Episode 68

Innovating for the future

Nic Umana, Global Agile Innovation Human Intelligence Director at Mars, shares how to create a culture that supports breakthrough innovation, what agile insights really means, and how to get the perfect balance between creative humans and AI tools.

The interview

Ryan: Hi everybody. And welcome to this episode of Inside Insights, a podcast powered by Zappi. My name is Ryan, your host, and I'm joined today by a lovely partner and friend of mine, Nic Umana, who is the global agile innovation, human intelligence director at Mars.

Ryan: And while that title has a lot of words, the real thing to remember is Nic's an innovator and she's a badass and Nic, I'm psyched to have this chat with you today. 

Nic Umana: Thanks for having me. Me too. 

Ryan: So the truth is, Nic and I met for two hours the other day. Um, we were originally going to record this podcast, and we were just trying to decide if the podcast got recorded, would we get promoted or would we get fired?

Ryan: Because we were riffing a lot, and we're going to bring you some of that today. So, I want to just jump right in, because there's so much stuff I want to talk to you about. I want to start with culture and DNA. So you have some really strong and relevant views of how companies need to set the right DNA and the right culture to enable them to innovate in today's market.

Ryan: Can you start and just dive into that a little bit and unpack what you mean by that? 

Nic: Yeah. So I have a team of seven and we're part of A group who is 200 strong, global cross functional innovators. And within the human intelligence part of the business, we call ourselves the human obsessed change makers.

Nic: And so we work in an agile model and our team is set up to. Um, I guess take the risk out of innovation. So to do lots of small little experiments, and then to test in the real world and work out all of the things that we can optimize before we scale. And there's projects that are close in and, um, there's projects that are Projects that are really different.

Nic: And so to get to those really breakthrough and different spaces with really complex business models, we have to create a really safe environment. So when we talk about, um, innovation, we talk about lots of mindsets that are important. We talk about the ability to fail fast, progress over perfection. Um, but ultimately I talk a lot about how we can create a safe space, um, so that people are prepared to take risks so that people can have crazy ideas and, um, then test them out, um, and also this mindset of the pivot.

Nic: So we're really bad at killing projects. Um, we're very good at pivoting and, and you get into a mode where. Optimizing just becomes the way you work. And so nothing can phase you. And I feel like I've got to a stage where I'm so good at the pivot that I can handle anything I can handle any complex challenge.

Nic: So we talk a lot about the importance of being curious, um, about the ability to collaborate. With cross functional partners. Uh, and then when I think about the dream innovation team, I think the chemistry of the humans is really important. Having humans that trust each other, that can call a spade a spade, that can hold the tension, but also that can kind of build, um, and develop and create together.

Nic: Um, that's where the magic happens. So, um, That's a little bit about what I think, um, the right culture is for innovation. And I think especially in a global, big global corporation where kind of the immune system is kind of created to spit out new ideas and innovation, it takes real resilience to deal with it.

Nic: And to, we, we talk about launch and love and scale. It's really the hardest part of it, of innovation at Mars is scaling. So the resilience and the perseverance to keep on, you know, influencing, selling, um, behavioral economics principles really help. Um, so there's lots of little skills and microcultures, I guess, that sit underneath that as well.

Ryan: I want to unpack this a little bit more, and I think a lot of the folks listening, and you know, I'll be honest, like sometimes I fall victim of this as well, like this notion of incremental or linear improvements. Can sometimes, um, I guess erode breakthrough thinking, bold thinking, future thinking and so I'd love for you to a comment on that a little bit, but with specific detail around how do you set up an environment where people can vibe, where they can be direct, but also kind, where they can feel safe to make a big decision, because I think a lot of companies, Nick, like, I don't mean this to indict anybody, but you're, you're beholden to the shareholder, you're beholden to the quarter, you're beholden to the year, and so as a result, You might not give yourself the opportunity to say, well, what if it's all wrong?

Ryan: And how do we really rethink that? I'd love for you just to give us a little more clarity. Cause I think a lot of people struggle with that. 

Nic:Yeah. Well, I think firstly, you've got to, you've got to get to the stage where you have the breakthrough idea, right? And, um, so we use, um, the strategizer templates a lot.

