The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

Reimagining Thought Leadership: A Design Thinking and Visual Storytelling Approach

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As part of our Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in a conversation with Ali Ahmed on “Reimagining Thought Leadership: A Design Thinking and Visual Storytelling Approach.”

In the Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we explore the world of how independent thought leaders bring their ideas to scale within the business world and share powerful, thought-provoking insights with our listeners.

Our objective from this podcast series remains to educate senior-level marketers & thought leaders to help them solve some of the most quizzing marketing questions propping up right now.

This is an independent and self-sponsored series aimed towards enhancing the profiles & importance of thought leaders amongst CXOs.

Ali Ahmed is a visionary strategist and an exponentially creative leader with an innate ability to bring a team together, set the broad vision, and infuse a high degree of autonomy into work products.

In his professional and personal life, he has been always curious to know three things:

1. Why is “this” the way it is?

2. How do we make “this” better?

3. What’s next?

That kind of curiosity has led him to many different places: teaching young minds as a high school science teacher in Baltimore, supporting the redesign of digital infrastructure for Amtrak’s Customer Experience program, creating materials to address prepare for and deal with the most catastrophic disasters in FEMA’s Preparedness Division, figuring out the next big startup idea in an innovation lab, and his latest gig: crafting research to understand how older Americans will support themselves as they age as a member of the Workplace Thought Leadership team at Fidelity Investments.

Ali considers himself lucky to ask those 3 questions throughout his career, even if the “this” changes. The way he answers those questions usually comes down to three fundamental values: accessible human-centered design, data-driven problem solving, and compelling storytelling.

Join the conversation to access actionable advice shared in an incredibly insightful way.

Key Takeaways

  • How do you make thought leadership ideas accessible so that people understand them effectively?
  • Data on its own is just noise without narrative – and weak storytelling is why many thought leadership projects fail. How can you weave fact and evidence with storytelling to make sense of the data and answer the “so what?” in your thought leadership?
  • How can good data visualization change the way audiences experience thought leadership?
  • The very best thought leadership campaigns are built around the audience journey, and that means thinking about design from the start. How do you encourage and inculcate that approach across the organization?
  • How important it is for designers and marketers to work with thought leaders early in the process of design through to product launch to build the right relationships and ensure that products are seen in the right light?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Ali Ahmed

Andrew Newby: Hello everyone, my name is Andrew Newby, and I am hosting a series of iResearch Services podcasts, intended to educate senior-level marketers and thought leaders, as to how to address some of the more challenging and exciting issues facing them currently. Our topic today is a visual storytelling and design thinking and thought leadership. With that I’d like to welcome our guest expert. Ali Ahmed is Director of thought leadership at Fidelity Investments. And he’s based in Boston in the United States. In his professional and personal life Ali has been curious to know three things. Why is this “the way it is”? How do we make this better? And what’s next? That kind of curiosity has led early to many different places, teaching our minds as a high school science teacher in Baltimore, supporting the redesign of digital infrastructure for Amtrak’s Customer Experience Program, creating materials to address prepare for and deal with the most catastrophic disasters, and his work at the preparedness division of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency known as FEMA. Now his latest gig, crafting research to understand how older Americans will support themselves as they age as a member of the workforce, workplace thought leadership team at Fidelity Investments. Ali, thank you very much for sharing your time and your insights with our listeners. And welcome.

Ahmed Ali: Thanks Andrew, I appreciate your time here, too. Thanks.

Andrew Newby: Thank you. Ali, can you start by telling us a bit about your current role? And how that’s been informed by your previous very varied and fascinating professional roles? And perhaps relate to your own background?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, so I want like to start off to say, like I kind of stumbled into the role of thought leadership, I, honestly, when I’m very candid about this, I didn’t even know thought leadership was a thing 10 years ago, 5 years ago, but I think what was at least the way that it’s been formally crafted, but I do recognize and realize that, you know, I have an opportunity and responsibility to help inform the narrative of how people experience day to day things and really understand how do you make things better for people, regardless of whatever the experience may be, so I joined Fidelity a few years ago, and was part of their innovation lab. And one of the first projects I got to work on was with the annuities group. And something that I never expected to fall in love with was really the world of retirement and retirement income, considering I was like, Oh, this is gonna be several decades away. So why do I even factor it, but really, the way that I under stood it and really kind of fell in love with what I was working with is about curating or crafting, really opportunities for folks to create financial security for older Americans often considered, you know, one of the most vulnerable populations in the American public. So, I think that’s one of the things that like really made me understood that I have an opportunity to really help people live the lives that they want to do.

