Me, Myself, and My Data

By Lindsey Sampson

Recently, my work day took place in a large open classroom in the Stanford, filled with rolling whiteboards and colorful sticky notes. Students from across the university participated in the one-day class Me, Myself, and My Data, hosted by Fidelity Labs.

The goal of the class was to teach students how to make sense of both changes in how we view data and innovations from multiple industries to find what we call “signals,” indicators of technological and societal changes. Students drew conclusions from these signals and illustrated potential futures such signals might enable or create. These predictive exercises help us better anticipate the future needs of customers, so we can be where they want us to be, when they want us there.

The morning began as we expected – students brought in articles about everything from biometric monitoring devices to streaming TV ads and discussed them as a team. They then drew hypotheses about what other changes in society we might be likely to see based on these signals.

At one point during the morning exercises, the teaching team pulled a few hypotheses from teams’ boards as positive examples to provide to the rest of the class. When debriefing with students before lunch, one student raised her hand and offered a brave reflection — she noticed the teaching team wandering the room and quietly removing a few treasured sticky notes from her team’s board. Smack dab in the middle of impassioned conversations about privacy and transparency, especially targeted at corporations and institutions, she watched her work – her team’s thoughts and creations – wordlessly collected. To her, this was a moment of meta-awareness. Even in this class, her data was not her own.

This student’s revelation brought to light an interesting realization – we are living in the Wild West of data, and individuals feel at risk and vulnerable. In today’s world, transparency in when, how, and why data is collected is vital, and we all have an important role to play in making our customers feel safe and protected.

Personal data is quickly moving from a commodity to a crucial resource. Data breaches have become commonplace as data establishes itself as a resource that can be bought and sold. The phrase, “if you’re not the customer, you’re the product” has been echoed with increasing urgency since it was first coined in the 1970s, breeding mistrust and suspicion of services. When the world around you begins to feel like an episode of Black Mirror, it’s hard to know where to turn for trusted guidance.

As technological advancements change the world, it is important for us to understand how they affect our customers’ daily lives. Our products and experiences will best serve our customers if they address emotional as well as functional needs. By listening to people’s reactions and experiences, we can build better products for them.

The students finished off the workshop by brainstorming and creating storyboards illustrating their view of a future state inspired by the discussions of the day. These visions will no doubt help us in our ongoing research into products and services that will help our customers succeed in their financial goals. For the Fidelity Labs teaching team, it was an energizing reminder of the insight that can be gained outside of the walls of the office.