EP 009 - Turn Down the Ego, Turn Up the Curiosity, w/ Greg Flory

This week I had the pleasure of talking with Mr Cooper VP of Product Design, Greg Flory. Greg and I used to work at Bottle Rocket together, and he was such a joy and inspiration to work with. In a short amount of time he taught me so much about Experience Design, keeping your ego in check, and always questioning with boldness.


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Tony: Howdy friends, welcome to the XD podcast. As usual, I'm your host, Tony Daussat Thank you so much for being here with me today. I just want to take a moment and let you know that the XD podcast is a labor of love for me. And if you like what you've heard on the podcast so far and want to support the show, really the best way to do it at this point is to just spread the word share, subscribe, leave a review- you every little bit. Helps get the show out there to more people just like you. You lovely, lovely people. No. How about we talk some design stuff. On this week's episode I sat down with a friend and former colleague of mine, Greg Flory. I tell Ya Greg, he's just one of those guys you want to work with. He inspired me every day when I came to work and has a wealth of knowledge. So I'm excited for you to hear this episode. And what do you say we just jump right in?

Mr Greg Flory. Thank you so much. Greg and I used to be coworkers. Um, and we're not anymore cause he betrayed me. But, um, you're a cool dude. What'd you got going on? Tell me about your background and what the heck are you doing here?

Greg: Wow, that is a massive question. Um, so you mentioned that we used to work together, so yeah, it was a strategist, uh, on the, uh, XD team here at bottle rocket for about seven years and that's where you and I spent time together. So you know, me is in that role before that I can kind of came from the marketing background on the communication side was a writer earlier in my career. I didn't know that. Yeah. Uh, spend a lot of time getting my, uh, my ego checked. So I think it's one of the things that makes it easier to have thick skin the longer you're in the game. So I learned early that it's, it's okay to not be perfect. It's my culture. And kind of the way I grew from that was, was learning things are going to be, everybody thinks they're a writer, right?

Cause everybody can type or write a word to everybody thinks they can string words together in a way that that makes sense to everybody else. So everything you do is criticized. Um, so I learned pretty early on that, you know, you're not going to get through life without other people having an opinion about what you do. Uh, which kind of prepared me for client work later on. That was, uh, that was nice. Uh, and I think from that humility, like one of the things we talked about here a lot was humility and understanding that you don't know everything. You're not expected to, shouldn't try to be perfect, you're not going to be okay. And I, I learned here kind of in the years I spent working with a lot of our clients, first one Starwood SPG was that there's so much complexity there that you could never understand all of that. Don't be a, don't believe the lie that you're smarter about their business than they are. Like you're never going to know probably a third of what they know about their business. You're never going to know about their brand. Like a lot of things that they have because they're knee deep in it, neck deep in it all the time, 365 and from an agency perspective you're kind of come in and asked to provide a fresh POV on whatever the experiences and whatever the challenge and opportunity is that they have. And for me understanding that and knowing that I would never be as smart as they were about their business kind of freed us up to do the stuff that we do well. Uh, but from a, from a background here, let's just kind of rambling about some of the lessons I learned early on and why kind of my perspective and how I look at at work very different now. So I've moved over to Mr. Cooper, which is a mortgage, a mortgage company and its brand side company side, which is a little bit, a little bit different on the, on the corporate side of design and working on products from the ownership side of things is a little bit different. Um, you're, you're, you're still unexpected new everything. We've got amazing smart people who understand the product and we're in a highly regulated industry too. So there's a ton of complexity there is that you have to know and understand and that process, uh, and the business rules and requirements that kind of go into the products that we work through. And we do products both for customer facing and um, for our internal, uh, Mr Cooper, some of the clients, uh, some of our clients are internal, so enterprise applications that help our people serve our customers.

