Jan 26, 2022

Design Thinking, with Hannah Berson

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Hannah is the founder and CEO of SALT Collaboratory, a consulting company that helps clients acquire Design Thinking skills to amplify focus, collaboration and creativity in their work.

Prior to SALT Collaboratory, Hannah was a Principal at leading consulting firms including Point B in Seattle and Cap Gemini Ernst and Young (CGEY) in London.

Hannah uses Design Thinking to help clients develop deeper insights into problem spaces and create more innovative solutions to their prioritized challenges. Her work helps teams become more engaged, aligned, productive, diverse and optimistic in their work.

Hannah has a CFA, an MSc from the London School of Economics and a BA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a LUMA Certified Instructor in Design Thinking. 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How a career in management consulting led Hannah to a new way of problem solving through design thinking
  • Why the innovation challenge for most organizations is bigger than any one person can solve
  • Why most organizations need a more collaborative and innovative approach to developing and implementing solutions
  • How design thinking is uniquely suited for organizations with complex challenges, but who can come up with the answers internally with the right help
  • How open and curious teams can solve problems that seem unsolvable
  • How teams that embrace design thinking can grow in their skills while they participate
  • How a flexible design thinking approach can be applied to broad issues from strategy and planning, to building a smart rollout plan

Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your Marketing Expert and Host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly: Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. Today, I'm excited to talk with Hannah Berson, the Founder and CEO of SALT Collaboratory. I did have to practice saying that a few times, so I could say collaboratory the right way. My mind has to put the words together. Hannah is an expert in using design thinking as a basis for her consulting and planning, and is going to explain what that means, who she works with, talk about her company. I'm just so excited to have you on, Hannah.

Hannah: Thanks, Polly. I'm excited to be here.

Polly: So, can you share a little bit about your story, your background, how you started SALT Collaboratory? I just want to say it over and over now, because it is fun to say.

Hannah: Sure. I'm happy to tell you a little bit about how this all came together. I have been in management consulting for most of my career. I did have substance in industry working in financial services and in tech, but most of my time has been in the consulting space, both here in the US, and based out of London, in Europe. What I found in most of my work is, we have tools and methods, and we have ways to work with clients, but the model for consulting was, traditionally, client has a problem, consultant comes to solve it, writes a report, a PowerPoint, whatever it is, there's some interviews back and forth. But generally, the model is, I've called you in because you have the answer.

Hannah: What I was finding, as I was working more and more with clients, many of whom were in industries that were definitely going to be disrupted, was that the innovation challenge was bigger than any one person or one consultant could solve, and clients definitely needed a far more collaborative and innovative way to work. I was fortunate, through colleagues that I worked with, to stumble upon the world of design thinking, and it was very clear to me that this particular way of working isn't necessarily the hammer for every nail, but in situations where clients have very complex challenges, where they probably could come up with the answer with some guidance, it was going to be the right fit. I started to pivot my practice at my prior consulting company to using these tools and methods, and then eventually was so compelled to really only work this way, that I branched off to do it myself.

Polly: Wonderful. It's an interesting and very complex environment when an organization brings in a consultant, and I think that there's... We could talk forever about the highs, the lows, the good and the bad times. How much have clients embraced design thinking? Is that hard for them to wrap their heads around?

Hannah: I think for many of them, not all of them, for many of them, it's still a very new way of working. And so while they might be familiar with what design thinking is, they probably don't really know how to do it. I am finding that becoming a design thinking practitioner or facilitator or even consultant is actually quite a deep skill and takes a fair amount of practice. But just honestly, by the growth of my business over the last two years, I'm finding that those of us who've been around the block for a while... So I'm not straight out of college talking about it, I'm old.

Hannah: So when I talk to clients about understanding corporate environments that they're working in, how the world used to work, how the world works today, and how this skillset can be the bridge between bringing everybody's expertise together... So we're not moving away from an expertise-based model, we're just bringing it together in a different way that can feel, if well facilitated, very natural and inspiring, honestly.

Hannah: I will say that the one thing that you have to sprinkle in to the conversation now because of the pandemic is the ability to still be able to be that productive remotely. That's only because of certain collaboration platforms that are out there that you have to master, as well. But the combination of the challenges that clients have... Honestly, for some of them, they're fatigue with traditional consulting, their desire to really be involved in designing the solution, not just waiting for the report, and the fact that we're all sitting at home, working on Zoom, learning new skills, learning how to operate with new platforms, when that all comes together for them, they get a lift, as well.

