On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.
Episode #16 Summary
Jared Meyers, President of SIDO Innovation LLC, doesn’t just design products; he creates experiences. Chatting with Content People’s creator and host, Meredith Farley, Jared talks about why humans should be at the center of everything and what that means for products, strategies and even entrepreneurship.
In episode 16 of Content People, I chat with Jared Meyers, President of SIDO Innovation LLC. The company’s mission statement is powerful: “Design a world worth experiencing.”
How does Jared make it happen? Simple: He has a strong approach to designing and managing product creation. No spoilers, but this “roses and thorns” methodology is powerful and human-centric. He also talks about experiences, strategies and learning — things every creative person knows are crucial.
On top of that, he’s seen the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. We chat about his career and the journey of starting and running his own business. Jared tells me what the hardest parts were, what was surprisingly easy and what our listeners can take away from his experiences.
Follow along as we discuss:
- When product development and marketing should be working in tandem.
- The opportunity cost of shallow product development work.
- How SIDO combines experience design, product strategy and design education.
- The “why” behind Jared’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Thanks for listening!
– Meredith Farley, Host of Content People
More Content for Content People
See SIDO in Action: Take a look at Sido Innovation LLC to see how Jared creates products and experiences every day.
Brafton: Speaking of experiences, you’re about to have a great one. Here’s our digital marketing newsletter, just for you.
Meredith’s newsletter: Check out Meredith’s newsletter (also called Content People).
Disclaimer: The transcript below is machine-generated, and may therefore contain some minor errors.
Meredith: Hey, everyone, and welcome to Content People, a podcast where we talk to creatives and leaders to uncover actionable advice, and the show’s creator and host, Meredith Farley. Usually, right now, I say something like, and I’m here with our producer Ian, hey Ian, but today it is just me today recording in my closet, Ian’s moving out to the West Coast and he’s driving to California as I speak. A few things that I wanted to shout out before we get into this app. Number one, you might want to check out my newsletter, also called Content People. So far, I’ve been writing about stuff like management, leadership, gender bias in the workplace, AI, SEO, and the content marketing industry in general. Give it a shot.
Thanks to everyone who subscribes. Second, I’m starting to line up, yes, for season two. If there are any topics that you want covered, people you’d like to hear from, or if you just generally have feedback on season one so far, please shoot me at the M on LinkedIn. I’d be really glad to hear from you. I’m thankful for your input. And then three, I edited this one myself. So if there are problems, blame me, not Ian. I also discovered a very cool button that removes ums, ahs, and long pauses. I’m so grateful for this button. I don’t know where it’s been all my life. I’d love it for IRL and I hope it improves the listening process a little bit for you guys. And for today’s episode, we hear from Jared Myers, Jared’s the president and founder of SIDO Innovation, that’s S-I-D-O, an organization that focuses on product research design and strategy consulting services for early stage startups. Jared has a really cool and impressive background. Before founding SIDO, he was a product manager at John Hopkins, a technology management consultant at Deloitte, and a teaching fellow at Harvard where he taught about innovation design. Our convo covered things like, how does Jared define product? What does good product design and management entail? What’s immersive learning? Do you really need a product manager if you think you can afford it, and what are the opportunity costs of shoddy product management? It was a cool conversation. I definitely learned a lot from Jared. It made me think about product in a slightly different way, and I think it could be really relevant to some of you folks who listen. I hope you might like it. I’ll kick it over there now. Thank you guys so much.
Jared. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. You’ve had a really interesting career thus far. Welcome to Content People. For folks who aren’t familiar with you, can you talk a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Jared: Sure. My name is Jared Myers. I run my own product strategy and innovation consulting firm called SIDO Innovation. That’s S-I-D-O, CIDO. What we do is we really help any really range of clients who are grappling with big, complex, really undefined problems, and we help them really frame those problems more deeply, understand them, and then, of course, consider a wide range of solutions to then pursue implementation and really try to make sure that we do that in a very human-centered way because my background is in product strategy, and really who we do this for is oftentimes early-stage startups because they’re the folks really grappling with these brand new undefined problems, and I’ve been doing that for really the last several years. I’m
Meredith: so excited to have you on. I think the work you do is going to be really relevant to the folks who listen, so I really want to get into the weeds about that product work, but before we do, can you just talk a little bit, like, what’s the TLDR on your career journey up till
Jared: now? Sure, absolutely. You also started at the beginning here. I graduated from Virginia Tech as an industrial and systems engineer. I shout out to any hokey. I then started my career at Deloitte in their technology consulting arm, really focusing on engineering, systems design, solution architecture for a variety of clients there. That really gave me a great foundation to understand how to really create product, which I then moved over to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, where I worked as a product manager in their health systems space and also served as an innovation leader, which gave me a lot of great exposure to working with different kinds of problems, really helping with anything from department strategy development to grant proposal ideation. I was a lead instructor for the Luma Institute certification course in human-centered design at the Applied Physics Lab, really just touched an extremely wide variety of innovation efforts across national defense, healthcare, work physiology, things like that. After AP, I then went into a transition phase where I decided, do I only can do this on my own, I just was noticing really effective ways to solve problems, and I saw a lot of opportunities to apply those to a variety of different project teams, both in the government space and in the commercial space. During that transition period, I went half-time at the Applied Physics Lab and started doing some work on my own with SIDO, and at the time also had a teaching fellowship at the Harvard Business School in a course called Integrated Design, which was really neat. As I wound on my time at Johns Hopkins, I transitioned full-time into SIDO. One of my first clients, actually, I ended up joining full-time, it was a real estate technology company. We got through a series A, and then I decided to come on back to the business that I just loved so much, which was SIDO and getting to work with a lot of different clients. That’s pretty much where we got into where we are today, and now I’m just working with a variety of clients. Most of them right now are in the healthcare space, but I also support, I have supported clients in the, really, just the broader tech space in general.