Andrew Newby: Sure, so you work with [inaudible] a discovery call for a record that you work with, actually quite a number of different people within workplace. So, the financial awareness side diversity, advisory role as a financial wellness role is a global component. That must have been very intimidating to you when you first joined.

Ahmed Ali: Absolutely, I think one of the things is that, you know, imposter syndrome is very, very real thing, and you step into it, and you’re like, Oh, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and then also expected to be that tall and that big in this space as well. So it is a little bit daunting. I think one thing that helps me ground like kind of my approach is one, I try to be as collaborative and open about what I don’t know and what I do know and make sure that I work out so we have folks across that I work with a fantastic team of thought leaders, and they are all aligned with different parts of the business, whether it be about financial wellness, whether it be a global component, whether it be about student debt, you name the product or service that Fidelity offers. We are, we have somebody aligned to it from a thought leadership component, but the team has been fantastic to work with. There’s like so many years and decades of experience on that team that you can just happen to say, Hey, this is new to me. And it may be new to the other person too, which is the whole point of the work that we’re trying to do. But through that kind of collaboration, it’s really, really fun and also, challenge.

Andrew Newby: I love the catchphrase you use when we were talking when you talked about having a sense of urgency, and have deep patience. And I’m to remind yourself of that over and over again. Can you elaborate because it bears on? What makes for quality thought leadership? And then you could just elaborate sort of how that?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, you know, I think one of the things is, yeah, my pleasure. I think one of the, this is also I think, broadly speaks to anybody that and I think a lot of the language skills are coming from start-ups, or whatever, like my start-up is here to change the world, or my thing is about revolution. Those things, they take time, and they take consistency. And I think that’s the point. But it doesn’t mean that like, Oh, I didn’t get a result within a week, or within a month. So therefore, let’s just pivot and try to do something else. You have to like attack it with whatever the problem that you’re trying to do. If you’re really trying to change millions of people’s like perspective, then you have to work at it, that it’s not something that is an easy, easy like thing to do or not something that’s straightforward, it often takes a long effort. So, one having the ability to balance to say like, change does take time, results aren’t overnight. That’s the patient’s component. But it doesn’t just because it takes a long time, there’s a long arc for success doesn’t mean that you should kind of be lacs about how you approach it. Every moment is fleeting, and we should be able to fulfil that with a level of, I don’t know, full intention, and really, really like methodical kind of preparation too.

Andrew Newby: So, I’m just taking a step back. It feels like we need to take a holistic view. And don’t lose sight of broad audiences of allies, enablers, or other stakeholders within an organization when you’re trying to frame a campaign or a product. Can you speak to that, please? Just about, I guess we call it the audience journey within an organization.

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, so bear with me here. So, I think there’s a couple of things to understand. When you’re crafting, any type of message is really important, essential to understand and empathize with your audience, right, they’re more than likely not to have the same kind of experience, or expertise with the thought leadership idea that you’re trying to convey. So, for me, it’s always important to have a beginner’s mindset. How would I explain this to a five year old, your mom, an alien, whoever your version of a novices is, is really what I try to drive at. However, I want to call out, it’s important not to speak down, or be condescending to your reader or to your audience member, because I’m pretty sure Andrew that you don’t like it when folks try to make you feel dumb. So, the same thing, we shouldn’t try to make the same thing happen here. The second part I would like try to argue is like, never assume that your reader has the luxury of time. Because they just don’t, and or you haven’t even earned that kind of time with that audience. And even if you think you’ve like, quote, unquote, earned it, that it’s fleeting, that’s not necessarily there, you can lose it at the drop of app. So brevity is a like a timely art. But your reader will appreciate it. So there’s like many things that are, you know, I can’t argue this, especially with the pandemic, and also just normal, everyday life, there’s so many things that compete for our attention today. So being quick, and straight to the point is not only effective, it’s necessary. So, and then the last thing I try to do is give people a call to action, something they need to do after they’ve interacted with the piece that you’ve written or you’ve created. Because, as I was mentioning, like, we’re not only you have so many things competing for our attention, we’re an information overload. It’s overwhelming. So if you’re going to share something with your reader, there’s got to be a reason why. So, you might want them to do something or change something. But being upfront with what you want folks to do with your idea and their newly learned knowledge empowers people to be a part of the change you want to lead with your ideas.