Polly: That's incredible. I have so many follow-up questions, but I am a very contextual person. So I want to step back and say like, what kind of organizations are you typically working with? Do you find that there's a certain industry type, or business demographics that design thinking is best for?

Hannah: I'll tell you, the common denominator across all of my clients is the approach and openness and curiosity of client, him or her, or themselves, honestly. I have clients from the healthcare industry, from the real estate industry, clients who are dealing with climate change challenges, clients just from pretty much almost any sector. One of my biggest clients is a consulting client.

Polly: Huh.

Hannah: So I'm definitely not industry-specific, and I'm definitely not problem-specific. What seems to be the common denominator is the curiosity and interest of, in the language of consulting, the buyer.

Polly: Yeah. That's really refreshing, actually. Do they have common challenges that they're typically facing? Is there any commonality there with the problem that they're trying to solve?

Hannah: I think design thinking is best applied for really complex challenges, and those are often at the more strategic level. So most of the challenges, whether it's helping a nonprofit with their board retreat treat, for example, or helping clients come up with their long term strategies, helping clients understand how to move into a new market, these are all very traditional strategy questions, and we can apply the design thinking tools and methods to help them design their strategy using our platforms that we work with.

Hannah: We can also, depending on the question... This is where having the consulting bit has been helpful. Depending on the question, we can bring in other frameworks. So, based on my expertise, there's all the stuff I used to do back in the day, the design thinking way of working. Another more modern, if you want to call it, way of working is the objectives and key results framework, the OKR framework. Bur you need design thinking to help you come up with your mission and vision, you need OKRs to help you decide how high on jump by when, and how you're going to manage that.

Hannah: So you can plug and play and pull different strategies together, but I think the key... the common denominator is, it needs to be a complex challenge that requires a diverse team of collaborators to solve, and that seems to be the most important factor. If it's something more straightforward, it's like you're bringing out the cavalry, when you really don't need it.

Hannah: I do have one client who we're working with, and their challenge is rolling out [inaudible 00:08:15] for their team. It's like, you know which you want to do. Why on earth would you [inaudible 00:08:21] design thinking? We're using it in that way to pull together project leads from across the organization, to get them engaged, to not tell them what to do, but to have them build the rollout plan with us.

Polly: Does that help you facilitate the change management that's needed in the organization?

Hannah: That's exactly where I was going. Because that shortcuts the need for change management. Instead of writing 30 documents about what you have to tell your employees, you were at the table when the decisions were made.

Polly: Right.

Hannah: So that's really our experiment to show them that you can have a much lighter change management touch if the right people are at the table doing the project.

Polly: Yeah. I really like that. Can you break down... It sounds complicated and hard to break down, but can you break down how you would define design thinking, what it is, how it's different than some of us who are familiar with different models? But it sounds alluring.

Hannah: I think the reason why people catch on so quickly is because it's actually a very natural way of working. So there are lots of definitions. Everybody has their own word for how they define it. The way that I like to define it is that it's a structured or disciplined approach to creative problem solving in the service of people. The reason why it has those three components for me is... The first thing is, it is actually... there is method to the madness, and there is discipline. Sometimes when you...

Hannah: Certainly, back in the day, you'd walk past a conference room where somebody was doing a design thinking workshop... I know because I was in these, there're sticky notes everywhere, and there's lunch, wrappers everywhere, and people are in casual clothes, and you can't figure... It looks chaotic, quite chaotic. You would think of a buttoned up business person walking past that room, thinking, I would never do that. It looks like a total mess. So the first part that I want to share is, there is a lot of method to the madness, and whoever is leading the sprint or designing the experience, hopefully, knows exactly what they're doing and why they're doing it.

Hannah: The next point is just reiterating what we said earlier, where you want to have a complex problem. You don't want to have to move a pen from one side of the table to the other. But you are also looking for a creative solution. If the solutions that you've had to the complex problem have worked before, and you're perfectly fine with it, rinsing and repeating, have at it. If you're really feeling like, I need something different, for whatever reason, this is the way to go.

Hannah: In many ways, design thinking is the language of innovation, it's stolen from the world of design. [inaudible 00:11:13] about every time you look at a beautiful new building, or there's so creativity and thoughtfulness in what designers do to get that complete fit for their designs. It's borrowing from that way of thinking, and saying, how can we really understand what's needed here, so that we design something beautiful and creative and elegant to solve the problem?