Meredith: Thanks, you were in the thick of it at a lot of really well-known institutions and places like Deloitte. What was it exactly that inspired you to start SIDO?
Jared: That’s a great question, and just with kind of any answer, there’s obviously a variety of factors, but one of the biggest things was, I noticed, and this was not attributed by any means to the work that I had done at any of the individual companies, but I noticed that there was, when we looked to try to solve some of these big, complex problems, there was a really lack of rigor and structure around how we did that, and again, this is just from experience of working on tens and tens of different project teams due to the nature of the roles that I typically had, and not only did they lack a lot of really good structure, there was, I noticed a lot of things where team members maybe were not really engaged very much, or folks didn’t feel heard, or the best solutions weren’t really winning necessarily, and at the same time, I was also seeing a lot of fluff in some of the discussions, where we weren’t really focusing discussion on the real problems, and I recognized that was because we were really misaligned across project teams very often, and so really it made me think, how do we align people? How do we honor their contributions? How do we creatively solve these problems, and how do we more deeply understand them so that we can do all of those things?
Meredith: Okay, that’s so much to dig into, and it’s so interesting, and I know we’ll get into the weeds a little bit later in the conversation. I think product means a lot of different things to different people, how do you define product?
Jared: That’s a really great question, and I think that my answer might change based on the day, so I’ll try to keep this as basic as I possibly can. I really like to try to keep this answer basic. I would say the goal of someone working in product is to get the most desirable, viable, meaning it generates business, and strategically advantageous product into the hands of users at the lowest cost possible. I know that’s a little bit vague, but it’s quite a large umbrella, and you might notice that sounds like we’re optimizing for multiple objectives, and that’s because we are. I definitely think that folks working in product have a very challenging job, no doubt about it, because you’re really serving as the integration point between engineering, the business side of the house, marketing, design, experience, all of these things are melding into this central role that is happening to make key decisions on what to build, when, and how should it be experienced. I mentioned how it should be experienced, I think is another really big key factor where companies that are winning are winning because they understand the experience they’re providing. My particular tribe is really the human-centered design tribe, where we seek to identify and understand what drives user behaviors and how to provide solutions that really encourage those desired behaviors so that we can achieve our business outcomes. I
Meredith: want to put a pin in human-centered design, because I have a question for you on that later. How do you really get into the weeds on product design work, and you’ve touched on this already thus far, but who are your clients and exactly what kind of projects does CIDO work on?
Jared: That’s a great question, and I think anyone who works in the creative space or the design space can probably relate to this, is that in terms of the kinds of projects we have, it really does depend on the client. The kinds of clients that I work with, again, I mentioned already, really early stage or just any particular project teams that have a big, complex problem that they’re not really sure how to tackle, or they’re being tasked with providing a solution in a space that is not super well understood, really doing things for the first time is really where I come in and can add a really great deal of benefit. In terms of industries, I’ve got a wide variety of industry experience. Again, I mentioned a lot of clients recently have been in the healthcare space, but also have worked in national defense, have worked in financial, have worked in really work optimization and how to improve how people just do work in general, and then also in real estate. And really, we focus on the process, so it doesn’t matter what the industry is. We can really make an impact, regardless of that. We let you bring some of those more industry knowledge points, and we are the ones who add the structure to make sure you’re thinking about things and tailoring your solutions the right way.
Meredith: Are there any tangible examples of product or process work that you can talk about just to give folks an idea of the actual work that you’re doing?
Jared: Absolutely, and it does span, it’s a pretty wide variety. And what I would say is, I think a really good example to speak to would be recently, we had a client that had already begun their technology development process, but they recognized that they really didn’t have a firm understanding of what their customers wanted to experience and what they actually wanted. And so, I was engaged to come in and help set up really the discovery function within their organization, which was a smaller startup, less than 10 people, but had some pretty good funding. And so, I met with the leadership team, and what we did was we went through a series of discovery processes. And when we say discovery, we really do mean that we’re really just trying to figure out what do we want to learn, how are we going to learn it, and then once we learn, how are we going to update what we’re doing as a company and an organization. So I came in and we established learning objectives as a team. From there, we identified how we’re going to satisfy those by conducting particular kinds of research. Some of those may be things like surveys. One of those things, oftentimes, because I really believe in the power of immersive connection, is via focus groups, via co-creation user design sessions with some of your customers. It’s really funny. A lot of people get scared when you think about engaging your customer, but oftentimes they love engaging. They want to tell you exactly what they’re thinking, how you can make their lives easier, and they also want to see you be successful. So oftentimes, we really try to encourage clients to get out of that mindset of, oh, we don’t want to bother anybody. From my experience with many clients, people actually love to share their experiences. We engage and we’ll learn based on what kinds of solutions are they looking for, how do they want to experience them, really get into the empathy side of the house and understand behaviors once, fears, wishes, likes, dislikes, all of those things. And then we, of course, will essentially take note of all of the things that we’ve learned. It will synthesize that and convert that into really what are the core capabilities we need and how will those core capabilities as they’re delivered impact the business from a desirability, viability, strategic fit perspective. And then I mentioned earlier, low cost or really what we call as feasibility. How easily can we actually implement this? And then, of course, we update the company’s roadmaps, and then they begin to execute in a much more confident way than previously where they did not have the exposure to the hands-on feedback from users and customers.
