Smashing Spotlight: Gilli Mizrahi, Associate Principal, Business Design

Ever wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Gilli Mizrahi, Associate Principal, Business Design, to talk shop, why she believes that the “Seattle Freeze” is only a myth perpetuated by locals, what ambitions she has for Smashing’s growing Business Design practice, and what digital trends she is excited to help our clients execute on in 2019. 

 

As innovation happens at the intersection of business, design and tech, we are forming a Business Design practice and you have joined Smashing to help build it. How do you foresee Smashing’s Business Design practice shaping up?

First of all, let me say that I am so excited to be here and even more excited to be part of defining the relatively new discipline of Business Design!

Across industries, companies are looking for new ways to create long term value for customers and shareholders. Companies are recognizing that traditional growth strategy methodologies are fairly restrictive and often don’t foster rich generative and differentiated thinking. On the flip side, companies are recognizing that newly designed products, services, and experiences only become valuable assets if they are viable from a business perspective.

Over time we will continue to learn about what our clients find valuable, which will inform how we shape our practice – whether that is helping them to build solutions that achieve key performance indicators, evaluating solution desirability and opportunity size across markets, or developing roadmaps to overcome key compliance and regulatory risks.

As knowledge of the discipline and the advantage it has over traditional growth strategy approaches is realized, our Business Design practice will continue to mature and grow. I hope to grow Smashing’s Business Design practice into an industry leader.

 

Business design is still a developing field and scarcely formalized, but is also hailed as a compelling solution in a time where markets quickly change and technological possibilities rapidly evolve. How do you explain its potential and how will Smashing’s strength in UX and design — coupled with business design — make a difference for our clients?

To me, business design means applying a user-centered approach to build profitable and sustainable solutions. Inherent in that definition is designing solutions with long-term growth in mind; products, experiences, and businesses that will stay relevant and profitable longer than just past the next X quarterly earnings calls. Let’s break that down:

First, leading with a user-centered approach allows us to get to the root of user pain points, behaviors, and aspirations, uncovering nuanced insights into what is competing for customers’ money and time. Through this approach, we often uncover that companies and industries never before considered competition are, in fact, competition when you break down the value proposition. Gaining this type of deep understanding gives us a unique purview into our clients’ adapting markets and gives us the tools to develop strong, sustainable solutions.

Second, a focus on sustainability (not to mention Smashing’s deep expertise in technology strategy) forces us to be constantly analyzing how various technologies will evolve over time. This arms us with a forward-thinking perspective when envisioning solutions with our clients.

 

You’ve recently moved from Chicago to Seattle. First off, welcome! Second, we’re curious as to what you’ve found surprising about the Pacific Northwest?

I’m very happy (and surprised) to say that I have not experienced the “Seattle freeze”; in fact, I’ve found everyone to be extremely warm and inviting. The lack of rain has also surprised me quite a bit. I’m nearly convinced that Seattleites are all in on the secret and have agreed to spread rumors about the rain to ward off outsiders.

 

At Smashing we are firm believers in Lean strategy, as it guards against the extremes of both rigid planning and unrestrained experimentation. How will you infuse lean strategy into the Business Design practice, and why is it important?  

Lean strategy is in my blood. Just like applying the agile methodology to software development and design, applying a flexible and iterative approach to business design and profitable growth strategy work allows us to make smart, practical recommendations while working hand-in-hand with our client partners. Not only does lean strategy add more value more quickly for our clients, but also it is key in creating more robust and sustainable solutions.

Lean strategy will be infused into Business Design in at least a couple of ways. First, it will inform how we design our project approaches. Our focus will be on providing clients with enough insight to be effective, without spending excess resources developing long research reports or highly detailed strategy decks that can be overwhelming and impractical. Armed with lean insights, we can be confident that we are directionally correct as we begin iterating through strategy and solution development. Also key will be to quickly validate crucial assumptions and assess critical risk areas prior to investing resources in strategy development in order to allow us to pivot early on, as needed.

Second, given my background in industrial engineering and management consulting, I am always focused on optimization and opportunities for waste reduction. I foresee that this passion will manifest into new ways of creating value for our clients via lean strategy.

 

As we start 2019, what trends are you seeing that will have the biggest impact on how businesses take on digital initiatives this year?

Across industries, companies are becoming more sophisticated at collecting and using customer data to enhance their business models and provide more personalized experiences. We are also seeing increased interest in monetizing aggregate customer data, but there are still lots of questions around what data should be captured and who finds it valuable for what purposes…not to mention concerns around data privacy and regulation. We’re also seeing some interesting solutions at the intersection of big data and machine learning, a la Spotify’s Discover Weekly recommendation models. Coming into 2019, I expect that we’ll be collaborating with our clients to address these strategic challenges.

Another major trend that has been evolving and maturing is systems thinking and design. As enterprises and industries digitally mature, we are seeing interest in developing holistic digital solutions and platforms driven by customer experience strategies, which are typically steered by business strategies. This type of work will require cross-organizational strategic planning, high levels of coordination, and robust roll-out plans.

 

It’s exciting for us as a company when new employees bring new energy and ideas to the table. What is a secret talent that we have yet to learn about you?

I am a trained Segway tour guide! As a University of Michigan engineering ambassador, we impressed donors and potential students by zooming around campus on Segways.

 

As you are actively building the Business Design team, what type of skillset are you looking to bring on? What mindset should a successful business designer at Smashing have?

What a great question! I am looking to grow the team with energetic problem-solvers who have experience developing and implementing transformative and sustainable solutions across a variety of industries. Future team members will likely come from a STEM or business background and will be both detail oriented and big picture thinkers.

A successful business designer will be excited about tackling complex problems, will thrive on creating structure when faced with ambiguity, and will have an entrepreneurial spirit. Last, but certainly not least, a successful business designer will have their eye on both the top and bottom line to drive profitable and viable solutions for our clients.

 

You’ve travelled the world extensively. From all the various places you’ve been, far and wide, where did you have your best meal (home doesn’t count) and what location took your breath away? 

Indonesia had some of the best food I’ve ever had, including lots of unique vegetarian options. My favorite meal was in the city of Jogjakarta on the island of Java. During my travels, I met a local who took me to a traditional restaurant where he ordered up all sorts of dishes served similar to tapas style. As is traditional, we sat on the floor at low tables and ate with our hands. Definitely an experience I’ll never forget!

New Zealand absolutely took my breath away. I’ve always described it as a place where you can stick your camera out the window and it’s impossible to take a picture that is anything but beautiful. The only populated place I’ve visited that felt minimally touched by human hands.

 

Speaking of travel, somehow you’ve found yourself stranded on a remote island, but have one piece of technology with you. Assuming you don’t have a phone to just call for help, what would the piece of technology be and why? 

Given my practical nature, I would pick something to help me get off the island. Assuming it’s cheating to pick a fuel or electric powered boat (since that technically includes multiple technologies), I would choose a personal locator beacon, which is a satellite-connected device that effectively acts as a wilderness “panic button”. Like I said, I’m practical.

 

What was your last truly smashing idea?

Taking a leap of faith and calculated risk to move out to Seattle and take the next step in my career with Smashing Ideas!

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