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Using Design Thinking to Understand Your Clients & Their Needs

The most successful companies provide solutions to their clients before being presented with a problem. How can your business get to that state? Anish Bhimani sits down with JPMorgan Chase’s Sam Yen to discuss the principles of Design Thinking, and how truly understanding your client’s needs can make all the difference. If there’s a specific topic you’d like us to cover, email us at: tech.trends@jpmchase.com.

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(Gentle music)

Anish Bhimani:

Welcome to TechTrends. TechTrends is a podcast series that provides perspective on the latest trends in technology, FinTech, and digital. In today's episode, we're gonna dive into design thinking, what it is, how it works, and why it's so exciting, can be so powerful for businesses especially in the current environment. I'm Anish Bhimani, Chief Information Officer for Commercial Banking at JPMorgan Chase. And joining me today, back again, is Sam Yen, the Head of Digital Transformation for Commercial Real Estate at JPMorgan Chase. Sam, welcome back to TechTrends.

Sam Yen:

Thanks, Anish. It's great to be back again.

Anish Bhimani:

So Sam, when we had you on last year, we talked about design thinking and how important it was to put the client at the center of everything we do. For people that might've missed that episode, let's do just a little refresher. Can you talk about design thinking and how it works and what the concept is?

Sam Yen:

Yeah, sure. Maybe before I get into that, just talk about the why, right? whether you're in the tech industry or financial services, there's terms like innovation or transformation that are thrown around a lot, but whatever you wanna call it, a lot of incumbent organizations aren't really good at it. They're good at what they're doing right now, they're good at the status quo and they're good at business as usual, but, and I think most organizations are really good if you point it to a target and we're executing towards a target, but the real kind of problem statement is what if you don't know what that target is. What if it's something new? And what does that something new really mean to the organization?

Now I think that's really the key question, and when I try to introduce design thinking, that's my point as well, because when a lot of people think about design thinking, they think about it, is it's creative problem solving. And I really wanna make it a point that, for me, yes, there's problem solving involved in design thinking. But more fundamentally than that, it's actually identifying that the problem that you're solving for your customers, may not be the right one anymore, right? Times have changed, conditions have changed, external forces have changed. And the real power of design thinking from a business perspective, is really getting to know your clients, understanding what their needs are, and finding the right problem to solve for your clients. Right? That's the key differentiator for design thinking. And there's a whole bunch of techniques in which you do that by getting to know and understand your clients, but at the, at the heart of it, it's making sure that your client's needs, really present the North Star, the guiding post to all the innovations that you're trying to achieve for your customers.

Anish Bhimani:

So I think most companies would say, "yeah, of course we're client centric, everything we do is for clients."Right? But what's different? What do companies need to be doing differently maybe than what they're doing today?

Sam Yen:

Yeah, I mean, it's kind of common sense, but sometimes there's nothing common about it, right? Because a lot of people say that they're client centered, but when was the last time your organization has actually gone out and followed your clients around and seeing kind of what is the context in which they're doing their business around the services that you provide? Right? A lot of times, we make the mistake of thinking that everything that we do, our customers, our clients, that our lives revolve around just those capabilities. But often if you look at what are they actually trying to do to run their business? And maybe it's just a small fraction that your service provides, but that gives you clues in terms of all these other opportunities for you to better serve your clients, I think that's the key. Intuit had this great program which was Follow Me Home.

Anish Bhimani:

Right, sure.

Sam Yen:

Where they would actually follow their clients home and watch what they did. And again their software is a small piece of it, but it gave them so many opportunities, so many insights in terms of how they could better serve the clients, opportunities for innovation.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah, I think it's remarkable when you actually stop and really look critically at your own business. How much of what you deliver, that you think is client-centric, is actually built around your own products or your own organization and how it's structured rather than what the client's trying to do. I think it was the David Ogilvy quote where he said, "nobody ever asked for a three eighths inch nail, they asked for a three eighths in hole," right?

Sam Yen:

Yeah.

Anish Bhimani:

You gotta think what they're trying to get to, right? So.

Sam Yen:

The famous Henry Ford quote, "if I asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses."

Anish Bhimani:

Faster horses, right exactly. Exactly. So a lot of times people come across design thinking out of necessity, maybe in a crisis, especially in the current environment, right? A lot of companies are having to rethink the way they work, being more digital, other things like that. So those crises, whether they be operational or organizational can often cause people or cause companies to sort of challenge the current mindset. Can you talk about that shift in mindset that companies need to adopt and how can they more easily transform themselves using design thinking?