Nic: [00:05:00] And for any idea, we spend a lot of time making sure we've framed the problem well. Um, Um, and making sure that we've got like a rough understanding of what's desirable, viable, and feasible, and just kind of back of envelope to get, um, enough support to get a sprint team put on it.

Nic: And I think firstly, you've got to have that breakthrough idea. So there's lots of things that you can do to get to the breakthrough idea. Then I am really comfortable that the model to optimize and keep on improving is the right one, especially for breakthrough innovation, because we know that to find that breakthrough idea, we've probably got to be able to test and kill hundreds of ideas and like, and, and as much as we can, we're doing it in the real world, right?

Nic:And to find one and be patient enough to keep on testing, pushing, pulling, um, you know, optimizing that they're the really exciting winning ideas. So, I think really, this is the only model. Um, that I can imagine in this day and age in the way that we work with all of the information that we have available, um, you know, the technology we have access to that can develop, that can deliver truly breakthrough thinking.

Nic:So I guess that's one. aspect. There's like a couple of layers to your question. I think one of the benefits that we have at Mars is we're still one of the largest privately owned companies. So we still have a little bit more freedom to invest the time and the love and the money in, in finding those ideas.

Nic:But still the biggest challenge that we have is we have to grow those ideas in the region and are still, you know, the local markets are still, um, measured on. very traditional metrics and on short term decisions and results. So this is the challenge for us now to find business models that allow us to scale and to do it without it being at the expense of the core business.

Nic:That needs to continue to be healthy and grow because that gives us the permission to innovate. So, 

Ryan: right. So, so in that construct, basically your innovation team is a cross functional group of people. You're anchoring in jobs to be done, problems to solve. That gives you a greater shortcut to come up with big ideas.

Ryan: And then you can give them the space, but you still run into that. Okay. And we're not going to pick on anybody today. We're going to be nice. It's Monday, but region a. Yes. Hey, here it is. Can we prioritize it? And so that, that, that strikes me as where that the friction comes in from a scale standpoint.

Nic: It's very hard because we're, we're a very healthy, successful business. Our core is performing extremely well. There's lots of easy growth available in most of our markets around the world. And so. It's really hard to get them to stop and what you want is the best talent in your, in the region working on scaling the innovation.

Nic: And it's hard to get that profile of talent to be focused on scaling your innovation and your big bets. But, you know, It works sometimes and it doesn't others. And just when you think you're on the right path, leadership changes and priorities change. And so you just have to, this is why I say you just have to always be prepared to pivot and optimize and adjust the plan and work out what a balanced portfolio looks like.

Nic: And innovation has to play a role if we want to be a global snacking company and continue to be relevant in consumers lives.. 

Ryan: Yeah. And I think like, you know, it's a really interesting paradox like the, the world is constantly changing but people don't like change and like inherent in what you say is this, you clearly are comfortable with ambiguity or uncertainty.

Ryan: Yes. And I mean, I guess my question for you is do you always like that or do you have to learn that muscle? 

Nic: I used to call myself the chaos pilot and then I felt like that wasn't very flattering to Mars because I'm painting the light over.

Nic: I'm always working the jobs where there's chaos, but I do like, um, I do love connecting the dots and I do love solving really meaty challenges and I believe very much in the science and the power of collective thinking. There's lots of cool stuff that doctors all around the world are studying and so I really believe that to solve big challenges, you need to have the right humans together and very diverse humans.

Nic: And, um, I have always been someone that has liked to collaborate. I find it very difficult to work by myself. I need a sparring partner. I need to bounce ideas back and forward. I need, and I'm a very good developer of ideas. Like, what is it two heads are better than one is always the philosophy I've had.

Nic: So I think I've kind of had it as a natural part of who I am, but I've really curated that and honed it. I think, because I think it's kind of a unique advantage, but a really important skill set, you know, in the way that we need to work. 

Ryan: One thing I've learned about you, which I hope isn't awkward to compliment you on,

Nic: I'll always take a compliment.

Ryan: Yeah, well, I, I, it's something I'm always like actually quite impressed with. Whenever I speak to you, regardless of your opinion of someone or something, I always notice that on the fly your brain is going, but there's something I can learn from this person. There's something that they are good at.