Hannah: And so the last part of that definition is this notion of, in the service of people. Because the design thinking model basically says, before you do anything, you need to understand what's going on. In business, and in consulting, in particular, we always think that the quicker you have the answer... Sometimes when you're writing the statement of work, you tell the client what the answer is. The quicker you tell the answer, the smarter you are. Design thinking says, don't worry about the answer. It's not what's most important. What's most important is the question.

Hannah: So taking time to understand the question, and not to think about the challenge in the context of the business or the financials or the department. It's, who is having this problem? It's people, it's always going to be people who need the solution. Who are the people in the department or in the business who are most impacted? So we understand the challenge first, and we... You can think about a diamond, where you go wide with your... When you open the diamond, you're... I'm thinking about a picture of a diamond. You're going wide, you're asking a lot of questions, you're going to gather a lot of information. You're going to interview, you're going to observe, you're going to do all that stuff, and then you're going to be overwhelmed with what you learned.

Hannah: The next set of skills are actually in helping you find the patterns and the priorities in all of that information. To do it well and quickly and collaboratively, you need tools and methods. But all of this is underpinned with, we're going to do a bullseye right now, that's what's behind me, or we're going to do some voting or something to help us work collaboratively to find the priorities.

Hannah: So we've understood what's going on, and we've defined what we think we need to go after. And then we open that diamond again and say, what are the best ideas? This is where this way of working is so incredibly important right now in our world of diverse and inclusion that we're working in. Because when we work this way, we really create the space for everybody's input. It's magical to see how people from different departments or walks of life or experience or different levels in the hierarchy shed everything at the door, and the only thing that matters is the best idea.

Hannah: Contribution is somewhat anonymous in the working methods. So we don't know, it could be the prison in the corner who hasn't said anything for two years, who actually has the best idea, and that's the one that will win. And so working that way back to the definition is, it's the structured approach of understanding, creating, and then ultimately prototyping and testing before you go big with something. Another lesson that's taken people here is to learn. So it's structured, it's creative for complex problems, and it's in the service of people.

Polly: Yeah. What are some of the limitations to working this way? As you were talking, I was like, it sounds very familiar to me, and it sounds very productive. And then immediately, I'm like, do you get access to all the people you need? When you start an engagement, is there and understanding that people are going to give you the time that you need to get their input? Do you start getting pushback if it takes too long and you're pulling too many people? Just curious about some of those logistics.

Hannah: I think they can be... it can be complicated. I think the trick is for your client sponsor to be respected and at the right level.

Polly: Right.

Hannah: I do think the other thing that's incredibly helpful in this way of working is what you mentioned about the productivity of working this way. So again, if you have somebody who knows what they're doing, and who knows where they are in the flow, then if they do call you together for a two-hour meeting, and there are 12 of you in the room, what's different... Even online, certainly in person where you're writing sticky notes, but online, using platforms such as Mural, which is the one that-

Polly: Oh yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's a great one.

Hannah: If you know how to use Mural, which is, again, a learning curve, but if you know how to use it, and you can have 12 collaborators, and you say to them, okay, for the next 12 minutes, I want your ideas, no talking, just writing, and then I'm going to use a different tool, I'm going to tell you to put it into a bullseye, your own favorite idea or somebody else's idea that you like, or whatever the exercise is, the amount of work that you can do in those two hours is literally astonishing. It's beyond.

Hannah: And so what happens very it quickly is, again, if you're representing it well, you're saying to people, I need your involvement, I'm going to give you enough lead time to plan, or I'm going to do do it at a time of day that works for most people, and it's going to be productive. But I think the other thing that we're able to say is, for many people, not only are you going to contribute to the solution, but you are going to be exposed to and potentially learn a new way of working, and you're going to be exposed to a new tool for the 21st pandemic century, heaven forbid.

Hannah: There was a time when we all didn't really know how to use PowerPoint, and then we had to learn how to do it. It's the same for these digital tools, honestly. I almost never use PowerPoint anymore. I can do presentations in Mural, I can design quickly in Mural. I can do everything I need. And so letting people know that they're actually going to be expanding their world by spending two hours is... There's not a lot going on these days [inaudible 00:17:38] to go to something different.