Andrew Newby: Does that, is that related also not just to your end audience but also to the people you work with and your broader stakeholders.

Ahmed Ali: Absolutely, you know.

Andrew Newby: So in terms of, okay, let’s start at the top line, what do you think? What are the pillars of good content? We talked about brevity. But yeah, what are the sort of broader pillars that we need to sort of bear in mind as marketers and designers?

Ahmed Ali: So it’s about approachability. So, the way I would probably say those three bullet points is really about approachability, accessibility, and then a call to action. Right? Is this work easy for me to understand? Is this work clear enough that I know what’s going on? Do I have a full context of what’s happening? And that do I need? Do I know what to do after I’ve read this piece? So, I think what I’ve always kind of learned is, is the piece strong enough to stand on its own without you there to explain it. And if that can be done, then you are like in a good standing of what’s going on. Too often, we may have to feel like you know, I’ve read pieces or academic papers, then refer me back to another piece. And I read back and I’m like, now pulled out 30 different pieces. And I’m like, wow, I don’t have time for this. I may have time for this. But I don’t want to create time for this. And I think that’s a disservice because there might have been a really valuable thing. The other part too is a lot of my reading and consuming is often done on my phone, I’m scrolling through with my thumb. And so that’s the other part about the accessibility and approachability piece. Too often thought leaders might say, hey, let’s create a giant white paper. And let’s write something there. The number of academic white papers that are unread is staggeringly high. And I think that’s, you don’t want to be in the business of creating shelf ware. We really want to say my time is valuable, so is yours. Here’s something that I see is urgent, do something about it. And now we have progress.

Andrew Newby: Yes, I think in the age where no one is traveling anymore, you know, the days when CXO’s could relax in their plane, you know, with a 40-page white paper, if they ever existed are long gone. So, from what you’re saying that content should be conversational. It’s not a one-way process. So it should be interactive, conversational, interactive, impactful, obviously, and this is where design comes in aesthetically pleasing. Just in terms of the mix between the data itself, and the story you’re telling, and the visual sort of any of those more important than the other, does it depend on the end message the call to action you’re seeking to achieve or what’s the rest of people’s the ultimate recipe? book?

