoryFORMs. Via KILN you can book a StoryFORMing workshop in the UK or overseas. The reactions have been powerful and positive.