And it's a really exciting time for us. A lot of, a lot of products in market. They've been working on that for about the past three years and now coming in wanting to, to add a, uh, another level of, uh, design thinking, being intentional, building that practice. So that's kind of where I, uh, where I come in and helping them look at the situation as it is and try to figure out like, how do we build on what we already have? It's not throw everything out and start again. It's really just how do we elevate the design. And for me that really gets to the heart of how do we pull the customer even closer to the center of everything we, the end user, kind of the, a lot of the lessons things we learned here, uh, and I think that the world is starting to understand is critically important to your business.

Tony: Oh yeah. I want to get to that in a second. But first I'm going to go back to something that you said about keeping ego in check. Um, so when you and I, when I was interviewing to come here at bottle rocket, I don't know if you remember this or not, I think it was my first or second interview and I was sitting down and I could tell that that was something that was very important to you. You, you were, you were sort of talking about how we'd like to not have egos here and keeping them in check and all this stuff. And I actually said to you, listen, I don't know sh!t, but I'm gonna fail my way into learning.

Greg: And that's a great answer. Like, I'll tell you, that's the, that's the one thing. And I probably earlier in my career I was, uh, I was more arrogant. I knew more, right? You know, everything when you're younger is my experience having teenagers, you're the dumbest person in the house. If you're the parent, right? What could you possibly know? Um, but, but here, like the thing I've learned over the past five years in particular is I know the last, every day there is, there is so much more to know. There's so much complexity and so many things happening in this world. You can't keep track of all of it. And if you can, like you're an extraordinary human. But for me, just recognizing that I don't know, forces you to open up and listen a little bit more, which is, um, for me, critically important. So people that can recognize that they don't know everything, it's fantastic. So I, I think you had a great interview. Like you are a unique personality, unique human and it's uh, it was great to interview you have that conversation with you. There's clearly a spark there the way you talked when you engage, but it wasn't till working with you later. They realize how funny you really are. Like it was like just moment-

Tony: Well this is-

Greg: Little ways you phrase things. It's just like it's, it's this-

Tony: Is this becoming a love fest?

Greg: It is. It is. We're going to, we're going to hug it out here in a minute?

Tony: Um, so, so speaking of interviews, are you in charge of building a team at all or are you just sort of reinforcing an existing team now at Mr. Cooper?

Greg: Yeah, it's a great question. So right now I'm in, I think I would say that's probably been the biggest focus that I have right now is building the team. We've, we've got a team of designers in house, a relatively small team. Uh, but that's growing. We've, over the past, I guess three years is when, uh, my boss, uh, the head of product kind of started doing the work that they've been on, the journey that they're on to create probably about 10 different products that we have. And they've just buy for sheer volume and getting bodies in the door. They've had to work with a lot of consultants in some agencies to make sure that we had people working on the design and they've worked with some fantastic agencies to see if they had IEDO to do some work for, no kidding. So they've gotten to work with some really, um, really well, a highly regarded companies. And in the work they did is great. The idea is the thinking is has been solid, but we've had a good bit of transition in and out. So without that, that core team that has always been there. And some of the people that are on the design team now are relatively new to, I think, you know, probably the most senior designer we have in terms of, um, just designed experiences is my been there since mid summer last year. But we've had a, I got a couple of others who've been there longer but just probably don't have the market experience that, that he has. Um, so we're looking to kind of, and we still rely to some degree on outside agencies and consultants. We have several of those doing some design work force now. And what we're trying to do is make sure that we can build a Mr. Cooper team.

So, you know, it's, it's been a big part of my task the past couple of months to make sure that we're working to bring new talent in, um, to compliment the group that we have and to provide that continuity across the product portfolio. And when you have a lot of people transitioning in and out, um, agencies, consultants, that kind of thing, it's hard to, to maintain that, um, that common understanding, that institutional knowledge that you have of what the, the businesses, what the design requirements are, I would say too. And kind of what the guidelines and that look and feel and that customer experience that we're trying to create. You get a lot of different, uh, you get a lot of different inputs. So for me right now, looking at, looked across our portfolio, uh, the products all, you know, have a similar look and feel. But I would say there's, there's room for us to make sure that we drive toward a better, more common experience and how people engage with products. And then some of them are crazy complex. There's a lot of uh, a lot of fields, a lot of information to consume in those, particularly for our, um, for our employees, the teams, they're looking at those and helping our customers on the servicing side and, and on the sales side it's a, it's a lot of information. So how do we present that in a way that's, you know, best suits the work that they need to do. The objectives is that they have, based on learnings that we have across the board and apply that in a individual style that's not just similar, but that has some, some rules to it, a visual language that we all have a shared understanding of what design is. So for me, while we're building the team internally and building design, and then I would say we're looking probably to increase our customer insight capabilities too.

