September 19, 2019

Jason Goodwin: Design Thinking and Agile at Manulife/John Hancock

Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin

Director of Global Innovation, Lab of Forward Thinking at Manulife/John Hancock

Jason Goodwin is the Director of Global Innovation at the Lab of Forward Thinking at Manulife/John Hancock. He’s also currently an instructor on Design Thinking with General Assembly. Previous to that, he’s worked with Fidelity Labs and TIAA-CREF as a design director and UX Designer respectively. This interview is from a series of interviews done at Service Design Week in 2018.


Eli Woolery: Jason Goodwin, Director of Global Innovation at LOFT: Lab of Forward Thinking at Manulife/John Hancock, welcome to Conversations.

Jason Goodwin: Thank you, so psyched to be here.

Eli: Will you tell us about Loft and your role and what you’re up to there?

Jason: Loft is the two-headed monster of innovation at John Hancock and Manulife. One of them is emerging technologies. So we’re really active in AI machine learning and Blockchain IOT type stuff. The other head is really kind of my part, which is heading up the human-centered design aspect. 

We operate in this sort of special middle ground between unmet user need and technology fit. We try not to let one hold the other back, but we really do try to let them come together in meaningful, impactful ways.

Eli: What are some of the impacts, or technologies you see around blockchain that are going to impact in consumer banking in the next few years?

Jason: That’s an awesome question. I couldn’t even start to scratch the surface but what I’m learning is that it’s this wild open frontier. 

One of the people who’s very influential to me is this guy named Nick Emmonds who works with me. He said something recently that I really loved: It’s like sort of similar to the gold rush, where it’s not really about finding gold but rather it’s about selling shovels. I think that is a really cool metaphor for how we’re trying to approach it.

This notion of decentralization of things is really cool. And it sort of speaks to the inner anarchist in me that you can try to topple these giant huge organizations that control all of this stuff. It really kind of puts it back in the hands of actual people. I think that’s really super interesting and definitely a powerful part of it.

Eli: You teach Design Thinking at General Assembly. Has your teaching helped you as you try to spread the good word on Design Thinking at your work right now?

Jason: Definitely. I would like to say, when I came into the job I have, my intent was to carpet bomb the company with Design Thinking to get everybody at least aware. I think we trained more than 2,000 people in the first couple of years we were there in Design Thinking, and that felt really good. 

And then we moved more into a consultative space to say, “So you understand Design Thinking a little better. Maybe you’d be interested in this two-hour crash course we’re offering or this other thing that we’re doing?” Then people get interested. They start to see how Design Thinking fits for what they’re working on. That helped to get people to come back for more and really apply it.

I really want more of that — but the teaching definitely helps.

Eli: Often, people are really reluctant to think of themselves as creatives. So it’s hard to get them in the mindset where they’re going to create and share ideas. How do you approach that right now in your work?

Jason: What I try to emphasize is that this perceived notion of skill — or being good at something, or having talent, or whatever — is crap. Instead, it’s really about practice. 

Do you know Tyler, the Creator? He’s awesome. Hip-hop guy, clothing mogul. Wonderful genius dude. But he had a really interesting point when he said that it’s not necessarily about being good at something. It’s really about having the patience for it.

And so the things that draw you in are the things you uniquely have patience for. These are the things that you’re willing to suck at for a certain amount of time before you start to feel good about what you’re doing with it. Maybe you try drawing, and you feel like, “Oh, I suck at this so much I can’t do it anymore.” But it’s really just, “I don’t have the patience for it.”

But then you find some other thing, like in my case I picked up hand embroidery, and it’s like I have the patience for it somehow. I don’t know if I’m good at it, but it definitely doesn’t bother me. I’m at a point where I can’t not do it and I have found this patience.

I try to get that out in front of people and say, “Maybe you don’t feel comfortable drawing, but if you do get up in front of a group of people in a meeting and you grab the whiteboard marker and you actually start to draw what you’re thinking, they are going to have such a better sense of what’s really going on in your mind. And they’re gonna buy in.” 

This show-don’t-tell thought mindset is like so important. I tell them, “Look, don’t worry about being good at drawing. Really don’t, because the fact that you’re getting up and doing it is really the thing.” 

[When they start to draw more,] they’re less intimidated by this big empty whiteboard and this marker in their hand, which I think is awesome. That’s a giant first step to me for people that don’t feel comfortable doing that.

Eli: A lot of the teams that we talk to are working in Agile, and they get stuck in this mindset of “move fast and break things.” What are some of the ways you think that Design Thinking can play nice in an Agile environment?

Jason: That’s a tough one because, like you say, Agile is all about speed and efficiency. And I think Design Thinking is about being thoughtful.

In my perfect world, Agile isn’t the thing that everybody says is truth and everything else must slot into Agile. I think there’s a world where Design Thinking is the spine of it. And Agile slots into that. 

In Design Thinking, prototyping and testing is such a massive, awesome part of it. But who’s to say that you can’t build prototypes in an Agile fashion and maybe start with a slightly higher fidelity? 

To me, that feels like flipping the whole thing over. Agile’s great and it’s fine, but to borrow someone else’s words, it doesn’t have a brain. It’s a lot of bones and muscles and it’s great for doing things, but it doesn’t really have a heart and soul necessarily. I know I’m quoting someone else, but I love that thought. 

I think Design Thinking is less of a struggle but it’s also a little less of a measurable thing. It’s difficult to measure long-term impact, but it’s very easy to measure how many stories did you accomplish during a sprint.

Eli: Are there any books or blogs or podcasts that helped you in your career recently or in the past?

Jason: I love Colossal. I’m also giant Tumblr fan because it’s just a wash of stuff. I’m kind of addicted to Pinterest for the same reason. I like the InVision blog a lot and will head over there to read. I get the Clark From InVision emails, and the puns kind of kill me sometimes. I love Jared Spool. Pretty much anything that guy says I really dig. I really like him.

Eli: Jason, this was so great. It was great to have you on the show.

Jason: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. This is great.

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