Ryan: There's something that they can bring to the table. And it's actually quite refreshing because every time I speak to you, like even if I have my own like blinders about something, you have this really wonderful way and I don't even know if you're like doing it intentionally, or if it's just muscle memory for you, but you're like, yeah, but they're like really good at this and they can really bring value to this.

Ryan: And, and that's just a really wonderful way to unite people. Um, cause it's always easy to like, see what's wrong or to get defensive. Um, but I'm like, I'm of the worldview that. A, if you're defensive, it's probably something for you to learn. And B, everybody's good at something. So you've got to get comfortable learning from somebody you don't like.

Ryan: You know, and so anyways, kudos to you because I think you just do it really naturally. And so that obviously creates the space within the teams that you're trying to innovate. 

Nic: Yeah, look, I see the same in you, Ryan, and, and, you know, in the humans at Zappi, and that's why I love working with Zappi, because I, like, I think to stay relevant, even as a human, um, you know, trying to work and earn a living, you have to continue to reinvent and learn.

Nic: And there's just, you know, Like never a shortage of things to learn, like, I, that's how I, I talk about myself as an obsessive learner. And so I love going to panels. I learn even from the questions that people are asking of the panel, um, it is fascinating. And hearing others answer a question with a different perspective, I love, so I'm just always listening, learning, um, and kind of socking it away up there. I can't always find it when I need it. Sometimes. 

Ryan: Yeah. It's in there somewhere. You might have, it's funny, interesting that I wanted to go back to. So I think a lot of times, and like, you know, it's been famously noted, Google's had their Google X or whatever it was called, and it was always hard for them to bring innovation and market.

Ryan: And it strikes me that a lot of times breakthrough innovation teams a lot of times come up with cool ideas in search of a problem, but something you said subtly at the beginning of our dialogue really resonates with me. Um, it's really about market orientation. You understand the problems and therefore you innovate.

Ryan: So, I guess, is that something that's just natural in the team or is that something that you brought in with consumer centricity? Um, and I have another question, but I want to hear you answer that first. 

Nic: Yes, look, I think, I think we lead the charge in the human intelligence team in always being understand, um, able to understand what is the business challenge?

Nic: What is the human problem linked to that business challenge? And then what are like those killer insights that will help you solve that problem? Um, so yes, as, the co pilots in human intelligence, we, we have, perfected, you know, as much as we can that opportunity. And then I think that's kind of the gift of working in this way where we're starting with a problem to solve, but we're not starting with a brand that has to solve it.

Nic: So we have, you know, the luxury of being able to say. Oh, like this could be a great idea for our kind brand or for the ice cream brand, or this might need a new brand. Let's experiment. What could a new brand look like in this space? Um, and we're kind of innovating and learning in ways that even then, gives us more confidence on our M&A approach as well.

Nic: So, um, it's really fun. Sometimes we're building something and we work out. Oh my God. Like this is just isn't worth it. We understand enough to know what we're looking for, but we'd be much better off buying it versus, um, where should we build it? So, I, I think that's just become the way that we work.

Nic: And I think I can't imagine not working like that now. And I do. Sometimes people bring a solution to me and it's a solution looking for a problem. And I'm like, unless you can clearly identify that problem, it never makes it past the pitch stage. And I'm, I'm, I guess the police person in the, you know, innovation leadership team to say, if we don't have a clearly identified consumer problem, it doesn't get approved. Nobody's working on it. 

Ryan: I think it's smart though, like particularly, I mean, whether you're deploying supply chain, uh, capacity and resource to build something for M&A, it's, it's opportunity cost. But I, I guess I'm curious, like if I was a regional president and you came to me with a battle tested idea grounded in an unmet need, and even if I needed to deploy capital for M& A or whatever, I'd be much more likely to listen than, you know, I guess an abstract, Hey, we'll, we'll talk about AI later.

Ryan: AI will do this. Um, so am I, does that help? 

Nic: And if it does, and so we're always like building it in a region and from the moment we were building it, we're making sure we have sponsorship and advocates of leaders in that region. And we build, we build it specifically for a single region. So gone are the days where we like.