Sam Yen:

Yeah. I think, in a time of crisis you're forced to change, right? There's a big forcing function and that can be used in a very positive sense because you have to make that change, you don't have a lot of time to be able to do that. But if you think about it that's a very reactive type of stance, right? And you do wanna be more proactive. So in times of crisis, some organizations will adapt and they will have to adapt very quickly in order to survive. But if you wanna think about it more strategically going forward, you're right, it is a mindset shift that has to happen.

It's really interesting, I had the pleasure of working with a professor in the Stanford Business School, named Baba Shiv, and he comes at it from a neuroscience background actually. And he says like most of our decisions that we make and the actions that we take, are actually, comes from our emotional brain and you really need to kind of understand how those mechanisms work because they not only dictate your actions, but organizationally as well. And he said there's really kind of two different fears that drives a lot of how we act. The first fear is the feel of failure, right? I need to kind of make sure that I'm doing the right thing. I don't want to fail. I want to succeed. I'm going to do everything I can to not feel the fear of failure, right?

And a lot of organizations are actually run that way, right? You put in processes, you put in KPIs, you want to kind of repeat the processes at work right? It's all about, the fear of failure and that's not a bad thing, it's a good thing in most cases. The other kind of emotion that he talks about is the fear of missing out. Right? I if I don't do this then I'm gonna miss out on this big new thing, I got gotta be there, I gotta see this, I gotta be part of this, big new thing. And it's always a tension between the two, but... and people kind of tend to be kind of more of one type versus the other type. But you have to kind of understand that, from a context perspective, right? We're talking about crisis and status quo, the first type is values, the status quo, things are working, I don't wanna change things. Any time I introduce any risk, there's a chance of failure and I wanna protect that.

When you think about innovation and change, you're forced to kind of do something different, you're forced to step away from that status quo. And it's taking you away from that, kind of that, how your emotional brain is working in terms of that fear of failure. And you're forced to kind of go into that, that other step. And part of it is a mindset shift, right? You need some people that are willing to take risks, that want to try out new things, their fear, they have that fear of missing out because if they miss out on this new opportunity, they know their competitors are gonna jump in and take over that, right? So you need some of that. And some of that, you need to just bring from the outside. If you look at the people that are entrepreneurs and tend to be in startup companies, they tend to be more of that personality type, that mindset where I've got a fear of missing out, I wanna try things, I need to do things fast. I need to kind of get that feedback, so I'm doing the right thing.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah and look I think that's interesting, the way you frame it, right? 'Cause fear of failure, you can also sort of frame that as are you playing to win or are you just playing to not lose, right? And I think in a lot of large companies specifically, that fear of failure and that playing to not lose is very ingrained, It's kind of... and the concept of taking a lot of risk is somewhat anthema, to how a lot of those companies work, right? It's what's one of those things that, a lot of companies that are, say, "yep absolutely, it's okay to take risks and fail."until you actually do, right? And then like everything comes down on you, right? So talk a little bit about the change, and it's not just the mindset of the people involved in the project or the design thinking work, but also the organization on a whole and what do companies even need to do differently?

Sam Yen:

Yeah I think, risk is kind of an important topic to talk about, right? Because, some people would say that you can't have innovation unless you also have some risks, right? You have to take some risks in order to innovate. And if you think of the word risk itself, it doesn't necessarily have to be a negative thing, right? One way to say it "is okay we can't take any risk because we want to maintain the status quo, we don't wanna fail."Another person with a different point of view would say, "well, not taking enough risk is a risk in itself because.

Anish Bhimani:

Sure, sure.

Sam Yen:

You know, you're not going to kind of catch on. Yeah, you're not being aggressive enough in these things. So, I think it is that balance, it comes, getting into that mindset shift, it comes to balancing kind of the culture or making sure that you've got, both people that are making sure that you're doing the right thing and you're not doing things that will really put your company at risk, but you're taking enough risk where you're not missing on innovation opportunities as well. The other thing I noticed is, some organizations have different ways of managing risk. Again, it's funny, we're in the financial service industry, you could argue that we probably have a very advanced kind of understanding of risk, when it comes to financial markets and how to manage risk and things like that.

