The New Side-by-Side Experience

For the last 30 years, I’ve spent my working career — whether as a strategist, marketer, consultant, or industry analyst — largely based in client offices around the world, working side-by-side with others, feeding off the shared energy and ideas to develop growth plans for emerging companies.

Sure, it had its drawbacks: Monday through Thursday on the road. Occasionally too cold or too stuffy meetings rooms with no view, odd odors, and seating that made the concrete floors the more comfortable alternative. (The worst? A basement of a margarine factory in Rotterdam.) Many, many years of struggles to connect first to email then later to the web and finally to the myriad of video conferencing and messaging platforms.

And it had its advantages: Fridays at home. Occasionally fantastically wonderful meeting rooms. (The best? Paul Allen’s executive offices with a view of all things hip in South Lake Union, Seattle.) Many, many chances to learn and share by experiencing things with feet on the ground and my own eyes.

History’s great thinkers have long said that experience allows a better understanding of not only yourself but also the world around you.

In the last eight weeks, my ability to “experience” has been upended. Side-by-side is no longer an alternative. My view of the world is now much more limited than I would like. Rather than acquiring information from the places and people that surround me, I am physically separated from my clients and teammates, working from my home office, with a minuscule webcam and two tiny air pods to bring my eyes and ears on the world.

Given this small lens and limited perspective, is it even possible to acquire enough knowledge to develop an understanding of what is happening in the world and in our industry at this time? Everything has drastically changed, and everything is constantly evolving.

What can I do?

I can call clients, partners, or others in the lending industry. While most are busy doing their best to cope, stretched to their limits by commitments to family, community, and business, and facing some of the same insight gaps I face as well, I can piece together information about their businesses, their customers, and their views from their own lenses.

I can research various news sources. Only a few days ago I was attempting to get a sense of whether the various U.S. states were open for auto sales and whether their Departments of Motor Vehicles were open for processing titles. While the pool of conflicting information abounds, there is a truth that can be discovered with persistence and time.

I can rely on data and analytics tools, and boy have I ever.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an analytic and look for stories in numbers. Now, more than ever, I look to data. I synthesize data from originations, servicing, and remarketing activity, break it into its constituent parts, and make a seemingly endless number of charts, tables, and infographics to show me what I should be seeing in order to better understand.

I search out third party reports to enhance our own data flows. I ask question after question of my team members whose products supply the data. I gain valuable insights and help our organization make what I think are better decisions for our clients, for defi, for our company’s owners.

But…even this analytic wonders…

• At what point does the pouring over data become obsessive?
• At what point is it too much or, arguably, too little?
• Is my lens pulling in enough of the scenery or is it too finite, too fixated?
• Am I asking enough questions about what will be the future?
• Am I asking too much about the future and not looking enough at the past?
• How relevant is the past to the new future?
• Am I seeing what I need to see or what I want to see? Undoubtably, a little of both.

Everything has drastically changed, and everything is constantly evolving.

None of us knows what’s to come in the next weeks, months, or year, or when we’ll be back in our clients’ offices. And, while I do know that I can and will operate in this isolated state for as long as necessary, as long as it protects my family, community and business, I believe that maximizing value for our clients, defi, our owners and myself will not come from two screens, a keyboard, a webcam, two air pods, and daily a dump of data.

We will all do better when we’re “out there” again.

While the new side-by-side may not be as close as the old side-by-side, we need to be experiencing one another. Developing an understanding from each other. Understanding our industry and the new tomorrow that will, perhaps, be much, much different, but can be as bright, if not brighter than it was in those oh so different days of not that long ago.

I look forward to seeing you all again!

Charles Sutherland, chief strategy officer, defi SOLUTIONS, has more than 25 years in technology management and strategy with companies such as Sagent Lending Technologies, Fiserv, and Accenture. At defi, Charles leads strategy, product management, and marketing with a focus on improving the experience of lenders and consumers.