PILOT – The Stories We Tell: Understanding How Innovators Solicit, Share, Collect, and Circulate Innovation Stories

Resource Type
Research Project
Tools and Techniques, Culture, Leading Innovation Organizations
Associated Event
Research Project

Initiated:  Spring 2021

Completion:  Fall 2022

Click here to access article on project findings

Value proposition:

Innovation storytelling is the art and science of communicating new product developments, systems improvements, and groundbreaking new thinking. Storytelling serves myriad internal functions within innovative companies, including:

  • Setting the tone of a company’s innovation culture and establishing shared definitions of innovation
  • Communicating innovation challenges/problem statements and soliciting diverse innovation ideas in inclusive ways
  • Onboarding team members and sharing institutional histories of innovation, including successes, failures, and lessons learned

We know that storytelling is central to onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building.[1] Yet little empirical evidence exists on the mechanisms, processes, and systems in place to support story collection and circulation. Especially as innovation teams onboard remotely and collaborate virtually, we aim to identify the systems that innovation teams use to pitch ideas, share institutional histories of innovation, communicate successes, and learn from failures. Insights from this research will provide innovation leaders and managers with:

  • Data on the impact and ROI of innovation storytelling
  • Understanding of the ways innovation teams share, collect, and circulate stories to support innovation objectives
  • Recommendations for new technologies and processes that could better support storytelling among innovation teams

This project builds upon two previous research efforts: IRI’s Brilliant Failures Working Group and Untold Content’s Innovation Storytelling Research Study. The Brilliant Failures Working Group concluded within their maturity model that organizations with the strongest maturity in brilliant failure have established processes and practices for identifying, capturing, and sharing data and stories around their successes, failures, and lessons learned. Documenting and circulating failure narratives, in other words, is critical to getting the most value from failed projects. Additionally, from 2019-2020, Untold Content conducted interviews with over 100 global innovation leaders to establish an evidence base for the role of storytelling within innovation. Several IRI members participated in these interviews. Through analysis of this interview data, Untold Content discovered the myriad functions of storytelling within innovation and identified the drivers that make for effective communications. Both of these studies—by IRI and Untold Content—revealed a gap that needs further research: There is little understanding of the specific systems, structures, and mechanisms that innovation teams utilize to collect, document, share, and circulate formal and informal stories for onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building.

This project seeks to understand: What systems and mechanisms do innovation teams utilize to solicit, collect, analyze, and circulate innovation stories for onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building—especially among today’s virtual and remote workforce? What technologies or processes could improve the impact and ROI of storytelling among innovation teams?


This is a mixed methods study seeking to understand the systems, structures, and mechanisms that innovation teams utilize to collect, document, share and circulate innovation stories for onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building—especially virtually/remotely.

Phase I: Mixed Methods Survey (March-July 2021)

In the first phase of our study, we will design a qualitative/quantitative digital survey and distribute to a small pilot group of 10-20 IRI members for feedback. After refining the survey, we aim to circulate it to 300 individuals with a goal of soliciting responses from at least 100 survey participants. We aim to distribute the survey to innovation leaders and managers from a diverse range of innovative organizations. Specifically, we will recruit 20% representation of startup founders/leaders; 20% innovation executives from large corporations (CTOs, CIOs); 30% innovation managers from mid-size corporations and federal government agencies; and 30% innovation team members (i.e. engineers, coders, technical, operations) from mid-sized and large corporations. We will also ensure our participants represent diversity in gender, age, race, and industry vertical.

Untold Content has a list of over 100 innovation leaders and managers who already participated in 40-60 minute interviews on storytelling and its role in the innovation process. We will distribute the survey to these 100 individuals, circulate strategically to additional individuals in the innovation community and on Untold’s email list, plus collaborate with IRI for expanded distribution to the larger IRI community, if possible.

We will then conduct content analysis on survey findings—coding qualitative insights and analyzing quantitative data to craft a preliminary findings report ready for presentation at the 2021 IRI Spring conference. Key deliverables will include: presentation revealing systems, structures, and mechanisms utilized for story collection and sharing across functional purposes; full data reports for those interested in a deeper dive; storymaps bringing to life the systems and mechanisms within 3-5 representative use cases; and interview guides to solicit feedback during and after the conference.