Polly: As you were talking, I was really reflecting on some of the... Obviously, it's like a net negative across the board. Keeping away from any larger social societal issues about the pandemic, from a working perspective, there are some benefits, along with the negatives. As you were talking, I was like, well, people have been more available to come to sessions. It's less about like, you're traveling, you're speaking, you're this, you're that. You can probably get people there. And then some of these tools might make it easier for people to contribute, who maybe are more introverted or more thoughtful or don't speak in groups. What are some of the pros and cons of the pandemic pivoting that you've been doing? You just talked about of them, but has it been a net positive or flat?

Hannah: I'm sorry to say, I really am, that it has been an accelerator. Because first of all, the global borders collapsed, and so I... My accent is South African. I've lived in Israel and London and Canada, and here in-

Polly: Here is Seattle?

Hannah: Here is Seattle. Exactly. I think of myself as a global citizen. I've been very constrained, honestly, because I had young kids, and the company I worked for was very accommodating. I said, I don't want to travel, I don't want to cross the bridge. So all of my clients, for the last 12 years, or 12, 15 years were very much 10 minutes from my house. It was fine, but I missed that. I missed my global work. Through working this way, I have clients in Australia, and I have clients in Sweden, and clients in Argentina, and in Israel, I even did some work in Hebrew.

Hannah: And so the ability to work with everybody on this very universal skillset [inaudible 00:19:39] like coming home for me. The fact that it's not... It's like breathing. Every industry, every person... In fact, the LUMA Institute, who are the people who trained me, have this... I don't know if it's their ism. They basically say reading, writing, arithmetic, and design thinking.

Polly: Fascinating.

Hannah: We have to learn how to collaborate productively together. It's a core skill. When we think about... I have kids, and I think about the challenge challenges that they're going to need to solve, hopefully, alongside us, but around climate change and whatever else they're going to be working on. They are going to need really advanced innovation skill. Kids, these days, we missed it. Well, I don't know how old you are, but my generation certainly missed design thinking as a business skill. My daughter could get her girl scout, badge in design thinking, and-

Polly: That's insane.

Hannah: And the person I learned it from picked it up in his MBA. So fortunately, the kids are getting it now, but we're still the ones who run the show. So we have to learn. Because what happens is, companies hire young talent, and then they make the young talent mimic what the old people do. I'm going to show you how light a deck. I don't want to know what you know [inaudible 00:21:04] that I hired you because you're brilliant. Not asking, do the deck this way, because that's how I did it in Deloitte 30 years ago.

Polly: It reminds me of... I first encountered human-centered design, which sounds similar, but perhaps with some differences, maybe 10 or so years ago in my career, and it just felt very like eye-opening. Why am I doing all these PowerPoint decks and thinking about these things this way, when there's, obviously, such a much broader way to encounter how humans think and learn and-

Hannah: Yeah. I think that the terminology of human-centered design or design thinking, they're somewhat used interchangeably. I think what's been interesting for me with... I have much more of a business background than a design background or a [inaudible 00:21:55] background. Design thinking was usually in the world of product designers, because they were the ones who had to observe people, how they got on the bus and how they got off the bus, or how-

Polly: Yes.

Hannah: ... they brush their teeth. It was all about really, really understanding what people do and think, and this is [inaudible 00:22:14] and other companies are. The ethnographic research was a huge part of the human-centered design. For most people, in business, it wasn't really applicable. And so I think they stepped away from the hold on thing. But what I'm finding is, if you understand the construct, and you apply the tools and methods that are more relevant to the business or nonprofit sector than the product design sector, you can get a huge amount of benefit from bringing design thinking into the corporate or organizational world. Rather than, I want to redesign a pencil, let me watch how you use your [inaudible 00:23:01]. I would walk away from it, if that's what I thought it was, so...

Polly: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Just curious, because we're running into this. Especially in the agency environment, it's like, yeah, we're productive remotely, but we also just miss being in a room of people, shouting stuff for the note taker to write on all the post-its to put on the board. Do you feel like people miss that interaction? What do you think?

Hannah: I think we can't replace it, of course. But I think we can get a lot closer to it, working this way, compared to a Zoom meeting with eight people in the little boxes, most of whom don't turn on their cameras, one person going through the deck. You have no idea what somebody else is doing on their phone or they're on mute or whatever it is. I know, because sometimes I'm doing that in a meeting.

Polly: Candy Crush.

