Storytelling can be a formidable tool in the design thinking process, especially for innovation managers, digital transformation officers and designers. People often find storytelling challenging, despite its deeply rooted place in human communication.

Here are some principles to unlock the power of storytelling in conducting a research as well as generating creative ideas to drive transformation.

In Research Phase

Collect ‘Stories’, not answers.

In applying design thinking in your innovation endeavor, the research phase holds the key to uncovering valuable insights and opportunities. Yet, many companies grapple with the challenge of conducting ‘empathy-based’ design research. This type of research, which involves methods like observation, ethnography, and in-depth interviews, delves into tacit knowledge—knowledge that’s not easily expressed in words.

One simple yet powerful mindset shift to overcome this obstacle is to approach customers research with ‘collecting stories’, rather than merely seeking ‘answers’ or ‘feedback’ through predefined questions.


Why ‘stories’? Stories reveal tacit Knowledge.

They are rich sources of inspiration, and people naturally open up and share their stories when they feel comfortable and heard. By listening to these narratives, you can deeply empathize with them.

Importantly, the beauty of ‘collecting stories’ lies in the unpredictability of the insights you’ll gain. While it’s essential to have some initial assumptions and questions in mind, maintaining an open-minded and curious approach allows you to uncover the unexpected and gather rich tacit knowledge through these narratives.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and former CEO, emphasizes the value of anecdotes. While Amazon rely heavily on metrics to measure success, but they also take ‘anecdotes’ such as customer emails, verbatim seriously. He notes that when anecdotes and metrics disagree, anecdotes often hold the key insights. These anecdotes, gathered by listening to customer stories, often offer a more profound understanding than mere data.


Insights go beyond verbal expression

Unearthing powerful insights require a sophisticated research approach, and listening to customers’ stories enables you to delve into layers of unarticulated needs that people are often not even consciously aware of. This is because ‘insight’ isn’t limited to what customers say such as feedback or suggestions. Insight refers to a enlightenment or inspiration about customers’ needs and motivations which lies often beneath the information that are not easily expressed verbally, but revealed through understanding behaviors.

‘Collecting stories’ acts as simple yet powerful method to understand certain behaviors and the reasons behind them, and ideas that can point you towards paths you might have never considered.

Unearthing such powerful insights requires a more sophisticated research approach, involving the rigorous synthesis of stories and data. ‘Collecting stories’ acts as a reservoir of clues, hints, and ideas that can point you towards paths you might have never considered.

In Ideation / Solutioning Phase

Stories inspire us to think in terms of human experiences, rather than product features.

After conducting research and collecting intriguing user stories, we often generate great ideas. However, when we translate these ideas into solutions, we tend to revert to thinking in ‘product features’. While this feature-focused approach is essential for delving deeper into operational issues, feasibility, information, design, and technology, it can pose certain challenges when it comes to driving a successful transformation. Some of the observed problems include:

  1. Losing sight of the user when fixating on features.
  2. Placing our product at the center of users’ lives, which rarely is the reality, nor aligns with the user’s perspective.
  3. Encountering difficulties in envisioning the end state, which can impede stakeholder (clients, decison makers)’s buy-in.

Continuing with the ‘stories’ frame of mind, we can incorporate this ‘story thinking’ into the design and solution phases. The basic structure of a story (beginning, middle, and end) can serve as a reminder to ask key questions when designing meaningful solutions for the intended users.

Who is the user and what’s their context?

Consider how a fairy tale begins. Let’s take an example of Cinderella and create an ‘exposition’. Once upon a time, there lived Cinderella, a beautiful girl with a kind heart. However, her father married a vain woman with two mean daughters. Based on the collected stories, start by introducing the user and their context, including pain points, their journey, needs, and aspirations. This approach helps your audience, including stakeholders and decision-makers, empathize with the user and connect on a human level. It lays a solid foundation to ensure users are at the center of the decision-making process, capturing your audience’s attention and gaining buy-in.


What is the problem – value fit?

The solution we aim to provide becomes the answer to the user’s problems, much like the fairy godmother resolved Cinderella’s challenges. Weaving the solution into the story involves describing how it addresses the current situation such as ‘Rising action’, ‘Crisis’ (much like how Cinderella didn’t have permission nor resources to go to the bowl), the journey it takes, and how it enhances the outcome.


What’s the happily ever after? What’s the emotional pay-off here?

Craft the type of experiences you intend to deliver. Instead of restricting your solutions to immediate implementation, paint a vivid picture of an exciting future. Share how users’ lives will improve and the emotions you aim to evoke. Stories are driven by emotions, making a story compelling. Reflecting on the emotional payoff not only captures your internal audience’s attention but also serves as a key element in designing a differentiated product and building stronger connections with your users. When people love the product experience, they will desire more of it and deepen their engagement.



Despite its power, storytelling remains underutilized in customer-centricity and digital transformation endeavor.

To leverage this connection, focus on human experiences rather than just the features of your solution. Collect real stories from people to create a new narrative that becomes a new experience you want to design. By telling stories, you provide your audience a chance to empathize with users, witness your solution’s problem-solving capabilities, and envision the positive experiences you aim to deliver. Throughout the transformation journey, storytelling becomes a driving force for user-centricity, collaboration, and creativity.