I'm here with Sergio Venegas, who is originally from Costa Rica, but now lives and works in Washington DC. He's a design strategist for Capital One, and he helps bring clarity and focus to Kaplan's innovation goals in the financial industry. Sergio, thanks for joining us today. Thanks for having me, Karen. I'm very excited to be here. This week we are talking about sense-making and I think for most people, when we think about sense-making, we think about affinity mapping and just trying to find patterns. But sense-making is really so much more than that. It's about becoming really empathetic and curious about the people we're solving for. But that is a pretty challenging task. It takes both a lot of personal reflection, but also interaction with other people who have different perspectives than you do. I'd love to explore this with you and explore your observations around sense-making and who we have to become to create the conditions for sense-making to occur. That is a great question, especially is something that I experience in my journey as a Design Strategist. I started from a career in engineering. I was a process engineer. That meant that when I was early on in my career, I tend to center on the solution space. I was really going for like, what's the solution right away. When I knew the problem, I was thinking of the solution, and I realized that I needed to be okay with being uncomfortable. I needed to be okay with sitting on the problem space for a long time. In the process of these years of my experience, what I learned is that I had to let go of my ego. Sometimes we'll call this experts. I'm calling you because you know about innovation, because you know about design thinking, so you're supposed to be the expert in the room. But letting go of that ego when you're doing sense-making, when you're in the problem space, is the biggest thing I've had to learn, and is hard to this day to do, letting go of that ego as a professional in the space. How did you do that? How what was it? Was there a moment? Was there a person? Did you read a book? What was the spark that helped you make that realization about yourself? It wasn't a particular project or moment, but doing this more. I think the key's practice. The key is sitting with a lot of insights, sitting with a lot of data and being like, oh, this feels very uncomfortable, this feels like I want to have a solution right in front of me, and just being able to sit with that. The moment for me is when I'm with a lot of insights or data or observations that I have, if there are ones that make me feel a little bit angry, or happy, or excited, or they're ones that feel contradictory, that's where I know I'm going somewhere and I'm getting somewhere. Most of the time I sit with a lot of data and I don't feel anything. That for me is an indication that I need to keep pushing and I need to keep pushing harder into the data, going back to the data and finding that spot when I feel I'm comfortable a little bit as a researcher or as a strategist. That's a really good marker, I think, for people to think about, because it's that emotion that you are personally feeling that says, "Hey, maybe I need to go back and do more research potentially." How does that play out with the people on your team so you have that collective emotion? Tell me more about that. The team is very important because individually, we can get so invested in the process, or in the interviews, in the data that we collected, and if you're by yourself, it's very hard to get to a place where you're getting the high moments or the good insights. You need to have people in the team that are going to be bringing a little bit of conflict, but in a good way. The good conflict, the ones that are telling you like, "The way you're approaching this problem, you're maybe biased towards this direction or that direction and bringing that positive conflict into the room. When the team is experienced in that, then there's another indication that we're getting somewhere. If we're all aligned from the beginning, were all like, oh yeah, this is the right solution to go, I'm like, we haven't pushed hard enough. There's also that collective feeling where we're like, I'm just someone of having good conflicts with each other. I think that's the indication that I get from my team. I think sometimes it can be discouraging to think, we have to go back and do more research. I think the way you're describing it, there's really an opportunity to dig in deeper and to find those special moments that might bring richness to our conversation, both individually and collectively. But that's hard I think, for people to do. I think it's hard for them to go back and think about doing more research, it also can be very expensive if you have to go out and do more research. How do you manage that tension about having to go back and do more work and finding maybe more sense out of the data that you've collected? I think what's important to think is that sense-making, we are getting ready to start ideating and to start bringing ideas later on in the process. What we need to understand is that the insights that we're getting, they need to be reached in the sense that they need to allow us as designers or as strategist to put solutions forward that are going to be impactful for the people we're serving. For instance, sometimes we will get observations or insights that are amazing data points to have, but they are not telling us anything about the needs of the people we're are serving or their wants, their frustrations, nothing of that is in the inside, then we know we need to dig deeper into data and go back and find an insight that is going to allow us later on to actually build a solution. Yes, it is hard sometimes to say we have, we spent a month or two or three in this data and we need to go back and find that little nugget that is going to help us do the next step, it's critical. Otherwise, the solution is not going to be as impactful as it could be. That's right, yes. I think this expression that we use as wallowing in the data, thinking about how we might marinate a lot of those thoughts together. But it is hard to do with a team. But it is absolutely critical. Does it get easier, or is it still hard every single time? It is still hard. I wish I could say it gets easier with time. What gets easy is that it gets easier to recognize your feelings. When you feel, in the past I've had a great success when I was feeling this way with the data and with the projects. That gets a lot easier because you do it often. But sitting with the data and trying to always go for the solution and trying to put your biases on the side, that part is always very hard. I think that will be encouraging for people who are doing this work because it is hard and that's the struggle. What surprises you the most about working with others and trying to set your ego aside and trying to support others who are trying to do this work, maybe for the first time. What surprises you about that? That is one of the big reasons why I decided to turn my career into this field of design strategies and design thinking. It was because I saw the transformation in people, when they were able to see the potential to be creative to get to this place where, I didn't see that problem in that lens before and it's given me so much energy and new lenses to look at. You can see it in the person's face. Something lights up. When you're working and you get into that hour, that great insight, you can see it and you can feel the energy. Even if it's virtually, you can feel while the team is getting there. That feeds me a lot of energy. That's why I really enjoy this work as well. Do you find that you continually feed your senses to be able to draw on rich metaphors and maybe the activities of other organizations? How does that process work for you so that you continually stay fresh and can bring distinct influences into your sense-making? It's a process of continuous learning and always pushing to be, what are the spaces that are analogous to where I'm exploring and then trying to find those. For instance, at one point I was working on death and dying and reframing that conversation, and that is a taboo topic. We went on and explored all the taboo topics that were not exactly related to where we were working on to get inspiration and to find all the areas where we can get that energy in those insights from. Always keep pushing harder on, what are the spaces that are not where I'm working on, that I can get inspiration from, who are the people who I can bring and talk to that I can get inspiration from even if they're not related to the field. It's a continuous learning process for you as the strategist or facilitator, but also for the team and the people involved in the process.