Meredith: Okay, thank you. So to try and, I’m not going to try and say all of that back, essentially a client comes to you and they’re like, we have a product. We think we understand the experience, but we really need some help. Like a bunch of things are not working right now. And so is that right?
Jared: So it will either be, yes, we have a product. So I mentioned oftentimes companies that are even at the series A phase, they have an initial product, but they really don’t understand how to take that and really make that impactful. So yes, I will be coming in, helping companies that are either A, still defining what the product should be or B, they have an initial definition, but they don’t have a ton of confidence around it or evidence that tells them that this is the right thing to be building. So we come in, we add the rigor required to, again, collect all of these different inputs from the market, from their users, from their customers, to understand what you really should be building and when.
Meredith: Got it. And when you were first talking, I think you mentioned one of the first things you do is set learning goals. That sounds really interesting to me, what exactly are learning goals?
Jared: That’s a really good question. This is actually one of the areas that I think we’ve seen a philosophical aha moment with a lot of clients, where as humans, we’re rewarded to answer questions as quickly as possible with binary correct answers, right? And in the world of design, there’s so much complexity. And when you’re inventing solutions, there’s so much complexity that that’s just really not the kind of thinking that we’re after. And so we’re really trying to change that dynamic. And how we change that dynamic is really just right off the bat. The first, the number one thing we do with clients is we come up with just one initial problem statement that we’re after, and we perform question storming. Storming is, again, just going to allow us to really, it’s not brainstorming where you’re actually giving us ideas for solutions, you’re giving us ideas for questions. So what might we be wondering? When we really build this really nice, big, robust placemat, if you will, of questions to consider, and that starts opening up all these different considerations and ideas from across the entire team, which is really incredibly powerful and really stages us for success as we look to identify what we need to do next. So what do we need to go and learn in research? How do we need to implement a solution? What are going to be some of those requirements? A lot of those things just fall out of the sky when we perform something like a question storming exercise.
Meredith: That sounds amazing and super fun. So it’s kind of like a brainstorming exercise where you’re like, okay, first, maybe low hanging fruit is what are the things we know we don’t know, and like outlining the learning that you need to figure out there. And then the next bit is brainstorming. What have we not thought of yet that are questions we should be asking as we move through this process? Is that kind of right? Am I getting it?
Jared: Absolutely. And really, we try to keep it really basic here. One thing we also, we really focus on is just how do you start a question typically, right? Who, what, when, where, how, why? Just starting off with those. Great idea is just to go ahead and throw those question starters onto a whiteboard and then just give people post-it notes and let them fill in the blanks of a range of questions and make sure that we fill up that board with as many things as we can, which then we can evaluate, we can understand what other people are asking. One thing I just did want to note is these exercises, whenever we run them with clients, we keep them very simple because really what we do is we deconstruct the complexity of the problem-solving process. And we build it into just singular activities where during question-storming, all you’re doing is you’re divergently thinking about questions you have, things you’re wondering, things you would like to know. You’re not evaluating those questions. You’re not evaluating your coworkers’ questions. That’ll come later. I think the goal behind having really powerful ways of problem-solving is making sure we stay in our lane and stay in the particular mode of operation that the activity is asking us to do. So again, with questions-storming, we’re just going to go heads down and ask questions. That’s all we’re doing. We’re only going to reward good questions. In the number of questions we come up with, we’re not there to evaluate them or critique them.
Meredith: It sounds really fun and creative. Are you able to do these remotely or is this something that has to be done in person in front of a physical whiteboard?
Jared: That’s a great question. There are some fantastic tools today. Miro, Mural, FigJam, Figma actually came out with a tool recently that’s great at facilitating remote sessions. So the vast majority of our client work is done remotely, is the rest of the world these days. So it’s not a problem at all. It’s oftentimes, it can, in certain circumstances, actually be more fruitful because it gives people a little bit more heads-down time to really think through some of the prompts. But yes, absolutely, we can do these in person, we can do them remotely, and they’re successful both ways.
Meredith: Got it. Okay. And then there was something a little bit later on, I think, was it immersive learning? What was the learning that you said you’re really interested in as you start to answer these questions?
Jared: Yeah. So when I mentioned immersive, it means actually being a part of it. It means participating. So that means oftentimes with these organizations is if I’m running a, let’s say, a focus group or a co-creation session with a group of prospective or current customers, I will make sure that the CEO or the chief product officer or the CTO, that folks are on the line and listening in. They’re not necessarily having to participate by any means, and oftentimes they may be a fly on the wall. But we really encourage people to hear what their customers are saying, not just relying on someone who is working for them to relay it back. I like to make the analogy of if I told you that Tom Brady loved football, but you had never seen Tom Brady play football before. You had never seen him win the, what, six or seven Super Bowls that he’s won. You’re only going to get a limited image of Tom Brady playing football. So if I said you need to design a product or service for Tom Brady, the only thing I’m going to tell you is he loves football. You could certainly design something, maybe he’d like it, maybe not. But if I actually showed you videos and tape and let you sit down in an interview with Tom Brady to learn and really experience how much Tom Brady loves football, you’re going to be able to empathize and therefore solve a problem for Tom Brady in a much, much more impactful way. That’s a facility analogy, but hopefully that resonates.
Meredith: I think we probably just won the devotion of a section of listeners and lost a lot of people off the back of that. Probably the moment you said Tom
Jared: Brady, we made Boston in Tampa Habia.