Hannah: Exactly. When you're doing the design thinking work, everybody in the meeting has a job to do, and you are asking them, for the next 10 minutes, I want you to contribute. For the next 30 minutes, you're going to be in a separate breakout, and you guys need to agree on what the patterns are, or you're going to do this tool or that tool. And so nobody can sit out. Everybody has to work. The way that Mural allows you to work allows you to bring some levity and joy into... We often ask people to introduce yourselves. Here are all the icons, here are all the images, bring a few...

Hannah: Because it's a digital visual way of collaborating, rather than just [inaudible 00:24:39] on a page, people can have a lot more fun expressing who they are and what their thoughts are or how they design, but they can bring in images, and within half an hour, have a really compelling way to tell their story. So I think that the middle ground between meeting in person and being remote is having everybody participate. What I've found, too, is that even people who are like, "Oh, so-and-so's going to be such a bear. You're going to have a hard time with them, they don't want to participate in anything."

Polly: Those are always my favorite people.

Hannah: Well, and the truth of the matter is, they always wanted to get an A at school. If you give them a job to do, they want to do it well.

Polly: Yes.

Hannah: And so it's the kind of thing where if your instructions are clear, if people feel like they're engaged and learning, it's a break for them from the other types of meetings. The feedback, I always ask for feedback so I can learn, and so they can see what they think. The feedback is invariably, didn't feel the time, there wasn't enough time, even though we were doing this for two hours, et cetera. There's-

Polly: It's fun.

Hannah: It's fun. It's hard fun.

Polly: Yeah.

Hannah: I think the thing that... What people appreciate is, it's non-trivial. The work itself is hard, so you're digging deep, and you're challenging yourself. But whoever's facilitating it should have you come out the other side, so that you can, end of your time, feel like you accomplished something. But it's [inaudible 00:26:09] work.

Polly: It feels so obvious that this is a really good system for dealing with disruption and innovation. In our pre-talk, you said that climate change was one of the disruptions that was really coming up more and more. Can you talk a little bit about what that means for organizations, and what they're thinking about?

Hannah: Sure. Well, I think different parts of the planet are at different stages of their ESG journey. So this environmental, social, and governance standard that some people may not have heard of yet. What is ESG? It's not front and center in the US yet.

Polly: Right.

Hannah: But if you have a Vanguard or Fidelity account or something, you're going to very... If you haven't already been given these options of doing ESG investing... which means that when you look at a company, not only do you look at their financials, but you look at their environmental, social, and governance scorecard, and you decide if you want to support companies who are more progressive on that front than others. So this world of ESG is in newish, but companies in Europe, in particular, are further ahead. They actually need for their banks and for their investors, they need to start reporting on their current performance against certain ESG metrics and what they're planning to do about it. I work with an old friend of mine from when we were at A.T. Kearney together, [inaudible 00:27:50]. She actually did a lot of work for Canada on the Paris time at a court, and was knighted by the French government.

Polly: Oh wow.

Hannah: She's a deep, deep authority in the space. So we're pairing up because she knows exactly what ESG means for different industries, and whether it had a lot to do with coming up with some of these standards. What I said to her in one of our... we house the family, chitchat, chitchat. I said, "It's going to be all very well to show up at a company and say, 'This is what you have to do.'" What if we worked with them using design thinking and OKR methodologies to help them engage and understand their challenges, and then use the OKR tools and methods to actually define how high they want to jump by when and how they measure it?

Hannah: Just through musing, we're already talking to clients in India and in Spain about how to jumpstart their ESG programs. For a lot of people, you have to go from zero to a hundred, and that means you have to learn what ESG is, you have learn how to engage your key constituents in this work, so that you actually care about it, and you have to come up with strategies and goals that are workable for your organization, that you can actually achieve.

Hannah: So I can see.... Right now, we help clients in all sorts of industries, but we're, at SALT, definitely building up our own capabilities in the world of ESG, so that we can help clients sprint. They're going to have to sprint to get going on this. [inaudible 00:29:40].

Polly: That's really interesting. I feel like when this stuff comes down, and when if, whatever, we'll save the political discussion about the US, it is a sprint. It's like, we needed this yesterday, so you have to meet all of this tomorrow.

Hannah: Right. I think that the design sprint... Google's written books about... called Sprint. This notion of sprinting is... Design thinking is not this sort of, it's going to take us 12 months and... We want to be able to do deep, quick thinking, come up with some solutions, try them out, iterate, fix them, keep rolling. This notion of research for six months, and then five months of-

Polly: Doesn't work.

