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Commonwealth Bank Innovation Lab

A wealth of experience

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia Innovation Lab has been involved with the Hatchery, providing mentorship advice to students, since its inception in 2014. Innovation Solutions Manager Steve Brown, says it’s not only the students who reap the benefits. The connection provides people like him, who have been working in the innovation space for some time, with the opportunity to keep a fresh mindset.

When mentoring students he provides them with practical examples of how he has approached particular problems at CBA using principles of human centred design. “The first step, I tell students, is to go out and start talking to people. Students are often reluctant at first to do that.”

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When he first started at the CBA Lab and was handed a project on life insurance, he thought, it could be, well, dull. “But it’s people who make it fascinating,” he says.

Most people are only too willing to have someone listen to their story. He tells Hatchery students about how have opened up to him about the loss of a loved one or the loss of all money and possessions. Having this empathetic understanding of customers is key to designing products and experiences that meet their needs.

Recently he worked with a group of students in the Hatchery who were trying to solve the problem of waste in the building industry. He told them, as he tells all students, to keep an open mind. “Don’t just speak to people in the construction industry,” he said. The students came to a point where they identified an opportunity to solve a problem, not for the building industry as first thought, but for the DIY market. “Don’t just speak to people in the DIY market,” he then told them. “Speak to people who aren’t doing it themselves, ask them why that is. If you get that market then you get more people doing DIY.”

The students travelled across town talking to people at CBD building sites and Bunnings’ sausage sizzles. They now have a very exciting journey ahead of them. This is because they left their preconceived notions about what they were trying to solve at the door. Much of the process of innovation, Brown says, is about realising you are not an expert in anything except the method. “Once you think about it like that, you leave your ego at the door.” Recently CBA invited a group of Hatchery students to take part in an in-house designathon to look at how customers save for retirement. The student group developed an idea for an app that was similar to a store loyalty card. Everyone was impressed by what they’d come up with but the resounding response was, “We have no idea how we could actually make it work.”

Students, Brown says, come to problems with no idea of the constraints and hurdles that all large organisations face when implementing something new. This is refreshing. This is something good. It can be all too easy to think that those hurdles are too hard to scale. “As much as I like to think I don’t do that, the students in the workshop really made me take stock and take some of my own advice.” Now that is a partnership in the true sense.