Meredith: Yeah. So you’re just so I understand this. When you’re facilitating or participating in these customer conversations, you’re like the CEO or whomever is like chief to this process has to be on the line listening because they need to hear it from right from the horse’s mouth. Is that right?
Jared: So not for every single session, but we like to make sure that they’re in at least one of them so that they can really get the flavor, get the really get in the mood and understand what it means to actually be hearing directly from customers. And many times folks who are in those roles, they at one time were able to do those things and really were doing those things. But oftentimes as the company grows, they don’t have that exposure. So we try to make sure that we get them pulled back into some of those conversations. And again, just to really serve as a fly the wall just for listening purposes, because when we do facilitate these exercises, they’re very fast paced, they’re very focused, they’re very immersive. Again, like I mentioned with the audience that we’re working with, and of course I’m I someone on my team is going to oftentimes be really running the show. So it’s what the best thing is that folks can show up and listen in on these things. And really they’re just listening. It’s like a little gift. They get to just listen in, relax, we’re not asking them to answer any questions. We’re just saying, Hey, have a listen in and understand your users and your customers more deeply.
Meredith: That sounds like such a helpful experience as part of this process. One thing I’m curious about is, what do you think most folks get wrong about product design or management?
Jared: I think an area that folks really could improve upon is really a couple things come to mind. I think that folks really would benefit from spending a little bit more time in the discovery and definition process, meaning don’t jump right into solution design. That means actually going and listening to more customers, having a structured approach for that. And then based on what you’re learning, actually creating a backlog of your capabilities that you’re learning that you might need to implement and then have a process for assessing those capabilities. So making sure that you understand, like we mentioned, just to pull it back to the basics, are these capabilities held desirable or they will they yield revenue? Where they fit strategically within our organization and then ultimately down the road will actually evaluate feasibility. But at the very beginning, we just want to understand, what are we after? What is the right problem to solve right now? And I think more deeply understanding a variety of different problems that we might solve helps us really own in on the right one to focus on. And then that means that we’re downscoping and finding the right problem to solve is oftentimes just as important as finding the ones that are not worth solving at the moment. So I think really having a really strong focus on discovery and allowing that discovery to inform how you define the problems you’re solving is really huge. I think the reason I bring that up is, if you solve the wrong problem, oftentimes it’s going to lead to a lot of money that is viewed as being wasted. So there’s a famous Frank Lloyd right quote, I believe he actually said this, but I’m paraphrasing here, but you can use an eraser, the whiteboard or a sledgehammer on the construction site. And when we take this approach of trying to learn up front, and when we learn up front, we can simulate a wide variety of solution alternatives. We then can very easily say, hey, I know that our plan initially was A, but I think that we really need to deviate to B and here’s why. Great. If we hadn’t started building and we aren’t a year down the road and $5 million deep in development, that’s a really easy decision to make. And by the way, it doesn’t take all that long to do this process that we implement with clients by any means. So it really helps avoid downstream waste and rework. And that’s really one of the big MOs. Rework was actually a really inspiring book for me when I was going through the process of SIDO.
Meredith: Oh, I’m not familiar with it. Is it about product management or product design? It sounds interesting.
Jared: It’s really, I would just say, it’s more of just a great book in general about cutting out the things that don’t require focus and focusing on the things that are really beneficial and are going to resolve it.
Meredith: Okay. I’m in. I’m interested. All right. Roses, thorns, buds, and questions. You’ve talked to me about this before. What does it mean and can you talk about it a little bit?
Jared: Yeah, absolutely. So really just in the spirit of, like we mentioned, human-centered design and really extracting what are the things that drive human behavior, this is just a really fantastic, simple tool that we use to just evaluate someone’s experience. And really it’s a philosophy for operating every day that you can incorporate into every aspect of your life really. Roses, thorns, buds, and then I like to add in questions as well. So if I’m ever interviewing someone, I oftentimes will start off or at least I will typically guide the conversation around those four components. Roses are going to simply be, what did you enjoy about your experience? Thorns are going to focus on what did you dislike, right? Somebody likes to get jagged with thorns whenever you’re picking up a rose. A bud is going to be a new idea. So something that has energy, something that you think could be a good addition maybe to the experience. And then questions. What are you left wondering? What was unclear? Why did something occur? These are all just a great way to orient you as a product person or as a designer, really anyone just trying to solve a problem. To orient around what is going on with this particular user. A lot of times when we think about problem solving, if I tell you what my problem is, you can oftentimes think through answers to solve it. Sometimes I’m going to tell you a problem that you might not really, maybe I’m not articulating it very well, or maybe I’m telling you, I think there’s a famous quote that’s maybe falsely attributed to Henry Ford around, if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me that they wanted a faster horse. Where I tell you a problem, but that doesn’t mean you just react to the problem. In some instances, maybe you do react to it and just solve it very simply. In other instances, it’s an opportunity for true innovation, truly rethinking how we’re providing a capability to someone in the marketplace. So it’s just a really great technique. It’s really fun. And I think just a couple of quick tips if you’re looking to actually administer that. What’s really helpful is if you’re ever interviewing someone and you ask them, hey, what did you dislike? They might be able to tell you, let’s say someone’s telling you about their experience at a concert. They say, the music was too loud and the people behind us were talking. And then maybe you walk away with that and your reaction would be, we need to lower the speakers and we need to ask people to stop talking during the concerts. Okay, cool. Let’s take it one layer deeper and really this is the kind of stuff we do with our clients. Let’s ask better questions. Let’s ask, what were your fears going into this concert or at the concert? So no, no fears. What about anxieties? I was really nervous about being late to the concert. Oh, that’s interesting. Why are you nervous about being late to the concert? Because the concerts always start at seven and I get off work at six 30. So I was really pushing it. And on top of that, there’s oftentimes traffic near the venue. Oh, that’s interesting. Okay. So now we just learned a whole new piece of information because we changed the question from just dislike, which is only going to receive one response to what was anxiety inducing? What annoyed you? What frustrated you? And so digging into these individual questions a little bit more and really using words that people draw emotion from are really great and super powerful, simple ways to learn about experience. And now given round two, you can now see that, well, maybe we actually to improve the concert experience, we need to look at reconfiguring how we bring cars in here to drop people off or process parking. Or maybe if we notice most people are late, maybe we need to push the concert start times to seven 30 or eight o’clock. So these are the kinds of learnings that we uncover whenever we work with clients. That’s
Meredith: fascinating. It’s like product therapy a little bit. And as you’re talking about it, it’s slightly different, but I’m also thinking this could be a really interesting way to for managers who are maybe having a difficult time feeling like they truly understand how folks are feeling about certain roles to like really dig in almost like a helpful employee one to one exercise of like how they are feeling their own roles. That’s a total tangent. And I think you’d probably have to play with it so it wasn’t patronizing or weirding people out. But just the structure of these questions, I feel like could it be applied to multiple use cases, but that’s super interesting. I know you’ve also talked about problem statement exercises as something you’re passionate about. What is that? And how do you do it? Is that what you were talking about earlier around learning goals? Or is that a little bit different?