So I think we're looking for people that as designers don't just think about the visual design that we're of course, kind of like you're familiar with here. You've got a customer experience side, but how do you draw insights out earlier? How do you check your work all along the way to make sure that you're doing the right thing for the people that you're creating products for?

Tony: What do you look for in someone?

Greg: You know, we're looking for people who are curious people who have some experience and it doesn't have to be. Um, and we've got a range. So we've, I think in the past couple of weeks we've extended offers to about three different people and they range from people who have really a really strong product experience on the startup world and have done a lot of work and have massive portfolios and just have really that overall understanding of how you build great products and customer experiences. And then on some of the more junior hires that we've, that we're looking at today, it's people who are curious, people who understand the approach and people who are really willing to work, uh, lean people who understand that you don't want to boil the ocean upfront and add complexity to something that, that you can sh should be to peel layers away from, to make it easier for your customers and understand the importance of focus who are eager. You know, I'm looking for people who are excited for an opportunity. When you look at the world that it may not sound sexy to a lot of people. The mortgage financial services I'm turned on. Yeah, I can tell that wasn't going to mention that, but I could, I know you've got that vibe. Um, but I, I felt when, when the opportunity first presented itself and I, at Mr. Cooper, I thought I kind of know who they are. I know there are a mortgage company and even took me a minute to kind of think about it, but when I really looked into what the opportunity was for me, we're a company that's undergoing a transformation. We were a mortgage company that was a major subprime lender. And so in the events of 2007, 2008, when all of that challenge happened, we managed to survive. And over the past few years have been kind of rethinking, reimagining who we are as a company. And uh, they rebranded from Nation Star in 2017. And the Mr. Cooper is really intended to embody the values and ideals that we have as a, as an organization. And I think we will emerge from, from the past, uh, 10 years is as something very different than, than what people expect in the mortgage industry and what people will expect from their loan company. It's not an institution, it shouldn't feel like that should feel like you have humans on the other side of this transaction who care about you and who were looking out for your best interests.

So we're trying to, our part of our role is to help create value in that area. How do we make their lives better? Uh, our purpose is to help people. I help keep the dream of home ownership alive, which is for me purpose. Um, you probably, you've seen me in probably moments where I'm not the softest cuddliest, but I will tell you I'm a huge, massive believer in purpose and understanding why you do things and being able to work from that, that core. Uh, I believe that, you know, that's kind of been a part of who I am. For a long time. I, I, I would say I'm one of the most cynical people and one of the most idealistic at the same time, which just means that you're going to get someone who understands and believes in knowing why you're doing something, but also who's going to challenge kind of the assumptions that we all have. You can ask a lot of questions there. So I think in the experience at the time that we spent together, you probably saw me challenged. But, um, but I also try to give latitude to let people on the teams that I'm working with do their best work.

Tony: You know, something you said earlier when I asked you about what you look for, you mentioned curiosity a few times and I don't know if you have listened at all, but I end every episode with stay curious and I'm wondering what does curiosity mean to you?

