Mayra Leen is the Chief Product Officer of LISA Insurtech, an insurtech that streamlines insurance claims with AI and automation. Mayra was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Mayra, how do you go about building processes that balance structure while maintaining creativity?
“Being in a startup, speed to market, speed of development and speed of implementation is super important. So, the question is, ‘What are you willing to sacrifice to get what you need in a given timeframe?’ To me, it’s a matter of balance, not creating process for the sake of process. You want a concrete reason before creating more structure to ensure you’re not unnecessarily slowing yourself down.
If I had to choose where to create more structure, I’d establish a concrete and clear process in the planning phases of a project or new feature. If you take your time and really do proper planning, that'll help you move faster later. Planning is about alignment; teams need to understand why they are doing what they are doing, what exactly they are solving for and, of course, creating a path to achieving the goal. With that, when the team begins to uncover the inevitable unknowns, face a new risk or have some unexpected hurdle, they have a north star to guide them - the vision for the feature, the root of the issue they are solving for or the goal for the project. Also, planning helps you develop those clear milestones or phases to manage progress, risks and changes.
As far as maintaining creativity, I think everyone is creative, but we only feel creative when we know we are doing something meaningful, impactful or beautiful. We tend to connect creativity with the person with a new idea or fresh look and feel, but problem solving is creative. When we have clarity of vision, we allow everyone to feel connected to a higher purpose and see how what they are doing is new and relevant and impactful. Creativity can exist within the structure and existence of process; they are not distinct from one another. There’s a great book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield that explains how the execution of an idea actually takes a lot of structure (as well as commitment and other characteristics). It’s a fun book; I highly recommend it.”
In what ways does a diverse culture inform and even enhance innovation?
“Innovation goes beyond creativity and thought. Innovation is bringing an idea to the market. Typically, one cannot do that alone. That’s why it’s a given to me that you need diversity for innovation; you need different perspectives, different skills, and you need people challenging each other to bring about the best outcome.
At LISA, we all come from different perspectives: personally, professionally and geographically. To me, that’s exactly what you need to not only build something great, but be able to sell it, improve it, expand it, iterate it, etc. All the great scientists, innovators and artists who brought something to life had to bounce it around with other people. That’s because we need a different perspective than our own but also enough trust and commonality in the other to build upon each other. It's the process of combining ideas with somebody else where you can begin to open new doors for innovation. I see it as a puzzle that comes together; you have to put a few pieces together, someone else adds their own pieces and only then can you start to see a full picture that then unlocks new doors of thought. It’s a never ending process. The puzzle or creation will never end.”
How do you make everyone feel like they're involved, but at the same time, prioritize the timely implementation of only a subset of product suggestions?
“It depends. If someone has an opinion about the direction or a decision that has already been made and hashed out, I don’t really have time for that. At that point, we’re executing, and we have to be aligned. Understanding what part of the process you’re in with the subject of the new idea will help. When in execution mode, a decision has been made, and re-thinking direction is time consuming and wasteful.
The second thing I look at is, ‘How thought out is this new idea?’ If it’s someone’s opinion or complaint or quick suggestion, it probably requires just as much thought in return. However, if someone took time to pull metrics, do research, sketch, experiment and put a proposal together, I’m much more likely to listen.
Now, for truly new ideas like something for an upcoming release, every product person must have a place for capturing ideas that is known and transparent to everyone. Question to ask: What is my process from going from idea to some sort of refinement, design, experimentation or testing? If it’s easy enough, maybe I skip some of those steps, and I can just test in production. Either way, have some sort of flow to visualize how new ideas are evaluated and what state current ideas are in. This helps people have a place to add new ideas and see whether it has been reviewed.”
How does diversity challenge internal communication and discourse?
“Let me say for those who might not know, LISA is extremely diverse, multilingual and in several different countries from a few different continents. One benefit is that we don't assume we are understood because we have different languages and cultural norms. Communication is challenging for anybody, so the diversity aspect gives us that benefit of being more conscious of communication than most organizations.
On the challenging side of things, sometimes we have to slow down to make sure that we are understanding each other. It's just something that we have to be dedicated and patient with. The benefits definitely outweigh the cons, though.”
On a macro level, when you have such diversity, how do you move forward as one unified team?
“I like to find a common denominator that’s true for everybody. Despite where they live, our native language, how we grew up and even what industry we come from, we all have something that brings us together. At LISA, we really like to have fun, we love connecting virtually, and we laugh a lot.
Another thing is acknowledging that we’re all human: we have families, and we’re looking for meaning. I like to make sure that everybody feels seen and heard. Knowing that at the end of the day, no matter how different we might be, we all want similar things and have come together for the vision that we have for this company.”