Nic: Build something and we wanna roll it out globally. We build it with a lead region in mind. We work out all the lumps and bumps and optimize, uh, optimize it as much as we can and scale it in a region. And then it's kind of scaled in a region across a number of different.

Nic: Format and we will talk about can we geographically expand that and what would the adjustments need to be because now we want to build sustainability into everything we do, but the sustainability regulations and laws are different, you know, in every market around the world. That we put in functional ingredients in there, but the ingredient rules are different.

Nic: So it's almost impossible to find something that's truly valuable for a consumer, differentiated better, and be able to do it in exactly the same way in every market around the world. Gone are those days, unfortunately. And so, um, that becomes a really valuable part, I think, of the way that we work as well, because we know we'll always make those adjustments.

Nic: Um, With, I guess making sure that it can still be viable and feasible, but you know, for the regions, um, as they're ready to scale, but they have to be bought in. Um, we're not wanting anyone to take anything, otherwise it's going nowhere. So we have to kind of generate the buzz and the energy and the pull.

Nic: And I'm always looking for where can I find, you know, those early little sparks and those early kind of pull, um, for an idea. And, and that's where I'll start.

Ryan: Yeah. I mean, I've seen you do this, obviously with your tech stack, because I'm privileged to be a part of your tech stack where it's like, you know, Let's go where the momentum is.

Ryan: Let's create whole, but it strikes me that a lot of global teams could, could learn from this because you basically said, okay, I understand the problem. I've experimented a little bit. I know it's feasible. We can pull this off, but you're not waiting to bake it and then push it out, which I see a lot of brands do like they'll, they'll bake it in London.

Ryan: They'll bake it in New York city. And then they expect somebody in China to be like, cool, I agree with you. And so it, there's a subtle art of advice and stakeholder management that you're articulating that I think a lot of global teams maybe are on the wrong side of where they're, where they're pushing it out.

Ryan: And is your team still set up where you actually have global representation? Within the group. 

Nic: Yes. Yes. So we have, um, I have teams that are based all around the world, but then there's an extended army of HI talent, um, that gets to utilize the tools. And so I never, I'm not the kind of person that mandates a tool.

Nic: Um, I will say, this is the tool that's available and this is the, you know, benefits, the pros and cons, you know, is probably the way that we talk about it mostly for any tools that you're using. And, um, and I try to, I guess, then provide use cases and case studies of how it can be used. We would love the world to be working in a more agile way.

Nic: They don't have to work in, you know, agile performance squads, but wherever we can adjust the mindsets and behaviors and get more learning small scale. In the real world will push for it. 

Ryan: Push for it. 

Nic: Yeah. 

Ryan: All right. So you, you teed me up for something I was curious about. I'm going to be a little punchy for a second.

Ryan: Let's, let's zoom into the market research industry for a moment. Yeah. Um, the industry that, uh, I love you love and it helps companies be more human centric. I get pissed off when I hear Agile Insights. Can I tell you why?

Nic: Why? Tell me Ryan. 

Ryan: Because I get really pissed off. Maybe this will be a rant that I'll do.

Ryan: But I'm going to rant to you about it right now. I work at a software company. And that gives you the ability to test assumptions, to make changes, to adjust scope or complexity until you get value. And ideally you have a problem in mind and an end state in mind. And you know, you're somewhere there.

Ryan: I think 85 percent of the people in our industry. Use the word agile research to say, I validated a test overnight. Would you agree? Like, I feel like every time I go to a conference and I hear about agile insights, it's not about anything to do with agile. It's just like a quick whack a mole test. 

Nic: Yes. It's loosely, it's a loosely used term. 

Ryan: So talk to us about what Agile Insights actually is, please, because I think I would love to dispel this word. 

Nic: I'll tell you what I think it is. And, and I guess this is the point, isn't it? Because when we, um, reinvented and we set up this model five years ago, we took Agile.

Nic: So I went and did all of the external conferences and, you know, the IT teams or the digital technology teams, this is what Agile meant for them. And then we tried to build a model and adapt the model as we built it to say, this is what it means for us. So for us, we say agile isn't necessarily about going faster.