Jared: So they’re absolutely related. We actually will oftentimes identify our learning girl learning goals after we’ve done abstraction exercises. I mentioned oftentimes we can come to we can come to the forefront with a an initial hypothesis or a core central question or core central goal. And then I mentioned we oftentimes will attack that with question storming to start building out additional considerations. Those questions may lead us to a variety of different learning priorities. Additionally, they may identify some areas where we say we really don’t know much about that. Just getting back to the concert experience. If we wanted to create an abstraction exercise around improving the concert experience, we certainly would perform some question storming, just some basic questions. But then we’re actually going to run a tailored exercise around abstraction. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to really drill that objective, which is improve the concert experience with whys. Folks who are listening have probably or maybe some of you have heard of Toyota’s five whys. It’s where we just keep examining the whys of a question. If I said, why do you go to concerts, Meredith, what might be an answer for you?
Meredith: Because my fiance makes me. I hate concerts.
Jared: But yes. Okay. And why do you hate concerts?
Meredith: Oh, God. All right. Why do I hate concerts? Now, this is like actually a real conversation. I feel like I have a more interior experience of music than other folks who have a more external. I get more into it alone than I think I do listening to it in a crowd of others. And I’m sure that says some weird stuff about me that I haven’t figured what yet.
Jared: I don’t think that says anything weird about you. I actually really resonate with that. You can see we just, I asked you, I asked you two whys and we already got to it in completely new consideration. Right?
Meredith: Two questions away from talking about my childhood.
Jared: Yes. And also, what did we just illuminate? We just illuminated the possibility of a silent disco company. Right?
Meredith: Oh, yeah. The opposite. Right? It’s like listening to music out loud alone in a pod as opposed to.
Jared: Oh, then there you go. We just actually see, we took it one layer deeper of consideration here. We’re really innovating here. Wow. We need to do this more often. So now we’re seeing, we start drilling this with whys. And not just one layer of whys, but we also will ask, why else do people go to concerts, Meredith?
Meredith: I suppose there’s a fun energy. It’s an entertainment. It’s fun to go with friends, an opportunity to do some drugs, if that’s your thing.
Jared: There’s three reasons to go. And so it allows people an opportunity to connect with one another because music can do that for folks. It allows you to have a release, get out of your daily norm. It allows you to enjoy the music. It allows you to be around creative people. So you’re seeing, we’re starting to uncover this such an interesting range of considerations that the human brain is typically linearly thinking. And now we’re thinking about things in what I like to call parallel thinking, right? We’re thinking of all of these different considerations all at once. And we’re building ourselves a mental map, a mental model around concerts that previously, if we don’t stop and ask the questions, we just think about it typically in a very linear fashion or closed-minded fashion. So we do that exercise by really drilling the problem statement with whys. And then what we do is we say, how is that done today? So how do people experience concerts? Meredith, what’s your favorite form of experiencing a concert if you were to experience one?
Meredith: The music documentary that I watched from home.
Jared: Okay, excellent. So now you’re starting to see, we’re redefining how people view the term concert altogether. So that’s really interesting because that could illuminate that, wait a sec, our goal was to improve the concert experience. But maybe we’ve identified that there’s actually a segment of the possible market that doesn’t even want to go to concerts at all. They want to be able to experience concerts at home. So now maybe our problem statement, again, we’re a very early stage company, so we’re still open to consideration. Our problem statement is now, how else might we improve this concert experience to include things like virtual concert experiences? How can we use virtual reality to create these experiences? How might we create a series of really interesting immersive documentaries to create this similar experience? So you’re starting to illuminate just by examining some simple whys and hows, the vast range of things that we could consider solving, again, an understanding that we will assess these opportunities across desirability, viability, strategic advantages and fits and feasibility as well. But you’re really starting to see how we start to build this really great parallel thinking mental model for the problem statement.