Ahmed Ali: I love this question. Yeah, no, so I would say that this is, to me, it’s the call to action is the most important vital point of any piece. You really want to empower people to do something. So I kind of to want. But there, it’s the sum of the parts here, right? So, I want to say like, it’s pretty difficult, and I’m still practicing and learning on my own. Also, it’s, I don’t do this alone, I have a very, very talented team that I work with, who helped me with what I try to do. So, I want to say like, the way that I approach thought leadership is really to use data, visual storytelling, the storytelling is the key, and then the call to action. So, if I could break it down in a different approach, so I would say like, one of the things that how I start off with a lot of my pieces is I start big, I start really, really, really huge. And I collect a lot of stuff. And this is why it’s important, because I’m just like, I feel like I’m preparing for some unknown trivia game. And I’m just like, I’m just pulling in as much information. And I just don’t get in all the facts. I can and jump as much info as I can. And then I think one thing I want to call out is like, you got to set up a lot of time to do that to like, learn and consume and internalize it takes time. And then how many, All right, I’ve learned as much as I can, in this short amount of time that I’ve given myself. But let’s not boil the ocean here. Let’s figure out what’s the appropriate way to go about it. And I go back to the core of this, who am I creating this piece for and why am I creating this and starting with that audience in mind, right? So, I’m asking myself what they need to be informed. But what is the real bare minimum, the minimum viable product or minimal viable information that they need in order to do something? And that question often drives a lot of my, my process. And so, then I’m now Okay, I’ve got information, I now have intention back in my thing. Now it’s trying to figure out how do I start to think about translating that word. And so, the next part of the flow, it’s a drive the work down, almost like what a writer would do for a story down this narrative arc that I envision. So, I’m not sure if it makes any sense. But hopefully, you know, if there’s something you know, feel free to ask some questions. So my reader, the audience, is the protagonist, the hero of my story. And what they’re reading about is often the problem, it’s the antagonists, it’s the villain, it’s the person that’s causing you from having the happy ending that you really want. And I start by setting the scene by providing context of the problem I’m trying to convey. So that’s the exposition of my story. And so, one thing that I tried to present is like the data in a way that like really arrests, your intention, but still compels you to feel like, okay, I should continue reading, you have to build drama, you have to feel like how I was going, this is like your rising action toward your climax. So, like wild folks like love to hear about a great challenge, they love that kind of thing. They don’t want to hear about something, if there’s no winning sight that’s defeating, and you don’t want to like, hey, can’t do anything about it. And then people are really quick to check out. So, it’s important to empower your reading technologies, these challenges exist, but they can be overcome. So how that happens will come later in the piece. But there is some like, weaknesses in the villain right now the problem that you’re trying to present. So, after we try to showcase like how the problem has been initially highlighted, it’s we then also say, other folks have been doing this too. They’ve been trying to tackle the problem, and then talk about what’s been working, and how there’s like, they can jump on part of this component. And for a business reader, they’re like, Oh, my competitors are already doing this, I can’t be left behind. And so they are feeling a little bit of urgency in that sense. So then after you read about what’s the problem is what’s working and then stating that there’s still work to do. That’s when you introduce the call to action, inspiring that hero, the reader to jump into action, and to take charge on what’s happening next.

Andrew Newby: Do you amplify the size of the problem? Or the antagonist or the ugly monster? Whatever you choose to call it and then talk about how to attack that problem or antagonist or ugly monster is exaggeration or?

Ahmed Ali: Absolutely not. I think, you know, the last 15-16 months is that you don’t have to exaggerate any problem. I think you just look at the reality of the world, you’re like, Oh, man. Yeah, you know, your imagination often falls short for how bad some things can be for some folks in some community. So, I never do that I really have a data driven approach. And so, I do a try to do a multiple approach for this one. So, what I try to use as much public data as possible. So that may come from like think tanks, research institutions, from the American government and use their treasure trove of information there. The other part to see is and this is where I pull in data that comes often from Fidelity is what’s been working. So really, the data about talking about the magnitude of the problem comes from other sources, because I really, really am keen to say like, I’m not inventing issues here. I’m not inventing problems, and I’m not making things up. This data didn’t come from me, you can go check out the Federal government and the US Treasury, or you can check out the Census Bureau here. And they will report the same thing. Everyone has access to that. And I think that’s the accessibility part is that you don’t have to go through paywalls or firewalls or sign up through a login to find out how big the problem is. All my job was to surface it. And to say that this problem is not just a problem, it’s your problem. And now you have an opportunity because you’ve been informed to do something and we’ve been thinking about it for years, or for so many months or whatever it may be that you sign up with a product or service that we’re offering in order to tackle this problem.

Andrew Newby: Right. So, in terms of grating this sort of ideals of optimal bundle of characteristics. Just turning back to the professionals now that our audience would see executing this, I wonder what are your key messages is that design and marketing need to be working with a thought leaders? Right from the get go from the process of design, right through the product launch? So on a functional level, is that correct? Or can they come into the Midway? Or how does that work in terms of working with all stakeholders together?

