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Is letting go the secret sauce?

Is letting go the secret sauce?

Last weekend’s NABLabs Hackathon showed me how collaboration can deliver an even better customer experience, and reminded me of a valuable learning in my career.

It was in the middle of a job interview in 2009 that I was asked the question that changed the course of my career. I had just returned to work from maternity leave, having been either pregnant or on leave for the previous 4 years, and I was trying to find my future. It was in that interview that my future found me. 

I had worked in technology for most of my career and was interviewing for my dream job, Technical Services Manager for digital technology at NAB. A role that would imagine and realise the future for cutting edge digital technology at one of Australia’s largest tech employers. I did get the job, and I did love it, but that question in the interview changed the reason why.       

The question was, “this team are expecting THE subject matter expert on all things digital - that’s not you, why are you the right person for this role?” My response was, “you have 200 subject matter experts already, you don’t need another one. You need someone who can lead them to imagine and realise the future of digital, and that IS me.“ 

In that moment I became a leader. I let go of any need to be the smartest person in the room and instead I turned my mind to how to get the best out of the smart people that I have surrounded myself with ever since.  I let go of any need to control and instead worked to uncover and unleash ideas. I let go of thinking about how to build the best technology, and instead looked to build the best teams. That dream job in digital became my first real role in leadership. 

On the weekend I was a judge in the NABLabs hackathon, where NAB opened our APIs to teams from startups and business and posed the question of how we might help customers more. The pitches and the customer experiences that had been imagined and the use that NAB’s APIs were put to were amazing. What the teams managed to achieve in just a day and a half was actually hard to believe.   

It strikes me now that by opening up our APIs for the NABLabs hackathon, NAB is doing exactly what I have done since that interview - surrounding ourselves with incredibly smart people, letting go of only looking within for ideas, instead looking to collaborate to uncover and unleash the great ideas that are out there. 

The winning team were Summer, Evon and Alfred from Odecee. I asked them what they thought got them that winners’ cheque. There was no special ingredient or secret sauce, it was simply diversity of thought and skills that a hackathon allows. 

Evon brought the user experience skills, getting people to open up to her and then imagining new experiences that would solve their problems.  Summer brought the user interface skills, visualising Evon’s user experience idea as a technology application. Alfred brought the developer skills, taking Summer’s visualisation into a real application. 

 It’s worth noting what Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba said at Alibaba’s first-ever Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship in Hangzhou, China:

“I feel proud that more than 34% of senior management are women. They really make this company’s yin and yang balanced. Women balance the logic and the instinct. I would say this is the ‘secret sauce’ of the company. Men think about themselves more; women think about others more.”

Team Odecee won, not just because of their idea and their ability to realise it, but because of the diversity of thought and skill they arrived with and how they leveraged it through the hackathon.  

NAB are winners too. In letting go and inviting in these very talented and innovative people, we not only saw new ideas, but also saw diversity in winning form.

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