Meredith: Yeah, that’s super fun. It’s very interesting. So listeners, I’m not a total psycho. I can enjoy an outdoor concert every now and then, but that is really interesting. So what is what we were just doing, the problem statement exercise, or is that the abstracting or is the abstracting the solutioning?
Jared: So it’s not the solutioning. We’re not going to solution during that abstraction exercise. Really, if I had to go by the process, it’s come with a problem statement, perform some question storming around it to just like a warm-up exercise is the question storming, to start thinking about questions rather than thinking about answers. And then we perform the abstraction exercise. Another great thing, by the way, about the abstraction exercise is that maybe for folks that were listening, that probably started to spur some additional ideas around your concert experiences. If you’re working with folks in marketing, maybe they really want to hit on the fact that, hey, we not only offer this concert experience in person, but we’re also offering it digitally or virtually. And again, you start to see where you get these kind of little gold nuggets, if you will, for things like marketing or maybe product features, things that really, when we ask these questions, these ideas come to us naturally, right? Because humans are really good at solving individual problems. So I think it’s really a great thing to note is that you’re going to get a lot of juice out of the squeeze of the abstraction exercise. And we’ve really loved running that with clients, and they have just so many aha moments, and it’s just a lot of fun.
Meredith: Yeah, that could be fun. I could see that being very creative and really fun. So I’m glad you brought up marketing because I’m really curious for your thoughts on how does product problem solving support marketing and content? How do you think marketing and product should work together? Is it something that should be done in parallel or is it sequential? Like, product team comes up with a product, hands it to marketing, who figures out how to market it? Does marketing need to be involved in these conversations as part of the creative process?
Jared: That’s a really good question. I think it probably, as many things do, I think it just depends on the organization, the structure, what kinds of products they’re delivering. But I think just as a rule of thumb, I would encourage organizations to be sharing information. So whenever organizations are actually going out and performing these, whether they’re doing these kinds of abstraction ladder exercises internally, includes folks from marketing include folks from product, personally, I believe the product should be driving these because product is the central kind of node between all of these different job functions of the organization. So I think that marketing and product really need to be lockstep, hand in hand and understand what each other’s working on. In terms of really the creative vision around how to really get people to buy the products, I think there’s definitely still some creative freedom there for marketing, no doubt about it. I just think that it’s really beneficial for the teams to be aligned and understanding what is our product doing? What kinds of problems is it really, truly solving? And then we can leave it up to the creatives to figure out the most effective ways to really catch people’s eyes and really communicate vision for that future state that the product’s trying to create. Okay.
Meredith: So what you’re outlining here sounds like such a thorough and thoughtful by the book process. And I can totally see the benefits of that. What are the risks of not having a thorough product planning process? What can happen to a company if they play it fast and loose as they do this work?
Jared: Yeah, I think that some of the biggest risks are really beginning to build a solution and skipping over this learning process and really it’s a strategic thinking process as well. In that strategic thinking process, what we’re doing is we’re allowing ourselves to simulate a wide range of possibilities, cutting out the ones that are not really worth considering and then pursuing a deeper range of ones that are worth considering or worth learning more about so that really that ideal solution or as close to ideal solution as possible kind of falls out of the sky. So in noting that, I think your risk is building something that people don’t really want. They don’t really need to be burned a lot of investor dollars spending the last year building a product or two years building a product for 5, 10, 15 million dollars. And you take it to market and maybe you have a couple folks, but guess what? You didn’t really learn what they needed or what they wanted to experience. I think another thing can happen is you might strategically have the right idea. But if you’re not working immersively with your customers or users, then even if you’re right at 30,000 feet down at the ground floor, right where that customer is actually experiencing your product or service, there’s a disconnect. And so I think oftentimes it’s not just getting the strategy, right? It’s also understanding the operation or the execution of that strategy, which from my experience can be two separate things really. So I think it’s really just making sure that you’re in tune and understanding your customers and making sure therefore that we can build the right things for those folks. I think maybe the last thing I would say is top talent really likes to work with other top talent and top talent doesn’t want to chase chickens all day, right? They want to be able to feel confident. They want to feel informed. Hopefully if they’re in the product space, they’re very naturally curious and want to learn. And the objective of really any great product manager or someone who’s working in product is to find the truth, right? Find truth and support that truth with what you’re building.
Meredith: I love top talent doesn’t want to chase chickens all day. I feel like that I need to figure out how to make that like the hook for promoting this episode with you. I think that’s a great point too. So as you’re talking, you’re like, you could spend a lot of money building the wrong product and you’re not going to have the client or user base that you’re looking for. There’s going to be operational problems because the product process is not what it should be and top folks are not going to want to work with you. And I’d also imagine as you’re talking to something else occurring to me is just the opportunity cost of somebody else doing the process thoroughly and getting to what it’s now going to take you five years to get to 12 to 18 months. And then kind of you’re going to disaparate, dissipate.
Jared: Absolutely. And that just gets us back to that idea of do you want to use an eraser at the white board when we’re doing these exercises? Or do you want to use a slide chamber downstream when you’ve already built the house on the construction site? Yeah. Another great analogy. I love these quotes here and Einstein quote something along the lines of if I was given a problem, I would spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and five minutes on the solution. I think I’ve also seen it 59 minutes on the problem and one minute on the solution because when you understand the problem, the solution does really fall into your lap. And that’s really part of the fun of what we do at CITO is we see clients have these aha moments as we’re working them through and facilitating these exercises. And all we do is ask them to participate and they see that these solutions just they fall out of the sky. It’s no longer this dynamic where you have one leader just running the meeting telling everyone what they think and then they go and then the team goes and executes it. It’s completely counter to that dynamic and we really are just tremendously more effective and it’s a much more enjoyable dynamic to work with.
