Think It Through: How Leaders at 4 Chicago Companies Foster Creative Thinking

July 31, 2019

Every new work project, big or small, is another opportunity to generate a fresh win for your company. 

But with each impactful project comes the challenge of deciding how to approach the task at hand. We spoke to leaders at four Chicago tech companies — tackling everything from expense management to treating cancer — to learn about their current projects as well as how they foster imagination among teams.

 

Tempus team laughing in conference room
image via tempus

Tempus helps physicians craft custom treatment plans for their cancer patients through its clinical data and molecular analytics platform. Vice President of Product Eric Singley said his team is working on a number of impactful projects that will create benefits for both patients and team members. 

 

What are the most significant tech projects your team is working on this year?

We are working on a number of initiatives, the first of which is our expansion into new therapeutic areas. Through our combination of clinical and genomic data, we’ve been able to help oncologists identify treatment options tailored to their patients. We believe we can use this same approach in other disease areas, with depression as our next area of focus.

Another major initiative is around data security and data integrity. Our stores of clinical and molecular data are vast. So, we devote massive amounts of our engineering energy toward ensuring this data is secure,  high quality, and can be easily used by our teams for their analytics and data products. 

Finally, we’re significantly expanding a feature of our clinical reports that we call “Insights.” Insights are derived from our data to empower physicians with real world evidence to drive treatment decisions. They display and interpret data that either confirms, contradicts, informs, or is novel in the context of diagnostic, prognostic or therapeutic practice.

With a full appreciation for the ‘why’ behind a problem, a product team’s creativity can be unlocked.”

 

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects, and what new technologies are you eyeing for the future?

One skill I encourage all product managers and designers on my team to cultivate is to always be asking ‘why?’ With a full appreciation for the why behind a problem, a product team’s creativity can be unlocked such that they can solve the problem in a novel way. This constant questioning and desire to understand the essence of the problem is particularly important here. So, we try to build understanding, empathy and trust with the people we’re working with such that we can ensure we’re having the greatest impact possible.

I’m fascinated by what’s happening at the intersection of computer vision, machine learning and AI. From a consumer tech perspective, this has meant incredible improvements in things like searching though one’s photo collection for something specific. In the healthcare space, this can mean things like using scanned imagery for predictive diagnostics in a number of disease areas.

 

Moda Operandi - stock image of diverse coworkers collaborating
image via shutterstock

Fashion discovery platform Moda Operandi presents shoppers with wares from clothing companies all over the world. Chief Product Officer Akshat Thanawala said the local team in Chicago, which was built to foster great collaboration, is working to make the international platform even more useful for the brands it works with.

 

What are the most significant tech projects your team is working on this year?

The Chicago team is doing work that’s instrumental in shaping the future of Moda’s platform — most notably, improving and reimagining our core inventory platform and experience. The team’s goal is to make it easy for Moda’s catalog of over 1,000 brands to grow their business with us, which requires building warehousing solutions and tools that make managing and selling inventory seamless. 

The team’s goal is to make it easy for Moda’s catalog of over 1,000 brands to grow their business with us.”

 

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects?

We believe teams produce their best work when they’re focused and fully integrated together, so we subscribe to a squad mentality here. We’ve seen first-hand how squads can promote trust among teams and give people the freedom to innovate and be bold in their problem-solving. 

 

Neighborhoods.com team sitting in their office
image via neighborhoods.com

Senior Engineer Collin Bourdage, of the online real estate marketplace Neighborhoods.com, said his team is working to make the platform more seamless for users. He said he encourages his team to think without boundaries so that they can come up with great ideas and better collaborate.

 

What are the most significant tech projects your team is working on this year?

We have been spending a lot of time tackling one of the bigger browser bottlenecks of delivering code to an end user: download and execution time. Currently, we are looking at code generation, simplification, and dependency deprecation in order to eliminate code from our applications. Additionally, we are rolling out improvements to asynchronously load code based on user behavior and device dimensions. 

Another exciting project in the pipeline for the second half of the year focuses on internal process and documentation so we can bridge the product gap across the company. The goal is to improve how we as an organization collaborate and share brand details, and the solutions we are working on will effectively engage team members more efficiently. 

I’ve found the best results come from exploration and experimentation.”

 

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects, and what new technologies are you eyeing for the future?

Many ideas are generated as a team; we collaborate on them as a whole, from their inception to implementation and delivery. As a team lead, one of my roles is to provide support and ask questions. We have a great support system in place, and I guide when needed, but I’ve found the best results come from exploration and experimentation.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to break down our applications into smaller groups and explore web workers that might improve performance and implement caching strategies.

 

Two Bento for Business staff working on a computer
image via bento for business

Vice President of Engineering Jonathan Su at Bento for Business, an expense management platform for businesses, said there are a number of crucial projects in the company’s pipeline right now. Recently, his team launched a new product intended to provide additional payment services to its client base. 

 

What are the most significant tech projects your team is working on this year?

While individuals have long enjoyed simple peer-to-peer payments, businesses haven’t — 80 percent of all small to mid-sized businesses still write paper checks. We set out to solve this problem and released Bento Pay this summer. Bento Pay is a B2B payment solution that enables our users to send digital payments to any payee using just the payee’s email address. 

Along with Bento Pay, we have also completely revamped our user experience, launched virtual cards, and continued to scale up our infrastructure to meet the fast growing demands of our customers. And we’ve got many more product announcements to come this fall.

We are consistently engaging customers, industry experts and influencers to shape our product strategies.” 

 

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects? 

We encourage our team to collaborate, focus on the customer, work across boundaries and embrace a spirit of fast fail. We aim to deliver the highest value solutions with the most robust, secure system that exceeds the needs of our customers. We leverage a wide variety of tools to ensure open dialog and robust debate between teams — regardless of location. And we are consistently engaging customers, industry experts and influencers to shape our product strategies. 

 

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