Hannah: There's no time. There's no time.

Polly: As you look around, maybe even at the us market, what are corporations, organizations thinking about in the near future, this year, next year? We know some of the common disruptions, but what are companies looking to innovate? How are they looking to stay ahead and stay relevant?

Hannah: Well, I have to say I'm no longer in the world of big corporate, apart from reading about it. What I will say is, there is a parallel universe that I do spend a lot of time in, which is in the world of independence. You know this from your own experience. There are many of us who have grown up in large corporations, who've got a lot of experience, and who are just... The fact that there are markets, online markets, fulfilled that at the end of the day, I think people are less interested about whether you're from Deloitte or McKinsey, or they just want to know, can you do the work? Because if you can, you're hired.

Hannah: And so I think that the marketplace is different for talent, and definitely paying attention to the story that the great resignation is telling us. I have a small team of contractors who I work with, and I'm working with them to make it feel like we're not working. We work a lot and we work hard, but it doesn't feel like work work. We're respectful, and we, hopefully, do well out of the work that we do together.

Hannah: So I feel like large corporates, with all their stuff that I wouldn't begin to think I understand, need to think hard about talent, and they need to think about how they deploy their internal talent, and how they bring in talent from the outside. What I do find is, if you think about any of us who are hired by big companies, you've got your resume, and your LinkedIn, and you have to demonstrate all your genius before you even get the job. And then you get the job, and they don't ask you what you think. They just tell you what to do. And you atrophy. You can, not everybody.

Hannah: But I think that what design thinking does for people who want to stay in corporations, because there's lots of goodness, too, is it lets them continue to challenge themselves in safe environments to be as smart as they can possibly be, and as creative as they can possibly be in the service of whatever their job is. It doesn't have to be... This is really what happened with me in my corporate environment. I learned these skills, I brought them to the client, I went to my leadership, I said, "Look, what we can do. It's so awesome."

Hannah: And they said, "That's nice. We actually want to do other things, and we're going to put you back on the bench, and maybe you can do a project in Olympia, which is an hour and a half from your house every day." I'm not doing that anymore. So don't lose your talent. Give them space to continue to be creative, using different ways of working. If you are out in the big, wide world, I think if you know what you're talking about, and you can package yourself up, large companies should be open to adding you to teams.

Polly: Yeah. I love that. We're talking in January. What are you learning? What are you thinking about for this year? What are some of your goals?

Hannah: I think for my goals personally, for SALT Collaboratory... I started the company as a, I just want to do this work myself. I'm learning that this is work that lots of people want to do and lots of people need. So I'm curious, and I'm trying to talk to different people and mentors to figure out how to build something that's going to be most helpful to most people, including the people who work with me, as well as clients. Right now, we have two parts to our business. One is a training part of the company, where our clients...

Hannah: One of our biggest clients is actually another consulting company, who understand that they need to know how to work this way as consultants. I think that that catalyst effect of training people, and then having them take the goodness out, that multiplier effect is very appealing to me. Because I have had the opportunity to train almost 200 consultants at this company-

Polly: Wow.

Hannah: ... and some of them are just like, "Oh, that was nice. I enjoyed it." Others are like, "Give me more of this." And even others are, "I'm doing this big workshop at Microsoft or VMware, and I'm using all of the stuff you taught me," and their executives love it. But I really like the catalyst effect through training. At the same time... I think anybody who does this work is being trained to some degree anyway. When you're seeing something new you're learning.

Hannah: I think the other thing for me is going to be... When you start on your own... I don't know if you remember those, any job is a good job. But as you get a little bit more sophisticated, you can direct your work. For example, at the climate change work or at healthcare or industries that I personally feel I'd like to help. Like, a big project for a real estate company, happy to help and-

Polly: Not as passionate.

Hannah: Not as passionate. Exactly.

Polly: Yeah. Yeah. Is there anything else that I didn't ask you? This has been so interesting, and now I feel like I need to do a bunch of research and join your training. I really love thinking and talking about this. What other things do you think are important about this conversation, or as people are thinking about how they're approaching problems in this modern age?

Hannah: I think the different generations that we work with are teaching us a lot. So I work with, and I have worked with people in their 20s, so whatever. I've lost the ABCDV-

Polly: I know. I just read an article, the Z's are entering the workforce, and I was like, "I don't know who those are anymore." Are you 12? Are you 20? I don't-

Polly: It's like, welcome. I'm also a letter generation.