Meredith: I love it. So far we’ve had Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright and Einstein. You’ve got some, you’re in good company with your product of philosophy. I think have you ever watched Grand Designs? It’s like a British reality design show.
Jared: I’ve not, but I’m in the market for a new show right now.
Meredith: You have to check it out. It’s amazing. The host name is Kevin. It’s so cool. And he, I feel like sometimes he just gives these bond moths about like project management communication and similar to what you mentioned about the sledgehammer. He’s always, it’s not expensive to redraft a drawing. It’s pretty expensive to knock down a wall. Like he’s always really encouraging similarly, like very thoughtful process. I feel like you’ve really teed it up, but sometimes these terms can be a little nebulous for folks who aren’t really in the product industry. And I wanted to ask you to break them down a little bit.
Jared: Absolutely. Just to note, they’re certainly related to one another. The experience design is really going to be focused on coming in and starting to build out your ability to go in and discover problems, build connections with your users and customers, work that really immersive feedback loop so that we can of course extrapolate what we need to build, which is getting into that definition phase. It’s going to be a lot of assessing what are the current workflows, personas, experiences and storyboards that we’re trying to design for and the solution for. And so that’s where a lot of times we’re really coming in on specific projects and essentially facilitating that process and actually doing a fair amount of the work to actually perform the discovery, the definition. And then of course, oftentimes it’s beneficial to work directly with the current design resources or we’ll bring in some of our own design resources to actually build out those artifacts so that we’re providing our customers with very tangible takeaways. The product strategy sphere, again, is very closely related. This one’s a little bit more at the organizational level to make sure that you all are really setting yourselves up to continuously innovate and have the ecosystems in place that you need and the tools, technology, processes, skills to perform really great immersive product development. And even within that, of course, we’re going to be looking at how is what we are learning and forming our broader strategies. So looking at actually maybe more of an organizational level, what are our product roadmaps going to look like now that we have extrapolated all of these desires from our users and we’ve assessed the desirability, the viability, the strategic fits and the feasibility of them. When should we build things and what should we be building? And then the last piece is design education. This is really focusing on empowering your organization, which will happen naturally as we go through either experience design or product strategy engagements to empower your organization to understand really how to conduct these really powerful methods. Because I mentioned earlier in the podcast that at any given point in time, we’re only going to ask our clients to really perform one small activity at a time. We really break down the complexity of this process so that you’re just participating and entering no more than really one question at a time, right? We’re either diverging and generating ideas or we’re converging and making decisions. And so those methods, they’re really powerful when they’re done well and we try to teach our clients as best possible how to do that for themselves. But of course oftentimes we’ll be called back on new projects or just to come in and help educate and teach the teams on how to conduct some of these methodologies.
Meredith: Okay, thank you so much for breaking that down. Earlier in the conversation, you mentioned human-centered design and I wanted to come back to that. What are human-centered design methodologies?
Jared: So human-centered design is really, really exactly what it sounds, which is it’s always nice whenever the words help us spell it out. It’s really understanding the motivations, the behaviors, the wants, wishes, wonders, fears, journeys, experiences of humans. Human-centered design is building for humans, right? So it’s really focusing on what people want and what they need and what are their behaviors, what are they willing to do, what are their boundaries. Because when we understand those, then we can understand how building a piece of technology or how creating an experience, how they will react to it. And that’s really what we’re seeking to do. It sounds like a very ambitious goal, but really we’re trying to just design a world worth experiencing here. And that’s really the goal of human-centered design.
Meredith: And it sounds like so much of what you’ve been talking about and it sounds like the ethos of your whole process, would you categorize it then as human-centered design?
Jared: Absolutely, absolutely.
Meredith: In some leaner environments, there often are not product managers or folks with the formal product management training or expertise that you or your team have. And sometimes I think it feels for the business like they just don’t have the budget for it. Do you think a business absolutely needs someone devoted to product work or is it something that can be a shared team responsibility?
Jared: I think I have a pretty stark response on this one. I would say that we definitely need someone driving the product ship, think that synthesizing all of the wide variety of information and the wide variety of decisions to be made definitely require a responsible and accountable party. And by committee, from my experience, can be just an absolute nightmare where decisions aren’t made, the teams are not aligned, everyone has different priorities. I find it extremely valuable to have at least one central product person really running the show.
Meredith: Got it. All right. I slightly want to shift gears and just talk a little more broadly about entrepreneurship and the experience you’ve had starting and running your own business. You seem like such a positive, competent person and you are so exceptionally competent and knowledgeable about your field. I could imagine you’d be like, yeah, nope, never had any worries on this one. I’m curious though, did you ever have fears, worries or doubts when you decided to start your own business?
Jared: Yes. The simple answer is yes, I think for maybe a couple of reasons. I was often wondering, and even today I occasionally wonder, is my view of this particular topic area, is it being effectively communicated to the folks that I’m, to my audience, essentially, is the way that I’m viewing the world reality, which I think that anybody has those doubts or at least those stops along the way occasionally. And so I think just understanding, do I have enough conviction in this so that I am going to be willing to change my form of income and how I spend my time and really how I use my brain? Am I willing to change all of that? Do I have conviction and is it worth pursuing this route? And I think in hindsight, yes, it definitely was worth pursuing and is still worth pursuing. But I think getting that conviction that, okay, this feels right, that can definitely be a challenging thing.