Ahmed Ali: I love bringing people way before napkin sketches even in part of the mix. Right? Often, folks, I will say that, like my previous experience will, any designer may recognize this where they’re given a product and they’re like, Can you make it pop? Or can you make it pretty? No, like design has a responsibility be at the table way at the beginning of the conversation and not have to be forced into it. So, I often bring people in way early. And often the first conversation I have with, so one, I have a fantastic designer whom I work with, and like I adore the relationship we have because I can come in, because the first conversation is very messy and very abstract and like, hey, all this stuff, and it is very much a challenging thing to watch if you’re not part of that conversation, because it is ideas flowing all over the place. However, it’s about being able to bounce those ideas, figure out what makes sense. So, if I was the thought leader of just myself, I don’t have to worry about getting buy in from anybody else, or even caring about what other people think. But that’s not how people have this community or this profession, really understand if you want to be part of like influencing the narrative and provoking conversations you shouldn’t be creating alone. And so, bringing the storytellers that have different components of it, right? So, the way we’re going to go on this, if I’m gonna torture this metaphor about like narrative and writer, so it’s important to understand how your book, or your piece of writing or piece of literature is going to be consumed by the reader, is it going to be a hardcover? What is the title of the book? Like, what is the cover of the book look like? These are important in terms of like the holistic experience overall. So, I bring designers in way early on, marketers are also fantastic, because they understand how to reach audiences that I don’t recognize, and so they’re gonna be like, Hey, Ali, have you thought about this piece, or I would love to call out this. I think this would be a great way to, this app that you call here, this would be a great way to engage with in a sales meeting or for a conference. And I have like, I didn’t know that. That’s awesome. Let’s do that. And so, they just empower the number of channels that you can amplify, and also the effectiveness of going through those channels. So, there’s a long-winded answer to say that designers and marketers should be at the forefront of your conversation, and also consistently part of them. So too often we do a really good job of getting people all riled up about it. And then we just fall off the map. And we don’t communicate with them until, Oh, by the way, it’s going to be released in about a week. And the person is like, wait, what, what happened? I heard about it months ago. And now here it is. So, consistency is key, keeping those people in the process and letting them know what’s working, what’s not working, because they’re advisors for your work. And so, we should work with as many people as possible and that’s what I look at is like, who can be impacted by this work? And then I asked for feedback. Too often folks are polite by nature. And then they’re like, okay, that’s great. And then they, and then the meetings over and I really am like, deep delightfully, like, intrusive, and I ask, Well, what, what works for you here or what doesn’t work for you and I push for feedback. So, by default, my work gets better because now I found another audience member that’s now engaged into it. And then you create and curate a team of evangelists for your work. And that too often word of mouth is also the thing and so, a lot of my good work comes from, Oh, I heard that you are doing this. Can you tell me more and that is such a lovely feeling to hear is that you are being spoken about. Your work is being spoken about without you having to promote it. And that to me is like the spirit of the kind of work that we want to do and thought leadership.

Andrew Newby: So, you you’re getting people to understand your vision. To help you break the status [inaudible] within most large companies, certainly fidelity side, we’re not saying that in any way. So, you’re piggybacking might not only on their creativity from the start but you’re also not wasting effort by excluding people don’t buy into something they weren’t consulted on, as you said, they’ve been brought in last minute. And it there’s, it’s not coherent. And it’s there’s no buy in or little buying from people who don’t understand division. That correct someone?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, I actually, I’ll give you an example from my previous work, and I’ll tie it back in with what I’m doing. So, there was a, we were working at a project and we brought in somebody from the, that does information security, the IT security, the folks that concern about cyber-attacks, and we brought them in way early to the point where like, what are you doing? Why are you Why am I here? And why are you talking to me? And I’m like, Oh, this is what we’re building. And he’s like, okay, and he was so confused. He’s like, I’ve been at this company for like, 30 some odd years, and you’re the first person to ever asked me to come at the beginning, most people ask me to poke holes at the end of it after it’s already been created. And then we have to go back and revisit, How’s it? I know, I’ve seen that before. But I want to bring you here earlier on so we don’t have any holes on that could be, you know, cyber-attack threatens whatever threats for us. So like, let’s have you in mind at the beginning. So that to me was, that was enlightening is one he was also very, like, I’m he was so surprised, but also like, pleasantly, like, just happy to be part of the process way before, but it changes his demeanour, because he’s gonna have to fix this problem. Now, he’s creating something. Right. And so that was something that was really great. When I was working on a project recently, at fidelity, I reached out to like, 40 some odd people for just initial feedback. And I somebody told me, it’s like, Ali, what are you doing? Why are you like, this is nuts, this is crazy, you’re going to slow it on your stuff. And I was like, Well, you know, this is how I’ve always worked. But I’ve also budgeted into, like to get that much of feedback. So, when I move up the chain and move up to get more buy in to become more public facing. So, the other part to remember and recognizes that fidelity has millions of customers 30 million customers to be exact. And so, everything that goes out has to be vetted has to be really, really, because there’s people’s financial security at stake. So, we can’t be willy-nilly risky with that behaviour and just say, hey, put it on because we saw this mean, it has to be really data driven, and has to be, you know, battle tested, and also like, really important for them. So that’s the other part too is like the end result is that there’s a customer at the stake in this. And so, I need to do my due diligence, to make sure that whatever I present to that customer is worth their time. And too often we have this drive for urgency, which then, which is still very valid. But urgency doesn’t necessarily need to dilute kind of how valid that product is. Like just getting first to market doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to bring out a trash product. You should still work for urgency, but also bring out value.