Nic: It's about having a clearly identified problem. It's about, um, learning in a scrappy way. And it's learning based on hypotheses and assumptions, and it's about quickly, um, proving or disproving single variables so that you can get to the stage where you've got a minimum viable product. And then for me. Uh, as much as I can, I'm encouraging teams to launch that product in the real world.

Nic: And it's about constantly learning what do consumers like or customers, retailers? What do they like? What don't they like? What if we change this? What if we did this? Because as soon as we scale up anything, it takes us years to make a small change to like packaging. The machine's running. As an example of the recipe.

Nic: So as much as we can, we want to learn and optimize, you know, as we're growing it, before we've over committed in capital and capability, and technology. So, um, for me, it's about building better innovation, in partnership with our consumers, with humans and with retailers as well. They're a really important stakeholder for us.

Nic: It's small incremental, optimized learning and it's, it's learning in, you know, a really scrappy way. It's not like doing tests that have 500 variables that costs, you know, 500 K. Um, it's about kind of unpacking and just, you know, slenderly proving elements, of the value prop and making sure that the consumer understands what you're making for them and that it's better than what they're currently using to solve that problem. Um, and that's the biggest challenge that we have. Did I pass Ryan? Is that Agile? 

Ryan: Yes. Cause I, I think I wrote, I actually wrote a blog about this. This is, I'm just remembering my subconscious. I wrote a, I must've been pissed off about this way back when I wrote a blog about this in 2015.

Ryan: I must go find it now. That Agile research is a mindset, not a methodology. And that's what you just said, right? It's a way of thinking. It's a way of approaching a problem space to, in a quick way, validate assumptions and maximize opportunity.

Ryan: And I think just too often we've fallen into this trap of, I bought an overnight validation vendor. I'm good. And it's like, well, no, the root cause of the problem is do you even understand the problem? Are you working in a way where you can take a competitive advantage to market quickly? Um, so I, I think you did pass, you could actually write the book on this.

Ryan: This is great. So thank you. So you talked about a bunch of things, problem definition, market testing, thin slivers. Yeah. Orient. So I will go to tools for a sec because I want to understand this a little bit. What are some of the resources you deploy to bring humans into that process? Because you're using a bunch of different things 

Ryan: in a really coherent way, which I think is really cool.

Nic: Yes. So when we first started, um, we gave our teams far too much freedom. So it was a bit of a free for all and we were building the model. And, um, we realized about six months in that we needed a little bit more discipline in the process and the how to, so we wanted to give freedom to the teams to solve, define the who and the what, and a little bit of how we might build that, but the tools, um, we realized, that we needed to standardize.

Nic: We built, minimum viable testing standards, and we have a series of questions that you have to answer along a process, um, going from, you know, very deep empathy, understanding if you diagnose the problem, and how you might solve that problem all the way through to you've got your MVP and now you're ready to test it in the real world.

Nic: We do try to digitize everything that we do. So, and we also built the model during COVID. So here's a pandemic and now we're going to set up a whole new business and way of working, but it actually worked really well. So we kind of stayed very anchored. in digital tools and we lost a bit of human contact.

Nic: So we lost the, the skill and the access to consumers in the real world, like watching them in moments, observing their behavior. So we can, we've got lots of great video tools, all sorts of fabulous tools, um, all of your mates that work in all of the other research partners that we run into in conferences, so there's lots of tools and we, um, look at what the assumptions on hypotheses are, a level of confidence and what the right level of evidence is that we need to feel comfortable saying, yes, we've proved that and we're ready to move to the next stage.

Nic: So, um, people like, who will I mention, D Scout, um, vox pop me, um, valence, um, behaviorally. A number of different tools and sorry for the ones that I've forgotten, but, but fairly consistently we move through a process as confidently as we can, but most importantly, we want to be selling in the real world as quickly as we can.

Nic: So we try not to be doing too much in tools, asking humans, because why not build the thing, give it to them live and learn with them. But there's a number of ways that we talk about the right balance of claimed versus behavioral and in Mars a little bit, claimed research has a bit of a bad reputation, but actually you can use it very efficiently and effectively to narrow down the elements so that you can quickly get to the real world and test in the real world.