Meredith: Got it. That’s a really interesting response, and I appreciate the honesty of it too. So was that the hardest thing for you coming up with the conviction like, you’re like, I know I can do it, but should I do it? Or what would you say the hardest thing about starting your own business was?
Jared: Once you decide that, yes, you want to pursue this route, and I like to view the idea of starting your own business is really offering your vision of the world to other folks, which is really inspiring. When I started viewing it like that, it got a lot easier instead of viewing it as, wait, will they understand what I’m putting out there? But rather, hey, I think that there’s value in what I’m sharing, and I’d love to help people bring their dreams to reality, and that really helped. I think your question was around what was the hardest thing for you to start about your business, but I just want to kind of add that context in there based on the previous question. I think that the hardest thing was once you get going, it feels pretty lonely because you’re really, you’re doing this by yourself, even if you have a team, you have a separate job functions, and any time that you’re a lean team, you’re really, you are the person who is going to get a specific job done, so I just think you can feel lonely from time to time.
Meredith: Yeah. Is there anything you’ve found that helps with that, or is it just something you have to sit with for a little bit and get used to?
Jared: I’m also a very extroverted person, so I think between that and then really going full board during COVID probably has contributed to some of that feeling, and I think it’s definitely subsided a bit now that we’re getting back to a much more normal mode of life. But I think that something that definitely helps is just talking to people about what you’re doing, only just engaging with anyone, whether it’s your barista or whether it’s your workout coach, and don’t be afraid to talk about your world, even if it’s not necessarily their world. I think that was a really cool learning, and maybe that’s from COVID in general is, don’t just talk about product with your product people. Don’t just talk about working out with your gym friends, bring your whole self, and you’ll be surprised at how many more connections you’ll find as you’re interacting with people to stave off some of that loneliness that you might have felt.
Meredith: That’s a really cool answer. I like that. Actually, last week, my friend Kelly was on, we were talking a lot about brand, and she was talking about an exercise that she has folks do for a branding class that she runs, which is you can’t really describe your business or your brand until you can figure out how to say it to someone over a beer or a drink who has no idea what you do. So I can see that too as also being almost kind of like a good exercise. Can you explain product design to your personal trainer who has a different industry and vocabulary in a way that they get it?
Jared: That’s a really, really interesting exercise. It makes me think of an idea of how can we solve people feeling lonely by improving their just improving their communication skills. Oh, yeah.
Meredith: That could be a good brainstorm session. I like that. And maybe on a more positive note, was there anything that you thought would be really hard about starting a business that actually ended up being easy for you?
Jared: This question admittedly stumped me a little bit. Let’s see.
Meredith: I mean, from outside, I don’t know if this brings true for you, but from what I know, I’d say it seems like there were a lot of clients interested in working with you. And I don’t know if you were worried about finding clients for the offering, but it seems like that bit for you has not been that hard of a, that big a hill to climb in the same way it is for other folks. But that’s only my outside perspective. I don’t know if that’s. Yeah.
Jared: That’s fair. So yeah, in terms of something that was, let’s see, something that was more difficult or that was less difficult than I expected. I think when you do good work and I know it just sounds like a tremendously positive ideal, but when you do really good work and your focus is on really helping someone else truly bring their ideas to life and the obsession is not on having the single correct answer, I think that really bodes well and creates a really nice experience with you and your clients. And I think when that happens that they’re very likely to pass along your name to the next company that they are maybe talking to another CEO or something like that. And that’s been really helpful. So I think really just the emphasis on quality and how you treat people.
Meredith: That makes sense to me. And do you have any advice for folks in professional services who are thinking about making a leap into entrepreneurship or any lessons learned, do you feel like you want to share?
Jared: Definitely. I think if you feel like you’re really looking to offer a service in a way that is going to really change how people solve problems or get a job done and you think that it’s worth pursuing and you really have a lot of passion around whatever your skill set is, I think it’s absolutely worth looking into. I think it would be silly not to at least examine that. And to be honest, before I really took the jump and went fully into SIDO, I spent well over a year just developing some of my methodologies, doing a lot of research on existing methodologies, really just spending a lot of time deep in thought to understand, hey, like, what can we bring to people’s organizations that are really going to help them and they’re really going to enjoy engaging with us? I think going through that thought process and understanding that is really valuable. And then in terms of trying to get your first client, a couple clients in the door, be willing to just partner with someone and you might even do a project for free just to prove out your concept and treat yourself like a little startup, really. You’re an entrepreneur yourself, just like we would advise anybody else to do some rapid prototyping, find an audience in which you could rapid prototype and refine your product.
Meredith: I think that’s great advice and it makes sense coming from you, the product advice there, too. Jared, this has been such a fun, interesting, really cool conversation. You’re so knowledgeable about this stuff. I’m so grateful you took the time to talk to me and thank you so much.
Jared: Meredith, it has been an absolute pleasure.
Meredith: All right. Hey, gang. Thanks for listening. I hope that you like this one. We’ll put the link to Sido Innovations in the show notes in case you want to check his site out. I hope you don’t think I’m too much of a freak for not really liking concerts. Next week, we’re going to come at you with a convo with Christopher Cantwell. Chris is a writer, director, and producer. He’s headed up between shows like Hulk and Catch Fire. He was EP on a show called Lodge 49, which I really loved. And he’s also made a name for himself in the world of comic books. So stay tuned. If you haven’t already, consider subscribing to my newsletter. Also call content people. We’ll throw a link in the show notes. Thank you guys so much for listening and see you next time.