My Next Adventure
After 9 years (I departed exactly on the anniversary of my joining in 2003) I have left frog. It has been a fantastic ride and I met more amazing people than I can count. I had the chance to work on some terrific projects with world-class clients, and was fortunate to make friends at all the other frog studios around the world, and spend a little time in most of them.
frog changed a lot over my time there, while at the same time very much remaining frog. When I started as a Senior Strategist frog was maybe 250 people, and the old SF studio was less than 40 people. Now the company is 1,100 people and the SF studio alone is over 150 people. I was one of the first strategists at frog, and the strategy “group” consisted of me and one other guy. He left six months later and for a while I was the only officially-titled strategist.
I was also one of the first people at frog doing design research, for sure the first person on the West Coast doing it. It’s been great to see design research grow from being a niche to something that is now core to frog’s offering, and done in ways I could have hardly imagined 9 years ago.
I had a varied career at frog: After five years as Strategy Director I became a Creative Director, and then moved again to Marketing. In my Marketing role I worked primarily with frog’s parent company, the Aricent Group, and with a lot of people in India, which is where the bulk of Aricent’s staff are. This was a great learning experience, and I enjoyed getting a small peak into that culture and country, and working with the team there.
frog gave me the opportunity to discover that I really enjoy speaking in public and facilitating workshops. And frog also helped me expand my ability to write, with multiple blogs over the years (frog design mind, Cnet, Harvard Business Review), not to mention giving me time off to write my book, Innovation X, and then supporting it after publication.
So What’s Next?
By now almost half my career has been with frog, and it was time for me to move on to my next adventure, and to get back to the heart of the innovation process again.
So where am I going? On to do something fairly different - though at it’s core also quite similar. I’m going to be doing strategy, user experience and user research for a company called Financial Engines, who’s goal is to make it radically easier for people to save and plan for retirement, and take the confusion and hassle out of the burden of managing your own 401k. They were founded in 1996 by a Nobel-prize winning economist and they’ve got a large established base of customers, so they aren’t a start-up. I’m excited by the opportunity for a few reasons:
- It’s a problem worth solving, one that benefits people’s lives. A lot of the hot stuff in the Valley and Bay Area just didn’t fit this criteria for me. They may be cool technologies in the abstract, and they may have good business models behind them (or not), but they are less focused on how they are benefiting the end user/person.
- It’s a large scale, complicated problem, and they are a company that has an opportunity to create beneficial change at meaningful scale.
- It’s intellectually stimulating. I’ll have to learn a bunch of new stuff, and use my existing skills in new ways.
- It’s tackling things from the inside. Most of my career has been in consulting, and while there are great things about consulting, when it comes to innovation and user experience, there are some inherent challenges and gaps with being a consultant. There’s a lot of ditch digging, culture adjustment, and internal work that needs to happen too in order for innovations and great experiences to thrive and see the light of day. In making the shift from consulting to an in-house role, I’m part of the trend the Peter Merholz identified recently. Most of the people I know who’ve left design agencies/consulting recently have gone to in-house roles. In many ways that’s where the action is for user experience these days.
Once I started talking with Financial Engines, I began to think about all the people I know who are in their 50’s or are already in retirement who are in fear of outliving their money. Retirement is something that almost everyone experiences, yet the way that we go about managing retirement in this country is completely screwed up. A frog colleague just moved here from Germany and he attended the annual meeting to hear about 401k plans. Now frog provides exceptionally good 401k options, yet it is still incredibly complicated. My friend was completely bowled over, feeling totally unprepared to think through all the choices and implications. And he’s not alone - most people are under-equipped to properly manage their finances so that by the time they leave their careers behind they are in good enough shape to live and hopefully enjoy their next 10-20 years.
There’s much that I will miss about frog and I’m honored to have been part of the Pond (as it’s affectionately known internally) for so long. But all good things must come to an end, and I’m excited to see how I can apply my experience in a very different setting!