I see also innovative organizations will also kind of take that same philosophy and figure out how to manage risk within their organization. Right? They don't apply a one size fits all policy for everything. And they're able to take a look at it, okay these are appropriate governance and processes and rules for this type of a behavior. And then there's other things where we have to be kind of more cautious because the implications are bigger. I make this analogy sometimes, you may have heard me say this before, right? imagine risk as a set of boxes that are in a line, right? And on one end of the line you've got a really, really, really small box and the boxes just get bigger and bigger and bigger in size until the other end you've got a huge, huge box, right?

So like each box kind of represents, what can go wrong and the risks and the rules that you need to put in place to make sure that things don't go wrong. And the challenge is when you think of every single situation as the biggest box and you have a set of rules, just to define that biggest box. So some of the more forward thinking organizations I've seen, really kind of have that concept and say okay for these types of activities, we really need to kind of push the envelope a little bit more but we're limiting the risk because, we're limiting the size of the exposure by kind of making sure that the box is really small.

Anish Bhimani:

Right and I think that's an important point, right? People use terms like fail fast and things like that, which is, take risks, but also you have enough checkpoints that, if you're going too far off the reservation so to speak, that you're able to sort of contain that pretty early, right? I think that's a gap.

Sam Yen:

Yeah, it's funny, you mentioned It's funny, you mentioned that term fail fast because , you got two different types of reactions to that, the people that are used to kind of the innovation language say yes, fail fast, fail fast. But people that are more conservertable say fail, what does that mean? So,

(Anish laughing)

I've found that even just changing that language, it's the same concept, but just changing the language, let's test and learn, right? And testing, that it doesn't have the same connotation as failing but it's meaning the same thing, test something out, test an idea. Get some feedback on it, learn from that, try it again and do it very, very quickly.

Anish Bhimani:

So that brings up an interesting point, you've done work with the Stanford Design School, you've done work with a lot of different companies. What are some of the lessons learned that you could share with our viewers about bringing design thinking to organizations that may not have been sort of accustomed to that, that are more traditionally the fear of failure kind of organizations like what can they learn from that?

Sam Yen:

Yeah, I mean we could talk a long time about that one but I think the most important thing is, there are patterns that we seem to observe, right? organizations think that this is a new thing just for their organization, but every single organization that tries to go through this transformation, seems to kind of go through the same behaviors. And what usually happens is, first there's an executive that gets excited, because they're introduced to the concept and they go back to their organization saying, "we need this."

You, Anish, your the transformation lead for my organization, train every single person in the organization and we gotta start implementing this right away, right? Not a good approach because, what happens is, and typically what happens is then they say, "okay we're going to create an educational program and we're gonna get thousands and thousands of people to kind of learn this concept." And people get really excited about this, but nothing's changed in the organization.

So what we've noticed is people actually get even more disillusioned after going through that because they see, hey, there's a new innovative way of doing things, but then they go back into their day jobs and their processes haven't been changed, right? Their incentives haven't changed and those types of things. So we've actually seen that it works much better if you pick a couple of very, very strategic projects that can make a big impact in the organization, get a small team, enable, empower that small team, allow them the flexibility to do things slightly differently in terms of some of the design thinking concepts that we've been talking about, allow them to go out and talk to the clients, work really, really quickly, have the environment where they could test and learn very, very quickly, let them be successful. And then over time, instead of trying to push it down in your organizations, see, people will seek business success, right? So other parts of the organization will say, "hey how was this team able to do things kind of in a different way and have this different level of impact?"

And once they see that, it goes from more of a push to a pull other parts of the organization will want to learn about kind of what the processes are. But I mean, those are just some of the things, I talked about language as well, don't be, sometimes folks that get trained into design thinking become a little bit too religious about the terminology that they use and all that stuff. And they'll use very, very specific terminology. Just go back to the basics. Every single business will tell you, every single business leader will say, "we drive our business based on kind of the needs of our clients." Right? It doesn't have to be more complicated than that. That's what design thinking is ultimately all about. And what the training allows you to do, it just gives you different techniques to be able to do that and use the language that resonates within your organization.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah, it's interesting, we've done episodes on agile development, right? And some of the principles you're talking about very similar to what we went through with agile, right? Trying to introduce too much change to a larger organization, that says okay everybody now go this way, often is met with what I call kind of tissue rejection, right? The organization can't handle that much, so basically what you're saying is it's almost like ring fence, a separate team to let them start operating in a different way, right? They've still got to follow the rules of the organization, but let the rope out a little bit and sorta let them try some different things. And you're containing the risk cause it's a small group, you're not paving the whole organization all at once. And then naturally if they're successful then other people sort of gravitate towards their way of doing things, right?

