Rod Farmer - Better Future SPOTLIGHT

Updated: Aug 17

As has been the case for most of us, life has changed a lot in the past 18 months for McKinsey Design leader Rod Farmer. In this episode of the Better Future SPOTLIGHT, Rod joins Mark in a thoughtful conversation about mental health and illness, strong stories, the global maxima, systems design, customer transformation, social equity, fatherhood, family, and more. Rod is calm, intelligent and considerate, and possesses a phenomenal ability to look at the bigger picture and furthermore to find the language to articulate it. That is what a better future is all about.


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Quotes and Excerpts:

From Rod...

your life is dictated by the power of your own story, if you have a weak story about what you tell yourself and what you tell about yourself to others you have weak outcomes
all of a sudden we [as a family] can see the milky way again
if you're anorexic, it is 13 times more likely for you to commit suicide, if you are Torres Strait Islander or Aboriginal it is 28 more times likely for you to commit suicide, if you have borderline personality disorder it is 35 times more likely for you to commit suicide, if it's schizophrenia it's getting towards being 40 times more likely to commit suicide
these [complex mental illnesses] are issues that can fundamentally disenfranchise an individual and by consequence disenfranchise entire communities
One of the things i have referred to during COVID times that mental health is our fourth wave, our hidden wave... this is the next big wave of pandemic trauma
when we are looking at human traumas there are very big parallels with social and environmental traumas... awareness, understanding, support, care, and connection between these elements
there is a clarity about the big vision that people need to collectively understand and feel a part of
are we trying to follow the shortest path between two points or are we actually trying to follow an unclear, yet to be defined, hard to solve pathway?
people tend to solve for a local maxima rather than a global maxima
traditional business problem solving has been driven by the shortest path between a and b... but when we talk about things like climate change, mental health, feeding the next 9 billion, these are complex problems, innately NP-hard problems, you cannot solve them using a hypothesis-driven approach...
when the domain of the issue isn't known, you need an approach that is multidisciplinary, creative, iterative in nature... that is the sort of problem-solving mindset we need for global maxima
if you want to create real change you have to disconnect the short line that connects a & b and encourage people to create mindsets of problem solving that allow you to explore and be creative around different possibilities and release the idea of a single solution
The three archetypes around the idea of customer transformation are, firstly: are you working in a customer and design-centric manner to optimise your existing business for margin? Secondly, it is about how you are trying to leapfrog your competitor by working customer back... the third element, which is very interesting and very risky, is how do we disrupt ourselves and disrupt the industry?
Disrupting ourselves and disrupting the industry is about saying 'well why don't we just throw away the placemat altogether?' and challenge the foundations about what we think the placemat could and should be
There are too many point As to Bs in the system... you have to adopt a new model and ask 'well how do I fundamentally reinvent the system?'. These are the three things. This is how you redesign the entire system for a new world.
Based on the US and Australian National surveys, 15% of all children under 12 have considered suicide
a good portion of our society are at a great disadvantage and the rest of us could be doing a lot more to assist... there are so many things that are ailing our society that we need to be addressing
there is always going to be a tendency for humanity to preference good things over bad things... if we can easily maximise our gains and minimise our pains then that is what we'll do
one of the things I fundamentally believe in, in the work that I do, is asking 'am I really having an impact?'. Not doing good design, great design, or interesting design, but impactful design.
what does it actually mean to be a better father? To be there, to listen, to be attentive, to actually be there in the moment, to take a real interest in their development, to be there enough to recognise things [about them]
is design thinking as a paradigm a blocker and prohibitor, rather than a curer and accelerator?
what design thinking has done to its credit and also now to its detriment, is it has commoditised design... this can sometimes blunt the intent of the design that is required

From Mark...

I look at all my friends who are parents and I think the more time you spend loving your children the better the future will be
time has changed for us and priorities have changed for us in the last 15 months in a way that is almost like flipping our lives upside down
Doing things to reduce is the start of a better future... we need to work out how we can reduce before we can think about eradication
we spend so much time educating people on the status quo, when you offer someone a status different or status next it isn't intuitive... that to me is one of the most interesting challenges, taking people from a fixed mindset and getting them into a growth or change mindset
if we don't address those things [that comprise social equity] we cannot get to a better future... equity is such a key factor for the continued growth for our society because when people are under pressure they will not make the better decision, they will make the easiest available decision
we cannot imagine a better future if we have 99 problems and the future ain't one
we cannot participate in a strong economy, a sustainable environment and social equity if we already so impaired by our own problems
the sheer thinking around the sentiment that we will let you play with design thinking but we won't actually let you design anything needs solving