Greg: For me, it's people who are, have questions, so, and are willing to follow those. You know, you can a question, uh, and, and it just sits there and you do nothing with it. But people who follow that curiosity down the rabbit hole, I willing to explore that. Uh, and then I think some of my perspective, um, when I'm looking for people who are curious, they're interested in a lot of different things in many cases. So there's the core of what they do, but they're always trying to, um, to look and see what's around them. What I loved about the work and would always challenged, uh, teams that, that I was working with to do was look beyond just the, the core vertical or industry that you're working with. Look at adjacencies, look at the world around you to see how you can make connections there. So for me, people who are constantly looking and in touch with something other than what their main focus is to feed other ideas. Because I feel like when you look at innovation, and I, and I hate using that as a, as a term of something we should all be shooting for. But when you look at where true innovation comes from, in most cases, it's not from a, in my experience, in most cases, it's not from, you know, just making the thing that you're doing better right now. It's looking at bringing in some outside element in like where are the connections between the hotel industry and uh, and, and the auto industry where, where are or transportation I would say such a massive part of that. But you could even look at art too. You know, what's happening in culture. Those are all things that kind of come together and could compliment the work that you're doing there. Um, and in the financial services industry, like for me, you know, the home is the center of a lot of uh, a lot of joy. It's also a lot of anxiety. You went through that process recently of selling and buying and um, and I, you know, the time and energy spent there and the anxiety over making sure that everything got timed appropriately. You know, how do we look at, at other situations that are stressful and, and find solutions that might not exist within the current portfolio today. For me, that's where it gets really interesting connecting, connecting dots that you wouldn't necessarily put on the same page. So people who can think that way, look beyond kind of the, um, the path that they're on to consider the things that are adjacent or in some cases totally different. Like I, one of the ways I brainstorm is, is thinking about what should we absolutely not do or never do because that, that inspires in my brain, I'm thinking about, well, you know, why wouldn't we do that?

Tony: So you think it's pretty important to look at the arguments for the other side?

Greg: Yeah. And, and just, you know, the, uh, for me to be inspired to think about something, to understand why I'm doing it, understanding who I'm doing it for is critical. And I think we would all agree with that. And I think that's something, um, at Mr. Cooper today that we can be better about. It's one of the things that I've noticed is like precisely honing in on who we're trying to talk to, who are trying to address and in which moment while we're trying to do that. And I'm, I think that's an opportunity. We have to be a little sharper. But then what are, what are the factors around that and opportunities that exist to, um, to connect them to people, to value in ways that we wouldn't expect today.

Tony: So this is sort of uh tangential, but I think part of the problem a lot of designers have, especially working with companies that have more legacy type products, how can we avoid jumping to solutioning before we really clearly understand the problem? Especially if a client or the head of the organization already has the solution in front of you.

Greg: Yeah, I mean the businesses understand what they are trying to achieve. And I think, um, there's, and internally we're, you know, we have amazing talent on the product team. We've got some of the smartest people I've ever worked with. I've been very lucky. The past place, two places I've worked, you know, bottle rocket has had amazing talent and really smart people. Uh, and everything I've, I've seen everybody I've talked to since I've been at, at Mr Cooper's confirmed that like, brilliant people there that really care about the work they're doing and understand deeply kind of the business and the, the experience side of things, what they need to do from a, as a product group, but they're still kind of a, your point of legacy expectation that hey, the, we're in strict service of the business. One of the things I've, I've tried to talk about and in many cases we are, one of the things I've talked about though is that we don't just make things better. We make better things. So starting to educate the business on let's think about the opportunity and let's have conversations before you have a pain point you need solve. Let's, uh, let's look at the overall objectives you're trying to achieve to start thinking about how we might have an opportunity to do something fantastic. So we could, we can solve some, some pain and friction today. We could drive towards an objective or two. And that's going to happen. Like there are certain things that, that businesses need. Uh, and there are some very tactical things that you have to do on occasion and products, uh, have to reflect that. And so the roadmap is probably has plenty of things that, that aren't that sexy but that needs to be done and are going to be done. And so there is an executional part of some of that. But how do we, how do we inject some imagination and some design thinking earlier in the process so that we have an opportunity to do even more meaningful things for the business and the customer?