Phase II: Follow-On Interviews (August-May 2022)

In the second phase of this study, we will refine our interview guides based on feedback from session attendees at the 2021 IRI Annual Conference and then identify 6-8 survey participants for follow-on interviews to understand more granularly the systems and processes that innovation teams utilize to collect and circulate stories for onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building. Each interview will last approximately 40-60 minutes and will be recorded, transcribed, de-identified, and analyzed to pull-out key insights and take-aways. These interview-based insights will be combined with the mixed method survey findings and presented at the 2022 IRI Annual Conference for additional feedback and refinement. This more robust presentation will identify gaps and opportunities in the innovation community’s current approaches to digital story collection and circulation.

Phase III: Publication (June-November 2022)

In the third phase of this study, we will package all insights derived into a research article for submission to RTM and allow sufficient time for any revise-and-resubmit rounds.


This study will contribute to a more robust, data-driven understanding of storytelling and the critical role it plays in virtual/remote onboarding, ideation, collaboration, and culture-building. Empirical evidence is needed to identify gaps and opportunities within the mechanisms, processes, and systems that innovation teams to collect and circulate stories—especially in virtual settings. Insights derived from this study may help the innovation community identify opportunities to create technologies and processes that support innovation teams in:

  • communicating more effectively,
  • onboarding new employees more seamlessly,
  • generating informal opportunities for digitally sharing institutional histories of success and failure in innovation, and
  • learning more rapidly from those failures and successes.

Preliminary findings from survey data will be shared at the 2021 IRI Annual Conference, and full findings from the survey, story maps and interviews will be shared at the 2022 IRI Annual Conference. All insights will be collected, analyzed, and presented as a research article on the systems and structures supporting story collection and circulation among innovation teams—and the opportunities that exist to improve and enhance the virtual storytelling experience among innovators.

Project team:  

Katie Trauth Taylor, PhD is founder and CEO of Untold Content, an innovation storytelling firm that supports companies and federal agencies in scientific, medical, technical, and social innovation verticals to effectively communicate their ideas, insights, and impacts. Katie is a former research professor who leads a team of MA and PhD-level writers, researchers, and designers who provide hands-on content strategy and content creation services as well as immersive training experiences that empower teams to successfully concept and create industry-leading content. Katie hosts the Untold Stories of Innovation podcast and has interviewed over 100 global innovation leaders to explore the role storytelling plays in the innovation process.

Stephen Taylor, PhD is COO/CIO of Untold Content. He brings a decade of industry R&D experience and another decade of university research and teaching experience to his role at Untold. Before joining Untold, Stephen served as Technical Manager of R&D at a global chemical company, where he helped design a New Product Development StageGate innovation process. With eyes for innovation and awards granted for scientific and technical presentations, Stephen supports companies in leveraging the insights of their experts.

Bill Hollman is the Product Leader at Skiplist, an innovation consultancy that applies a trademarked Thoughtful Software approach to solving emerging technology challenges for businesses and consumers. He has twenty years of experience in UX, CX, and Product Strategy, and has transformed digital experiences for a variety of enterprise and early stage entrepreneurs alike – the common thread being a passion to solve for and fit digital solutions into the day of the intended audience. His experience with user research, information architecture, design thinking, and product management gives him an empathic point of view for fitting products to markets. He has a B.A. in Economics from Indiana University and has guest lectured at Kent State’s IAKM program.

Alicia Surrao, PhD is an experienced science writer who earned her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Cincinnati with a joint appointment at Argonne National Laboratory. She specializes in Analytical Chemistry and Chemical Separations. Her dissertation focused primarily on analyzing nuclear and radiological materials for nuclear forensic applications. Her interest in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons led her to study nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation policy from experts at various U.S. national labs and other global institutions. Alicia enjoys the challenge of translating complex technical information into engaging content. Alicia is also a self-taught scientific illustrator and enjoys bringing technical ideas to visual life. Today, Alicia is the Lead Science Writer at Untold Content, where she supports the research, design, and development of written and visual deliverables for scientific, technical, and medical organizations.

Catherine O’Shea, MA is Operations Director at Untold Content. Equipped with a Master’s degree in English, Catherine brings expertise in participatory research and content strategy to Untold’s team. Building on best practices in content marketing and operations management, she inspires teams to bring creative vision and output to all of their work.