How To Use Narrative Scenarios of the Future to Innovate Better



Narrative Scenarios are an incredibly powerful, and yet simple way, to create and share ideas about future possibilities.  This is especially helpful whether you are a business leader or shaping and shipping products.

Narrative Scenarios of the future help you quickly explore the art of the possible.

One of the challenges of innovation is sharing ideas about the future and helping other people imagine how the future might look.

If you want to get good at ideation and creating new ideas, you need to have some fast ways to create and share ideas.

Some people think you have to do graphics, visuals, and videos, or complete end-to-end demos. But that’s a lot of overhead, especially, while you are still forming the early parts of what scenes of the future might look like.

Sharing little stories, or Narrative Scenarios of the future, is a great way to get people’s head in the game. The beauty is you can use these Narrative Scenarios to better illustrate ideas. It’s fast, it’s effective, and it’s inclusive because it lets other people play, simply by sharing their ideas in a narrative way.

Examples of Narrative Scenarios of the Future to Explore Possibilities

Here are examples of Narrative Scenarios from What a Visit to an AI-Enabled Hospital Might Look Like, by R “Ray” Wang, in Harvard Business Review’s The Next Analytics Age: Artificial Intelligence:

Setting 1: In the Lobby

“You walk into the hospital and it’s AI-driven smart service searches to see the patient you may be there to see.  (The service already knows who you are through interactions.)  The system uses facial recognition and matches you with the photos and the family’s list of approved visitors.

At the reception kiosk, the system notices you came empty-handed and that you are out of breath.  Taking into account all of these variables, it asks you if you’d like to go to the 4th floor to see the patient, grab a drink, or visit the gift shop to pick up something.  You respond you’d like to grab a drink and pick up a gift.”

Setting 2:  In the Cafeteria

“The service asks if you’d like directions to the cafeteria and gift shop to be sent to your device.  You say yes and follow the directions to the cafeteria.  Once there, you choose a soda and pay for it. 

The AI smart services remembers the weather, the time, the location, and the heart rate so that it will be better prepared to help you choose in the future. 

You walk out: payment is automatic.”

Setting 3: In the Gift Shop

“The patient you’re visiting is five years old, so the AI smart service offers you a fake floral bouquet, a balloon bouquet, or a stuffed animal.  Because you’d been thinking about brining a bouquet of real flowers, you find a clerk as you wonder why the smart service is wacky. 

The clerk looks at the patient and informs you that the patient is allergic and provides you the same three options as before along with a coupon for 15% off on your next visit.”

Setting 4: Off to the Patient’s Room

“With your purchase in hand, you head back to the elevators.  The elevator tells you that your family member is on the 4th floor, the pediatric unit. 

As you get off the elevator, the smart system offers you an option to download all the latest information on pediatric health and wellness, the map shows you the fastest route, and the system reminds you that visiting hours are over at 9 p.m. 

You enter the room to visit your family member.  Since you’re not next of kin, it knows not to give you access to the latest chart.  Meanwhile, the smart system asks you if you would like to chat with a caregiver or connect to another service.”

As you can see, simply by walking through little scenes that you can relate to, Wang is able to paint scenes and vignettes in your mind, of future possibilities.

You Can Use Narrative Scenarios to Reframe the Future

Narrative Scenarios are a great way to play out different future possibilities.  And of course, they also help you shape the future.

By walking through the simple stories and scenes, Wang shows how AI-driven smart services can reduce human error, improve speed of decisions, identify demand signals, predict outcomes, and prevent disasters.

With just a few small stories, Wang helps us address fears of robots taking over the world and shows how AI-driven smart services will augment human intelligence just as machines augmented physical capabilities.

You Can Also Explore How the Narrative Scenarios Might Work

It’s one thing to illustrate possible scenes of the future.  But it gets real when you start to talk about how it might be possible.

By walking through how potential Narrative Scenes of the Future might be possible, you can explore them against required capabilities.

