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Lowe's looks to sci-fi insights

News, 17 March 2015

AUSTIN, TX: Lowe's, the home-improvement chain, has transformed its innovation program by drawing on science fiction stories created specifically for the company, a leading executive reported at South By Southwest (SXSW).

Kyle Nel, executive director of the organisation's Innovation Labs – a unit of the business based in Silicon Valley – discussed this topic as part of the Interactive Festival at the annual event in Austin.

And he stated that its partnership with SciFutures – a firm connected with over 100 sci-fi authors, and which helps brands construct "probable futures – yielded very different results than typical attempts at corporate storytelling.

"Stories in a corporate context are usually just a chronological series of events, kind of like furniture assembly instructions, not really a narrative or story," said Nel. (For more, including example projects emanating from this approach, read Warc's exclusive report: How science fiction is guiding strategy at Lowe's.)

"So how do you really tell a story? And how do you tell a story that will show how new and disruptive technologies might change, or might actually show up, in the real world?

"That's when the science fiction prototyping came out."

In most cases, the stolid nature of traditional corporate narratives is matched by the profound sense of caution which threatens to stifle the types of ground-breaking innovation generally promoted by futurists.

But delivering these proposals in more inspiring formats than PowerPoint presentations – such as comic books and short stories – may encourage an exploratory mindset to take hold across enterprises.

"The beauty of presenting things in story – rather than a list of attributes of what could happen, or stuff – is that people, from whatever background they are in, can build on a story," said Nel.

"Especially when you are trying to build probable futures … it's a scary thing, but you can really get them to see how these things – if they actually did exist – would change the store and become a huge benefit to the company.

"You can get to see the benefit, and the benefit will carry you through."

Data sourced from Warc