Sam Yen:

Yeah. But don't ring fence the team so much where it's seen as an ivory tower or people will say, "hey, it's only successful. because all the executive's spotlight is on that project and they're able to break all the rules."

Anish Bhimani:

Right, okay.

Sam Yen:

Right? So at some point you have to kind of make sure that it's something that's aspirational, hey, here's another way to do things. People wanna do it. And they see that they could apply that within their own context. I think that's a real key.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah, That's an important point too 'cause you don't want to create sort of the haves and the have nots around this as well, right? So one other big thing that's on a lot of people's minds right now is uncertainty. Uncertainty in the economy, uncertainty in certain industries, other things like that. Design thinking is as much an art as a science, right? And companies need to master both their sorta right and left brain thinking to find success on this, right? How can companies use design thinking to deal with the uncertainty in today's world?

Sam Yen:

Yeah I mean, uncertainty, it's also one of those terms. It's actually an opportunity if you think about it, right? If things are the status quo, then, you're just doing what you need to do. Uncertainty means things are changing and things are always changing, but this is where design thinking comes in, right? Again if there's uncertainty, you now more than ever need to know what's affecting your customers, how's the uncertainty affecting your customers. Do they have new needs? New needs become opportunities for you to go in and expand kind of your services, expand your offerings to better serve your customers and your clients. I remember my old design professor, Larry Leifer, he had three laws of design. And one law of design was, he said, "the best designs will preserve ambiguity for as long as you can.'' Ambiguity, I'm using kind of synonymously with uncertainty.

Anish Bhimani:

Sure.

Sam Yen:

Why is that? Because, it's that uncertainty, it's the ambiguity that actually gives you the space to innovate, right? If you know exactly what your outcome is then you're just executing along that outcome. But if there's some space to and there's some ambiguity, there's some uncertainty, it allows you to, you know, take a step back and brainstorm a little bit more. Am I really solving the right problem for my customer? Once I've identified that problem what's the best way to better serve those clients now that I know what those needs are, right? So it gives you space to innovate and I think that's why, that's why, again I think the most innovative companies, will look for times of uncertainty, kind of as opportunities.

Anish Bhimani:

Yep.

Sam Yen:

Opportunities to better serve the clients.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah. Yeah, you think about all the great ideas in business that were born out of a rough economic times, it's a sort of out of necessity, right? And, you just see a lot of the upstart challengers, displacing long-standing companies that sort of took that approach to the status quo and things like that and didn't really look about how to do things differently. Right? That's the old quote, "what got you here, won't get you there."Right, going forward. So. Okay, so I think the benefits of design thinking are pretty clear. It's hard to argue with, listening to your customers, sort of putting yourselves in their shoes, etc. And when a company sort of shifts stores that, increasing their creativity and letting that influence their execution, they can be, some very powerful things can happen, right? Looking at recent examples and especially in the current environment, how pervasive do you see design thinking being going forward, right? 'Cause have things changed forever? Like, is this part of the landscape in terms of what everybody's doing? And if you don't do it, you're starting to be left behind or how do you think about that?

Sam Yen:

Yes, so I think there's two levels to your question. I think number one, obviously COVID-19, that's a huge crisis, and it's forcing, or well it's forcing companies to really kind of rethink, what they're doing for a lot of different reasons, but at the heart of it, if you look at it again from a design thinking perspective, you have to you have to start with your customer, your client, it's a human issue, like people are suffering, people are dying and that's really causing people to, some of the great creativity and innovation that came out of that, people pivoting to support, some things like personal protective equipment or manufacturing mask and those types of things, right?

So I think that's a great example of being super human centered at the lowest level, at the core and really kind of understanding what those needs are and seeing even beyond kind of the near-term business benefits doing what they can from their organizations and the resources to help out humanity. I think that's fantastic. That's somewhat still with a reactive approach, right? So longer term, it's those organizations that said "hmm by doing this, we're actually learning that it's a pretty sustainable process to kind of understand what are innovation opportunities by going out and talking to our clients, understanding how our clients are using the products and services that we that we deliver, taking that and making sure that's driving kind of what we're doing."