I, and you probably heard me say this when I was here, but, um, kind of my approach to design from the corporate world and from an agency perspective too, is that, you know, always trying to find the essential harmony between the business objectives, the brand vision and the customer desire. There are threads throughout all of those that, that, you know, we can address and provide value to all of those. If you're not delivering value to the business for their investment that they're making, um, there's no return on that for them, then they don't have a real reason to continue investing the brand, which is often seen, very similar to the business. And I've, I think you could make arguments either way, but I feel that the brand is really the, um, the essence of the relationship between the customer and the business. For me, what, what is their vision for what this relationship looks like going forward in the future? Most customers, while we talk about, oh, it's all about relationships. I don't think most customers think of, uh, their brands and their different services, uh, service providers that they work with as relationships that they have. They think of them in very transactional ways and occasionally it's different. Like, um, there, there are plenty of exceptions to that I guess. But I think there's a lot of Hubris in the marketing world about a customer's desire for relationships with brands. And I think customers want value and they want to be working with people that care about and for me the opportunity to um, to deliver that, you know, for the brand through the brand and a brand that has a vision for that. If you look at kind of our, uh, our culture, one of the three things that we talk about besides keeping the dream of home ownership a lot is we're, um, challengers of convention champions for our customers and cheerleaders for our team.

And I think, uh, it's a, it's three nice pillars that, that give us, um, something reflect on and drive towards the back to your original question, business brand and, and the customer. How do we, how are we driving to make sure that we're doing more than just kind of what's the legacy? Looking at things through those lenses and providing value across those, those three areas that I look at, uh, and driving something, um, something meaningful. I think our, our view is often what business wants this and the people want that. And I think it's really finding common ground for us to, to build on.

Tony: Time flies by when you're having fun. And I end on the same question on, on all of my interviews here and it's what non-digital object or thing that you own has the most meaning in your life or has impacted you the most?

Greg: Wow, that's a great question. Um, I'm trying to think of the things that always come back to, you know, I rarely get rid of books, but from that perspective it doesn't mean that there is valuable to me. There's, I attach an amazing amount of emotional value to inanimate objects, which is why my wife has certain that if the she dies before I do that, I'm going to be one of those people living with little trails in the house between all of the stacked up papers.

Tony: Oh you'll be a hoarder?

Greg: Yeah. I think that's in my nature. I'm trying to strip away things this year. I'm trying to simplify. Um, it's a weird thing and I, I don't use it as frequently as I used to. Uh, I would probably say, um, the guitar, I've had one since I was uh very young and I've had uh acoustic, the current acoustic that I have right now is probably 12 years old. Um, and I rarely play anymore, but there's still that attraction. It's the thing I'm going to come back to. It's a thing I'm going to play eventually. I used to, uh, to write songs uh bits and pieces so that I could always have something that I could work that out on as uh rudimentary, as my skills are. You know, I was talking to somebody the other day and the idea was I learned everything I know about guitar in the first six months. I haven't gotten better or any worse in the past 20, 30 years. So, uh, which is probably true, but, um, but for me, yeah, I think that's one thing that I always associate with. Uh, it's inspirational to me and it's a, it's just a nice, nice thing to have in your hands and working with it's--Kinda takes your brain office and the other things that you have to goin. So for me, um, that stripped down idea, uh, if I could just translate what I hear my head to the guitar that'd be fantastic.

Tony: You'd be great.

Greg: Yeah. So that's a great question, by the way.

Tony: Well, thank you. I really appreciate you coming out here. Taking time out of your day and shooting the shizzy.

Greg: That's what Saturday's are made for man.

Tony: They are.

Greg: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Tony: Until next time.

All right, friends, that's it for this week. Thank you again to Mr Greg Flory and if you'd like to reach out to the XD podcast, please do. I love chatting with you kind folks. So hit up Instagram or Facebook both are @xdpodcast As usual, you can find the full show notes and transcript of this and all episodes on our website, XDpodcast.com. And I can't wait to have you back next week, but until then, friends, stay curious.

This week's episode was written, produced, and edited by me. Tony Daussat. Hosting and publication of his podcast is through Buzzsprout.