FastFWD Entrepreneurs enacting a future success story from one of their users' perspectives.

FastFWD Entrepreneurs enacting a future success story from one of their users' perspectives.

What is enacting? Enacting is: pretending, acting out, performing, and conducting stage play–as described by Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers in their book, Convivial Toolbox.

To kick-off the first day of the FastFWD program, we asked the Entrepreneurs to imagine a future success story of their business, told as a testimonial from the mouth of their customer. Our instructions were no more detailed than that, and we left the presentation style to the discretion of the company team. In hopes of nudging them to think outside the box and to consider how their presentation style could emphasize the most compelling points of the story, we suggested enactment or comic-book-style storyboarding.

We chose this activity as the first introduction of their product or service to the group because of how it frames what they are offering in a way that is user-centric. In contrast with the more typical technology-centric pitch, we hoped this type of story would help articulate the real problem/need and how their offering solves that in a very specific way–how it fits in their customer's life. 

Out of the ten companies, three embraced the option of enactment and one chose to draw a storyboard. For the others, maybe it felt too far out of their physical comfort zone or maybe they were unable to pinpoint a real problem/need or articulate how it would fit into their customer's life. While watching the companies present–those that only demo-ed their technology vs. those that role-played–I noticed a stark difference in the clarity of their description. For the companies that enacted a future success story, I more quickly understood the why, how, and what of their offering. In less time they were able to paint a picture in my mind of the real need/problem they are addressing, for whom and why, and how they are doing it.

The power of this type of enactment for start-up's is two-fold:

  • For the company designing the performance, they are forced to reconcile and chose a specific, compelling expression of what they do. In my experience working with start-up's, narrowing down like this can be a very hard because they fear that if they are to let go of one piece, then that may have been their ticket to success. But, from a business perspective, the specificity is necessary to demonstrate success in your initial market before you can proceed to compete in others.
  • For the "audience" (investors, decision makers, customers, end users, buyers, etc.) watching the performance, the enactment delivers the story in a form that is more quickly digested. It removes a burden that audience members typically feel, where in real-time they have to understand how the new technology works, imagine who might use it and how–ultimately creating their own scenario in their head. However, when they watch a role-play this is all done in front of them.

If left up to the audience members to imagine the why, how, and what, there is a much larger chance of misunderstanding and discrepancy amongst their interpretations. Just by performing a scenario, an entrepreneur can gain greater control of how an audience understands his/her product or service. And I'd imagine this ultimately leads to more sales, investments, follow-up meetings, signatures, users, hand-shakes, etc.

Enactment, amongst other designerly methods, are what we are testing through our partnership in the FastFWD program. We are interested in how they compliment and at times contrast what is typically done in a business accelerator. More to come as we continue through this experiment!