Hannah: I definitely see, in that generation, this openness and familiarity with technology and curiosity. Again, this is just motherhood and apple pie to them, totally comfortable. I think the bigger challenge are the 30s, 40s, and even 50s, those of us who came into our careers, were doing quite well, thank you very much. We probably feel like we do our jobs, and then we go home and we do our hobbies or family, but we're not really actively learning new ways of working, because what we've been doing has served us just fine, and now we're vice presidents, and whatever it is that we think we are, the titles that we have.

Hannah: I would say to those of us who are in that space, keep learning, because we're old, we are, and there's better ways to do things, and it is uncomfortable, and we do have a lot of expertise and experience from our past. And so that should help us learn quickly, but we have to learn. Partly, what I'm seeing there is the kind of... people just get stayed in their ways. Either the ones that I respect the most are the ones who are bringing in talent and then getting excited and learning themselves, but there're plenty who just push back from the table and say, "Well, you your chickens go do your thing and come back to me with [inaudible 00:38:34]."

Hannah: I'm begging those of us out there, who feel like we've been there, done that and are cresting, to look at design thinking constructs, to look at objectives and key results. Lots of people in the development [inaudible 00:38:50] already in agile, or jobs to be done, or... Even if it sounds like a whole bunch of nonsense, just appreciate that there are people who are trying to do something new and better, because the challenges aren't harder than they used to be, especially in the pandemic. It's just a plea for... Sorry, lack [inaudible 00:39:12].

Polly: I'm really curious. This is probably more of a personal problem than anything else, but I'm imagining that you are as busy, if not more than I am. And it's like, I love to learn, and I actually do feel... When you were talking, I was like, I do feel stale. I'm in my early 40s, I run a company, actually two, but one is very different than this. And it's like, do I just need better discipline tools to make the time? Does it have to be a non-negotiable that I need these hours in the day to be learning, otherwise I won't be effective at other things? It feels like the tyranny of the urgent always strips away my learning time, and then I end up feeling depleted, that I'm just tired of doing the same old thing.

Hannah: I think, honestly, the trick... I'm not going to sound like it's selfish. I don't mean at all. The trick for people who have budgets out there is, in companies or whatever is to say, I want to learn this. I don't want to do it on the weekend. Don't. I definitely have a problem that I can risk bringing in a different approach for. Why don't I do that? Why don't I try to learn, take some... I think working with me or other people who work like me, depending on the engagement, it's not going to suck up the whole budget. One of my clients is a company in Virginia that's actually sponsored by the CIA. The name of the company is In-Q-Tel, where the Q comes from 007.

Polly: Oh wow.

Hannah: This is a company where... The the CIA needs more innovation in the stuff that they need, so they're... The point is, this particular company wanted to learn design thinking. So instead of doing an off-the-shelf training, which you can do... You can send yourself to an off-the-shelf training. And then you have to pretend trying to change the ferry system, or you're trying to work for an airline, or you have [inaudible 00:41:23]. So you're learning the tools and methods, but not in your context.

Polly: Yes. Yeah.

Hannah: What I'm able to do at SALT, and when I think... I don't know who else does this, but if I'm training people like this consulting company, I train them in their context. I say, "We're going to do a consulting... a typical consulting challenge, but I'm going to teach you the design thinking as we go through it. You don't have to make that translation from, well, I don't really work for an airline, I work for this type of company. How do I apply it?"

Polly: Yeah.

Hannah: So I think-

Polly: I love that.

Hannah: I think for people who want to learn and who are curious, curve out some budget, bring somebody in who's going to push your boundaries, if you like it. If you're naturally curious, it won't feel like you're spending time you don't have.

Polly: I love it. That's really great advice. We've done that a little bit ourselves, too, and it's just like... When you spend the money and you make it a part of your plan, then you'll do it. And then-

Hannah: Right.

Polly: ... who knows where those paths will lead from there?

Hannah: Exactly. Exactly.

Polly: I always ask everyone, at the end of our time together, a question I stole from a research friend, but that is, what would you say is your superpower?

Hannah: Well, I'm glad I prepared a little bit for this one.

Polly: I love this question so much.

