A Story Sprint is a design-thinking exercise that will bring your organization’s Strategic Visioning into the 21st century.
Today’s world moves too quickly for traditional strategic planning. By the time plans are developed, market conditions have changed, and missions, visions and values wilt into empty, inauthentic promises.
Today’s organizational leaders need to think more nimbly. They need to develop solutions using imperfect information and quickly gather data to validate — or contradict — their assumptions. They need to adapt their messaging to a fast-changing communications landscape, taking advantage of new, inexpensive opportunities. And they need to be able to collaborate across traditional divisional boundaries, building the trust necessary to develop unconventional solutions.
A Story Sprint is a facilitated workshop that links strategic planning, communications strategy and design thinking. The goal of the process is to quickly generate feedback from target audiences in order to validate the strategic direction.
Unlike traditional strategic planning sessions, a Story Sprint creates a tangible, measurable outcome in the form of a “Storytelling Prototype”. This Storytelling Prototype is a tangible communications piece that delivers the outcome of the strategic visioning process to target audiences. For leaders building cultures, this may take the form of a brand guide. For marketers, this may take the form of a sales deck or a landing page.
After developing a core strategic direction, in a Story Sprint, participants use design-thinking exercises to develop their prototype. This prototype is immediately tested with selected members of a target audience, in order to garner feedback.
By understanding and empathizing with the perspective of target audiences, Story Sprints help leaders create far more authentic, audience ready messages. In the process, the Story Sprint builds leadership design thinking skills and helps leaders adapt their organization to become more aligned and dynamic.
Through a Story Sprint, an organization’s strategic visioning process results in a more connected, authentic and effective positioning.
Sprints can be used by any group, business or organization to create clearer, more authentic messaging around an important strategic initiative. This Strategic Visioning process results in messaging that is humane and authentic.
Goal: Align the team and maximize session efficiency.
Action: interview each participant one-on-one in advance of the session
Before the Sprint begins, you’ll need the right challenge and the right team. You’ll also need to have time and space to conduct your sprint. We’ll work together to set-up the logistics seamlessly.
In the lead-up to the Sprint, each participant will be engaged in a one-on-one conversation to discuss the goals of the Sprint, answer key questions and to set the framework for the creative work to come. This approach ensures that the group can hit the ground running as soon as they hear the starter’s gun.
Goals: Analyze the organization’s existing stories for “storytelling material”. Evaluate and develop a meaningful strategic plan in the context of these stories.
Actions: Design-thinking exercises. Facilitated conversation.
On Day One, you’ll begin with a series of facilitated exercises that dive deep into your organizational story. Exercises such as persona building and empathy mapping will help you see things from your audience’s shoes; time for personal introspection will bring authentic emotion into your narrative. Facilitated conversation and data analysis will contextualize these exercises and focus them towards a strategic goal.
By the end of Day One, you’ll have a framework for building your Storytelling Prototype.
Goals: Design a “storytelling prototype” that enables you to gather feedback from your audience. Experiment with new ways to tell your story.
Actions: Collaborative design work alongside a talented design partner. Debate, evaluation and delivery.
Having defined the strategic goal you’re pursuing, on Day Two, you’re ready to focus on solutions. Your group will work together to design a prototype of a communications campaign that expresses your new strategic agenda to your internal or external audiences.
A prototype is not a finished design piece. However, it is a realistic facade of one — a facade that’s good enough to enable your audience to deliver feedback about your underlying message. Ultimately, it’s this feedback that will be the most valuable outcome of this process. Integrating this feedback into your communication will create harmony between your strategic vision and the realities of your audience.
Goals: Gather feedback from audiences. Reflect on feedback and make adjustments to your strategic vision.
Actions: Conduct qualitative interviews with target audiences. Reconvene and discuss this feedback with your team.
Immediately afterwards the Sprint, your designated “Feedback Team” will take the prototype to test with target audiences. Through a series of one-on-one interviews, your team will validate the success or failure of your designed approach.
In either case, they will gather valuable insights that can be immediately integrated into your strategic communications.
Once this feedback has been gathered, your Sprint team will reconvene to review. Together you will agree on a short-term action plan for further story development. With targeted feedback in hand, you’ll have validation for the action you plan to take next.
“We came in with apples. We left with watermelons.”
— Denise Stys-Norman, Executive Director, Tourism Ucluelet
I’ve run Story Sprints with groups like the Brookes International School, Tourism Ucluelet and Advocis, The Financial Advisors’ Association of Canada — to help them optimize their messaging.
By coming together in a collaborative, psychologically safe and expertly facilitated environments, groups like these have been able to speak honestly and passionately about their work. They’ve left feeling engaged, empowered and motivated, received meaningful feedback and reached a clear consensus for what to do next.
Jordan Bower started studying storytelling on a 316 day walking trip from Canada to Mexico. Along this journey, Jordan learned the art of emotionally powerful storytelling as a mechanism of creating connections and inspiring transformational change.
Today, as the founder of Transformational Storytelling, Jordan applies what he learned on his walking trip while working with businesses and organizations. He leads Storytelling Trainings, guides messaging through Storytelling Consulting and, as a professional speaker, offers thought leadership on the Future of Storytelling in the connected world.
Jordan has worked with clients in many different countries and industries, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Delta Hotels, Dun & Bradstreet, as well as start-ups, established businesses, not-for-profits and professional organizations. He is based in Vancouver, Canada.