Andrew Newby: In your experience. Is this short termism call it that the just need to get something out the door? Is that the main reason why organizations just produce say politely sub optimal content or other? What do you recognize as or think of sort of key basic failure points or bottlenecks in terms of effective thought leadership and design?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, I mean, possibly, I think part of it is losing sight of the customer at the centre of that conversation, right? So, it’s really being able to understand and then also communicate as much as possible. So, let’s say for example, it might be beneficial for to capture a, like an audience segment to say, Hey, here’s version 1.0, but version 2.0 will be coming out. And so, like really having an agile approach is not a bad thing. But too often, folks just focus on urgency or the release date as the only kind of metric and then they then evaluate customer metrics after the release date. And it’s really about understanding customer first and then how do those metrics are going to be measured up throughout first? so I think that’s when you lose sight of the customer. That’s what happens when suboptimal products overall.

Andrew Newby: I love them to bring up previous conversation that you talked about this heart metric that you have, you are as you say, you’re a voracious consumer of information, that you start to see patterns. But why can algorithm build it? Should topics mesh with the metrics necessarily, you know, if something isn’t trending on Google? Does that matter? Or does it depend on what your what the end goal is?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, you know, I think.

Andrew Newby: Everything is metric driven because he talked about being anchored in the status quo of the fuzzy metric. And why does this matter? Who cares?

Ahmed Ali: So, I think it’s, Yeah, you know, I think sometimes it’s this work, if you’re like, how do you start a conversation? Like, how do you measure that effectively? right, I think, you know, too often, we might get obsessed with metrics, like click through rate or by rates, or all those things, and sometimes thought leadership, asks you to be a little bit fuzzier around the way that it is. And so that’s okay. So, I think it’s being able to pull metrics where you can, because when you can, if you can measure it, then you can also move it and that’s a key component, the other component is being okay with some qualitative metrics as well. So, at the core of it, I try to look at this, like, quadruple bottom line approach, right? Is it good for business? Is it our customers wanting it? And then is it a viable? Like? Is this a money making, like endeavour for the technologically feasible, can we actually do it? And then that’s the ethics number. And that’s where the heart metric comes in is like, how do I feel about this work? Is this good for society? Is this something that we should be doing? Too often, I think that component may be lost. But there’s a new kind of, I don’t know, I think the pandemic has as one both exhausted and also deepened my senses of empathy, right? throughout the, it’s also just, it’s been a year and a half of paradoxes, where I can recognize like, how good I have it, and how it’s been a magnifying for being grateful for what I have, but then still saying, like, things suck, and things are, they’re not great. And how do I like bounce these things? And the same thing here too, is like, is this thing that I’m creating? Am I proud of it? I can also look at like those other parts. And that’s where the thought leadership I think component comes in is, if we’re asked to embody these ideas that we’re proud of us to provoke, how do we feel about it internally, and often I don’t co-sign or jump onto things that I don’t have a strong belief in. And so, I look at it through that kind of lens.

Andrew Newby: Do you, do ask the question, but it’s a statement that’s appropriate. You’re a great believer in experimentation. If I remember correctly, from our last conversation pilot programs, if you’re not quite sure, just put something out and see and see what it looks like? Does it get people comfortable with the risk of larger programs? Can you just speak to that for?