Nic: So all tools, um, play a role in helping you narrow down to your MVP and move quickly along a process. And, and mostly I think between three to six months, we can go from having an idea to having a minimum viable product, um, and be ready to start to test it, which is pretty cool.

Ryan: That's incredible.

Ryan: I mean, you know, I think a lot of even CPG companies are on an 18 month and they're happy with that cycle. So that's, I mean, that's impressive. So you said something else I wanted to unpack with you. So. digitizing everything on one side. Yes. Human empathy on the other. So start with digitize everything.

Ryan: What's the why for you? What's the why for Mars on why you would digitize? And then we'll talk about people in a sec. 

Nic: Good question. So I, if I take a step back, if you think about how to get competitive advantage in the future, it's to have all of the data that you need that you can get your hands on.

Nic: Preferably as much human centric data as you can and to have the tech stack that allows you to analyze it and use it to forecast and predict. So knowing that we've got to move to a world where we can quickly collect everything that we know, curate it and turn it into some so what. There's lots of great external tools and, and we're building lots of cool things internally to allow us to do that.

Nic: So to be able to do that, um, you know, people across every part of the organization need to be digitizing the decisions they make, the information that they use to make those decisions, you know, budget approvals and things like that. So. We're trying to put a digital thread through every step of every person's job.

Nic: Even if you're learning something or [00:28:00] doing something in the real world, we would like you to be able to capture it quickly. So we're using all of this evidence. We've got all of these data points to analyze anything that we'll need to know to make decisions in the future. So exciting. Um, intimidating

Nic: It's like it's crazy and we've had permission. We've got a project whereby 2030, we wanna digitize everything and so we are mapping out. Every step of every person's job across every function around the world. And we're trying to build integrated systems and processes because when you get to be so big, you can end up with a lot of things that are not joined up.

Nic: And then we do this crazy dance to make all of the different frameworks and systems and processes kind of marry up. And so it's permission every now and again to just reinvent to kind of say, all right, we can build from scratch. What would the perfect world look like? What do we know about what all the pains are in the process or what people really value?

Nic: Um, so how do we build a new process that takes that into account? And of course, how can we automate? So if there's all of these machines that are doing you know, these fabulous things and the capabilities that building every day, where do we use machines, but also where do we make sure we've got humans in the loop and how do we make sure we have the right capabilities of those humans?

Nic: So it's not about less humans, but it's all about leveraging the value of the humans. Um, and so that's really exciting for me because I think that's kind of the perfect world where you've got lots of really creative, clever humans that can do the jobs that the machines can't, but they know how to use all of the machines and they've got access to all of the data that will help them make decisions, better decisions more quickly. Wow. I'm selling it. 

Ryan: I bought it. I'm like, I'm going to try to find a fire emoji. Hold on. Ready? So, wow. 

Nic: Okay. So that's the aspiration. So it's really like fun to be part of creating your future, right? And to be able to solve all of the things that have pissed you off over the years. There you go. I did the first cuss, first swearing. 

Ryan: I know I was, I was gonna, we only have like a few minutes left and we both like to curse and we haven't cursed yet. That was like, I mean, you're Australian. My mother's Irish. I live in Boston. Like we're good, but I'll tell you something. I love your answer because it wasn't about cost reduction. And I think so many people, so many of our peers across the consumer insights landscape are like, well, no, no, it's, it's, I don't have the time or I want to spend my time thinking and I think the point of digitizing is to leverage what you know, so you can think better.

Ryan: And, and it's actually one of the reasons I'm still annoyed about the agile research thing is the same reason I'm terrified about AI, which is if we aren't smart. About the systems and processes we use now, we won't have humans in the matrix in five years. And I know that's like a bit of a dramatic point, but like, I really believe that, and like, I was talking to somebody the other day and they're putting in some consumer data into their matrix, basically.

Ryan: But every three weeks, if they don't refresh it with new consumer opinion, it, it spits out the same ideas. It spits out, you know, we've been collaborating on some idea generation stuff too, and like you need fresh information. And the only way you get fresh information is information is digitized. Um, so I, I encourage everybody to lean a little more into this because it's not about, um, your job going away.

