On going forward & global impact

“Go forward not back.”

That’s what d.school co-founder George Kembel told me when we discussed my imminent return to Fidelity this past June. The conversation came after my memorable 10-month-long experience as a d.school fellow. During that time, I both took and taught classes, worked on a Fidelity project and collaborated actively with members of my fellows cohort.

Shortly after our fellows launch day, I returned to Fidelity and re-assumed my role leading design thinking in Fidelity Labs. Since my return, I’ve taken time to reflect on what I’ve brought back to my team and, of that, what has had the biggest impact.

(Fred Leichter)
(Fred Leichter)

But, before I present those findings, it’s worth sharing one more insight George helped me realize:

“Your potential to impact the world has more to do with how you influence people to see things than by how much you produce.”

Alright, so how does one affect the way people see things in a successful corporate culture fine-tuned to perform reliably? Here are three ways I’ve found it possible to accomplish this:

  • Always get people to see things through the customer’s eyes in new ways
  • Form diverse dedicated teams that see things together
  • Alter the way teams see time

Always get people to see things through the customer’s eyes.

At Fidelity, we use a variety of different methods and tools to place the user first. We have a “customer delivery service,” which delivers customers to teams and teams to customers for empathy and testing. We also run regular “user testing parties” where we make testing and learning into an actual celebration. But how could we more clearly see things from the customer’s perspective? I’ve found that it starts with looking outside of not only your company but your industry. Human needs, such as the needs of people with aging parents for example, transcend finance. Through the d.school, I have been able to form partnerships with companies in very different businesses that have also developed design thinking practices. Our active partnerships with JetBlue, Nordstrom and Citrix have helped Fidelity see the customer’s perspective in broader and fresh terms.

(Fred Leichter)
(Fred Leichter)

Form diverse dedicated teams that see things together.

I talked to d.school teaching fellow Taylor Cone quite a bit this past year about how teams are formed in the Design for Extreme Affordability class at the d.school. Taylor was the teaching fellow for the class during this past academic year. According to Taylor, teams in that class are not just sent off into the field for their big project, they are carefully constructed, then practiced and stressed with warm-ups to build the collaborative muscle they’ll need to excel. I’ve brought that back to Fidelity. Now, we’re spending more time upfront designing teams and working them out. Tight multi-talented teams can be ten times as productive as average teams.

(Fred Leichter)
(Fred Leichter)

Alter the way teams see time.

George also talked to us about the Ancient Greeks and their two ways of keeping time. The first method of keeping time, and the one that caught on, is chronos time, in which time is measured by the passage of seconds, days and years – always in equal measure. Successful organizations, such as Fidelity, are very good at managing chronos time. We hit our dates and budgets and deliver the things that are “in scope.” In chronos time, every paddle stroke moves you forward at the same rate.

The Greek’s second method of keeping time was called kairos time, in which time is measured by the passage of opportunities. Kairos time is not flat. Like a surfer, one must wait patiently in the right place for a wave and then seize the moment to accelerate. And, like a surfer, Kairos, who the Greek’s personified with wings, practices and is not afraid to fall. For a group like Fidelity Labs or any team charged with rapid experimentation, kairos time is critical. We can only be successful if we watch carefully for opportunity and then know how to move.

The three notions of customer eyes, team focus and kairos time have really resonated at Fidelity. In fact, there is a long history of innovation at Fidelity based on taking risks and being ready for opportunity. When we developed the first version of Fidelity.com in 1995, we practiced and prepared with customers beforehand. We went from 2 percent of transactions being electronic to 96 percent in 10 years -- in large part because we already had 2 percent of such transactions in ’95. We did the same type of preparation when the mobile wave hit, producing similar results.

The opportunities that are headed our way now are largely shaped by the needs of our customers, and some of these needs are far from obvious. Are they aging families, mobile young investors or unseen patterns? In order to achieve success, businesses need to listen hard and be poised to act. I read here of the incredible cohort of new fellows that will be starting their journey at the d.school in September. I wish each of them the best. You are approaching a time that will alter the way you see things. Be prepared to see the world through other people’s eyes, to form a remarkable team of fellows and most importantly to make the most of this amazing opportunity. Make Kairos proud.