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, so too often, you folks get. They think when innovation is supposed to be the thing, that’s the new model for business strategy. And I think it’s important to be able to say, we, innovation is really about a multi-tier approach to try different kinds of things for a short period of time. One thing that you may learn is, you might be 10 years ahead of what you’re trying to do. And that’s okay, it might have to wait for maybe audience understanding or whatever. So, one thing that I have learned throughout my work is I will present ideas to like senior stakeholders, like, oh, somebody brought this up 10-15 years ago. And I’m like, Well, why is it not a thing? Because there was no audience for it. But now you find out there is an audience for maybe. Yeah, for the product that you’re trying to do. So that’s, I think it’s one testing to see like in a short burst, to say, like, Listen, it’s not all or nothing, it’s going to be over in six weeks. It’s okay. Like, if it didn’t work, then that’s fine. So right now, we’re doing a data kind of analytics product, and I’m like three weeks. That’s it. I’m, we’re not doing anything beyond three weeks. If we have outstanding questions, that’s good. That means that you want to learn more and want to continue it, but no more like that. To me. It’s success metric is that we start on time. And we end it and everything else, those are going to be just like kind of silver linings or golden linings to it. So, I think the time-based component is important and really getting folks to say, because moving out of your comfort zone is tough, moving out of like inertia is a thing. And so, if you’re going to ask people to change what they have spent so much time designing and doing, then just say that there’s just a tiny piece to it. And sometimes there’s that physical evidence or visceral evidence, or just like business credit data to say, hey, if you don’t like it, that’s okay. I just asked for like, here’s a time, just give me two weeks, three weeks, six weeks max. And then that’s it. That’s all I asked for. And then we’ll go back to everything the way that I was before.

Andrew Newby: Just tying this all together, and bearing in mind that a lot of the audience for this podcast will be marketers, and just trying to tie together what your I know, your three or four pieces of advice would be for marketers who want to enhance their thought leadership campaigns with design specifically?

Ahmed Ali: Yes, so I want to, this is a tough question. And I was

Andrew Newby: Sorry.

Ahmed Ali: No, it’s not that because the thing is that marketing often requires timelines and campaigning. And sometimes the work and thought leadership doesn’t necessarily line up thematically with scheduled releases with what’s going on. Because you really and I am a strong believer, I rather do the right work or assuming rather than do the right work, then rushed work. And so that’s what’s the component here. So, build a healthy amount of time to do this work, and be okay with not necessarily me aligning with like a product release or whatever. Just figuring out the timeline, I think is important. So, if you want to change the conversation, you have to do so mindfully and with like, great care. Second thing is work with as many people as you can, I know, folks will say, No, Ali, I’ve worked in group projects before, and they’re worse than when I was in school. And they continue that way. I promise you if you really, really want to, like move the needle with folks, you have to get your audience internally built up first before you even think about an external audience. And I think that’s the key about it. And then also stick with a working style. Consistency is what makes progress. So too often, I think, while I might be trying new things, I’m very consistent about how I approach it. Right, I say, here’s a pilot program. Let’s see how this goes. We’ll get evangelisation and then move forward. I build that working style up, so folks understand, okay, Ali is ridiculous in these 90 seconds, or in these 90 minutes. But I know that those 90 minutes are coming in, or I know that this is the next stage. So I’m very clear about like, what happens between the stages of my work can be up there and up for negotiation and their adventures. But the state itself, the working style of how I approach work is pretty consistent. So I build that kind of level of familiarity. The last thing, and I think this is just the lesson professionally and personally, is Be kind to yourself, this is hard work. And too often we may beat ourselves up because they’re like, Ah, I’m not getting this fast enough for nest egg a moment, take a breather, I do I don’t do this enough. And I’m probably saying advice for myself is like, Hey, take a moment, take it and understand if you want to make impact for a lot of people, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of reserve and character and so it is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to feel like this is stressful. But I look at it and say alright, I’ll come back when I feel a little bit more level headed and come and approach the work because that’s the value for someone that I want to do with this kind of work.

Andrew Newby: Oh, fun.

Ahmed Ali: Yeah, you should have fun. That’s exactly right. You definitely should have fun.

Andrew Newby: What’s the point otherwise? Ali. Ali Ahmed. Thank you so much for your time and insights. And you’ve been fascinating and love to get you on again. Thank you so much.

Ahmed Ali: Andrew, I would love that. Yeah. Thank you very much for the time I appreciate the conversation. So, thank you.

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