Ryan: It's about your job getting more impactful. I mean, and, and, and, You know, all this stuff is designed to make the people in these organizations like you, who understand culture more impactful, not less impactful. Right. And so it's, um, it's a really key thing for me. Um, so how do you keep the humanity and the, you, you, your team intentionally has human intelligence, not market research.

Ryan: And I love it. So how do you balance the digitization with like, no, no, we need to understand culture and where it's moving and what makes people tick and, you know, You know, the real important things about society that you're trying to integrate with. 

Nic: Yeah, I think. I think what's really interesting and what we learned from the Zappi AI tests and experiments that we've been doing with you guys is that, um, it's funny when we looked at the insights that were generated by AI, they were very two dimensional.

Nic: We talk about, um, building an insight you can feel. And something that really resonates. And as you're selling the idea, you're talking about the human that has this problem and how you solve it. And people are like, Oh, I can completely relate to that. I can see that people would buy that.

Nic: And I know that retailers would love that. Right. So if that's the aspiration part of, you know, prompt engineering is very important, but part of what we see is that AI doesn't get the deep white. It doesn't, it has insights that are, you know, quite functional and directional. Um, even when it talks about, it builds an idea for you, it doesn't talk about the emotional benefits of the story.

Nic: So I think that's where the humans need to get involved. And Like, I think that AI at the moment is really good at processing lots of data and really kind of complex um, functions, but what humans are really good at is clashing together crazy ideas that no one's done before and testing those out. And it's really hard to build those ideas, in an AI automated world, maybe I will get there, but for now, wherever we can, I think we need to keep humans in the loop and, and we need to understand the deep why.

Nic: Um, so you know, and, and humans are changing as technology is changing. We're living our lives in. Really different ways. Um, we think that the world will become quite polarized. And we do scenario planning. Um, our foresight team leads amazing scenario sessions. And they're like, if you could choose from these four worlds, which is your perfect world.

Nic: And I'm living in the hippie world, Ryan, you'll be surprised to believe where, you know, I can use tech to help me with my well being. I like my… 

Ryan: Sage up, I'm team hippie. 

Nic: …I've got my amethyst sitting here. 

Ryan: Hold on, we'll have to really hip out here. 

Nic: I love it. This is why we get on so well. So, um, so it's really quite amazing and people, other people are like, no way.

Nic: This is my perfect world. And you'll be able to curate your perfect world, right? People will have very different needs, very different preferences. And possibly quite affordably be able to curate the world that they want to live in. And so we will be marketing to algorithms, not to humans, but indirectly to humans.

Nic: And so this requires really different ways of working and thinking and innovating. And I'm so excited. I can't even remember what the question is that you asked me. 

Ryan: You, you're, you're answering it. I was trying to, so if we, if we digitize everything to leverage what we know, it's going to get put into models.

Ryan: How do we keep humanity in it? And I thought your answer was great. I mean, you know, and just to build on it, Nic, like it's, I see two tensions. Tension one, I spent Q1 talking to a lot of data officers and businesses like yours. They're not enriching the data warehouses with why people, what they do today, they just aren't.

Ryan: You're lucky if you get your Qualtrics NPS data in there. That's a freaking problem because we're going to market to algorithms. I love the way you just said that. And I'd much rather market to an algorithm if my algorithm knows why people tick. But I mean, we've been experimenting with using consumer data to come up with ideas.

Ryan: All they are is a first draft because it's human beings that are inventive. Um, and now maybe we're going to be on the wrong side of history on this, but I believe that's why AI doesn't stress me out whatsoever because I would like more tools to have my ingenuity better, my creativity better. And I'm sure you're the same way.

Ryan: And so I think what was cool about your answer, even though you might've forgot what you were answering is both sides of that tension. Um, one is putting people in the matrix. The other is enabling creators. It's creative people, brilliant people, inventors to have a bigger impact and we sort of need to do both.

Ryan: Um, I think to survive, which it's a little dire, but what are you going to do.

Ryan: Nic, this was so fun. Thank you so much for making this time today. I could talk to Nic all day. I hope that you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did having it. Um, and we'll have to keep in touch, Nic, as your journey continues.

Nic: Thank you for having me. 

Ryan: Thank you, Nic.