Hannah: I went downstairs, and I said to my husband, "I bet you they're going to ask me, what's my superpower? What would you say, honey?" He said to me... And I think it's interesting. He said to me, "You have way of bringing people together to find solutions to complex problems. And even if you're telling them what to do, they don't feel it, they don't..." So I think that... I think what he's trying to say is that I'm very collaborative. Even if I'm telling them what to do, they don't... you don't have that feeling of distance or formality.

Polly: Right.

Hannah: I will say that in the work that we're doing remotely and Zoom and all that, I definitely have some experiences with some clients where you feel like there's ice in the room and... but I also find this way of working incredibly intimate, and we're... Like, we're literally right up in each other's faces right now. And so this style of working actually suits me, because the whole vulnerable, authentic, all that stuff, I don't really know any other way to be.

Polly: Yeah. I love it.

Hannah: I think what you see is what you get, and we're all in it together. Sometimes I might know something that can help you, and sometimes you might know something that can help me, and everybody gets a car, so...

Polly: I love that. That's so wonderful. How can people stay connected with you? Are you writing anywhere? Can they learn from you?

Hannah: I'm doing some of these, which is helpful, but I've guested on a few other podcasts, and I... Sometimes when I'm trying to learn about somebody, I look and see who they've been, where they've been guests, because I that's a great way to... So I have a couple of podcasts on my website that give people different insights into how I think.

Polly: Yeah. We'll link to those in the show notes for anyone who wants to follow up.

Hannah: I'm thinking about my own podcast journey. What I would think about there for myself is more how the design thinking skillset or just embracing and learning this deep skillset can change your career trajectory. That's what happened to me, that's what's happening to the people who are working for me. That they discovered it, they embraced it, and they're doing very different work. And that's what happened to somebody who I'm hoping to co-host with, who had a corporate job, learned this stuff, and now is on a different new level.

Hannah: So I look at this whole... I don't just think about it as, oh it's something that's interesting, I see it as as an education for those of us... particularly for women. In fact, [inaudible 00:45:44] women. I shouldn't say only women, but generally, for myself, I find sometimes we can be a little warmer or a little bit more inviting. We have a lot of things that are great for collaboration, we're wired that way. This is the technical piece-

Polly: I love that.

Hannah: ... that take us from being, oh, Sheila, she's really nice, and she does a good job and... but I just need some hard skills.

Polly: She's nice, plus a framework.

Hannah: There you go. That's a great title. She's nice, plus a framework. That's-

Polly: That was free.

Hannah: I think the other thing that I find with that is at least for now, not forever, hopefully, but when you do master this way of working, you are invariably the only person in the room who can pull it off. It is not a common skillset. So when you say, I see we're stuck, I'm going to pull up a Mural board, I'm going to suggest we do this activity, I'm going to tell you where it's going to take us, I'll facilitate us through this mess, there are not a lot of people who can do that really well.

Polly: Everyone's breathing a sigh of relief that someone's providing an escape path from the stuck place.

Hannah: Exactly.

Polly: Yeah. That's so great. Well, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed hearing about design thinking, and getting to know you a little bit. We'll link to your website in the show notes, we'll link to some of the resources you mentioned. Sounds like people should stay tuned and check back in, that you might have your own podcast coming soon, which I will certainly listen to, because I think everything that you're saying makes so much sense, and is something I want to explore more. Thank you so much for giving us your time. I really appreciate it.

Hannah: It's fun.

Polly: Any last thoughts?

Hannah: Just gratitude, honestly. You were talking about how you're in your 40s, I'm in my 50s, and you honestly-

Polly: And thriving.

Hannah: ... this is-

Polly: And we're thriving.

Hannah: Exactly.

Polly: Some of our lives.

Hannah: Exactly. But I will say the gratitude part is to be able... I am the happiest I've ever been in my career, I'm doing exactly what I love, it doesn't feel like work, all of those things. So to have stumbled upon this, and to have been able to learn it and incorporate it and make lots of mistakes along the way... The only way to learn this stuff is to get egg on your face several times. So I just feel incredibly grateful to, first of all, be talking to you about it. I think as I talk, so a lot of the things that I said today, I'm thinking about for the first time. I think that this world is just so empowering.

Polly: I think it is really something to be grateful for, to be in our time of life, and to still be really excited about work and about learning, and I think that those are such important life-adding, life-giving things, and so that is really something to be grateful for. So, thank you. I loved talking with you.

Hannah: Go book some more.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to abravenew.com for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating, and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich



OCT 11, 2021


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