Once you’ve walked through some possible scenes of the future, you can then walk through how this might be possible.  For these particular examples, Wang shares a loop of what AI is doing with 7 repeatable steps:

  1. Perception describes what’s happening now.
  2. Notification tells you what you asked to know.
  3. Suggestion recommends action.
  4. Automation repeats what you always want.
  5. Prediction informs you what to expect.
  6. Prevention helps you avoid bad outcomes.
  7. Situational awareness tells you what you need to know

For example, Wang explains Notification this way:
“Notifications through alerts, workflows, reminders, and other signals help deliver additional information through manual input and learning.  Rudimentary programming will lay out if/then paths for actions the system might take.  A patient and their family, for instance, may receive notifications on when to take medicines.”

And Wang describes Suggestion this way:
“Suggestions build on past behaviors and modify over time based on weighted attributes, decision management, and machine learning.  Applying best practices and customer journey mapping, organization will program rules and policies to surface recommendations such as pointing out what floor a patient is located on, providing dietary compliant options on the cafeteria menu, and suggesting when to rest based on vital signs.”

Ray describes Situation awareness like this:

“Situational awareness comes close to mimicking human capabilities in decision-making.  Patients and their providers can now find peace of mind as the system only provides the relevant information that’s needed to the right individual.  If a patient crashes, the telemetry will share the most pertinent information required with the nurses, doctors, operating room, medical tech, and family on a prioritized need-to-know basis.”

You Can Explore the Context that Sets the Stage for Your Narrative Scenes of the Future

Your Narrative Scenarios won’t operate in a vacuum.  By walking through the context, you can start to connect the dots and see how the puzzle fits together.

For the example Narrative Scenarios above, Ray shares the key components and context that both makes them possible and makes them relevant:

  1. Our digital footprints and data exhaust will allow AI services to build a profile.
  2. Immersive experiences enable a natural interaction.
  3. Personalization at scale delivers digital services.
  4. Value exchange completes the orchestration of trust.
  5. Cadence and feedback continues and Ai-powered learning cycles.

Wang explains Immersive experiences enable a natural selection like this:

“Context, content, collaboration, and channels come together in all AI-driven services to deliver immersive and unique experiences to each of us.  The services will use context attributes such as geospatial location, time of day, weather, heart rate, and even sentiment–combined with what the service knows of our identity and preferences–to improve relevancy and deliver the appropriate content. Sense-and-respond mechanisms will enable collaboration among participants and machines through conversations and text dialogs.  Channels include all interaction points such as mobile, social, kiosks, and in-person.  The goal is natural user experiences based on identity.”

Wang explains Value exchange completes the orchestration of trust like this:

“Once an action is taken, value exchange cements the transaction.  Monetary, non-monetary, and consensus exchanges are three common forms of value exchange.  While monetary value exchange might be the most obvious, non-monetary value exchange (including recognition, access, and influence) often provide a compelling form of value.  Meanwhile, a simple consensus or agreement can also deliver value exchange on the veracity of a medical claim with an insurer or an agreement on a patient treatment protocol.”

Wang explains Cadence and feedback continues and AI-powered learning cycle like this:

“Powered by machines and other AI tools, smart services consider the cadence of delivery: one time, ad-hoc, repetitive, subscription-based, and threshold-driven.  Using machine learning techniques, the system studies how the smart services are delivered for certain patient populations and applies this to future interactions.  For example, the system can detect which options are more likely to please children than adults and when to offer these suggestions.”

Slides, videos, demos and other tools are great for sharing ideas.  But when all you have is your voice or your words, Narrative Scenarios are a great way to explore and light up the art of the possible.

The other thing to keep in mind, there really is no point in building out videos, slides, and demos if you can’t even tell an interesting story to being with.  After all, what would you be basing them on, if not the narrative?

We are wired for stories and stories are a great way to explore, share, and scale ideas as you hack the future.

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