The organizations that start to kind of understand that and not only treat it as this one-time crisis reaction mode and really start to bring it into their business processes, right? How do you bring that into your culture? How do you scale that into your organization? How do you bring in the talent in the organization that knows how to do this on a more constant basis? How do you set the MBO's for your team to reward that kind of behavior? I think those are the organizations that are gonna be successful. I also think from a long-term perspective, right? If you just look at, when I learned about all this stuff in school, I actually went to, there was a school of design, right? It was design, was a practice. Now I think what's happening is it's business schools that are starting to teach this, right? So it's not just limited to designers or the design practice or the design field, business leaders are starting to kind of take this and understand that, you know, it's just as important as business strategy, right?

You go to business school, you learn about strategy. You also need to learn about innovation and design thinking is not the only method of innovation, but it's an effective one, especially if you're kind of looking to be very, very client centered because it teaches you really a systematic way of approaching innovation within an organization. I think a lot of people kind of think of innovation and creativity, somewhat synonymously, and they think of themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of people say, "yeah I don't think of myself as a very creative person. So how can I, how can I bring this into my organization? How can I lead my team to be more creative and innovative?"But that's the nice thing about design thinking as well, right? It's a methodology, it's a system, it's a series of practices and tools that allow you to roll this out systematically within your organization. So it's not about the person that's the most creative, but it's a system of ways to kind of understand what are your client needs the best. And then from that kind of understand what are the opportunities that come from that? So I think it just makes it much more accessible, this whole topic of creativity and innovation in general.

Anish Bhimani:

Yeah, you and I have talked about this before, that sort of everybody is born feeling like they're creative, right? And then society sort of beats it out of you (laughs) as you get older, right? Your idea of like, "Oh, I'm not that creative, like I'm not that artistic or anything else like that."But there's actually more in there than, right? So.

Sam Yen:

Yeah. There's a book by David Kelly, who's a lot of people say coined the term design thinking.

Anish Bhimani:

Idea, right?

Sam Yen:

And it's called Creative Confidence, right? And he talks about that, right? Everybody was born, with creativity and the confidence of their creativity when they're young and somehow through our lives, through our education, through our jobs that creativity, it wasn't kind of taken out of us, but our confidence in our creativity was taken out of us. And again, I think design thinking helps build up that confidence, that everybody can be creative.

Anish Bhimani:

So a couple things I hear you saying in there, number one is companies that move from design thinking as a reactive response, if you will, to a crisis or whatever, moving to more of a proactive, how do you make it part of your core day-to-day processes, other things like that. The second one, which you and I have talked about it as well as I think a lot of companies have sort of figured out over the last couple of years the importance of things like product management.

And it's not just, let's say technology, but you have product, basically you run everything like you would in a tech company, product management and attack. And I think, the next step from that is no it's actually a tripod, right? You have product management, you have technology, and you have design working together to make sure that you're optimizing things, that you're looking at things from a customer point of view, I say the customer's loudest voice in the room, whether they are or not, around that as well. But what I also hear you saying is that yes absolutely, that's great but it's gotta be not just the design team's job, it's how do you embed that in the way of thinking that everybody, all those folks are sort of starting to think that way.

Sam Yen:

Yeah, I think you said it perfectly. I think you could start by bringing in designers that have been trained and think this way kind of naturally, but it's not gonna work long-term strategically if you're only depending on this organization, this team to do all of that for you,

Anish Bhimani:

right

Sam Yen:

It has to start from the top down and like I said, it's kinda like business strategy, like you want everybody just to think strategically, whether you're a tech person, a product person, or a finance person, right? Everybody needs to think strategically, everybody needs to think from a client centered perspective as well. And in a nutshell, that's what design thinking represents. I think that's the big change, right? If more and more organizations are able to do this, you're going to be able to better serve clients, number one. But at the end of the day, I think just organizations, corporations, our products and services, are just gonna be more human centered at the end of the day.

Anish Bhimani:

Well, Sam, thanks very much for joining us and thanks for your insights on such an important topic.

Sam Yen:

Great, thanks again.

Anish Bhimani:

And to all of our listeners, if you enjoyed today's episode, remember you can subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. So I hope you enjoyed it, tune in next time.

(soft music)

END

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