Episode 2 Transcript – Interview with Jeff Chan

Anish:

Welcome to innovating your career presented by Ascend Canada. Ascend Canada’s vision is to have a diverse and inclusive Canada where Pan Asian talent can achieve its full potential. This Podcast series we provide listeners with innovation principles that are usually applied in a business context but can be repurposed to have applicability to your career. I am your host, Podcast enthusiast, Anish Patel. Today I’d like to welcome someone who based on his educational background and early work experience you’d expect to work in an analytics or IT role but has embraced the disciplines of innovation to pivot himself into the fast-paced world of marketing. We have Jeff Chan here today who is a Senior Manager of Consumer Trends and Marketing Innovation. Welcome Jeff! To start, can you tell us a little bit about your role and what consumer trends and marketing innovation means?

Jeff:

So, my job is about identifying the next expectation that you and I will have as a consumer and then once I identify what it is you want next, I try to connect the dots back to how we can solve an upcoming business need.

Anish:

Great, how do you go about bring it to life?

Jeff:

Well it depends on where you are. For me, I’m in financial services so innovation at the bank unfolds a little bit differently but the first thing you always have to do is you gotta figure out what problem it is you’re trying to solve for. Innovation without identifying the problem first is not innovation. If by chance you launch something, and it worked out it is likely a fluke that it was a success because it is not solving for an existing problem that the customer has. Also, depending on the company you’re in, there’s like little ‘i’ and big ‘I’ innovation and then there is launching small and going big, really big. There is nothing wrong with little ‘i’ or big ‘I’, going smaller or going large, it’s just understanding what is the risk appetite your company has. You just wanna get something in market as quickly as possible, learn from it, then iterate as quickly as possible. If it comes back as a good or bad result, and I used air quotes with the word “bad”, no result is bad, you just take what you’ve learned and apply it to the next thing.

Anish:

I think are listeners can attest, you know a thing or two about innovation. How’s we take a step back and learn about how you got to where you are?

Jeff:

So, my journey to this role definitely did not happen overnight, it was definitely not planned, because up until about three years ago jobs like these did not even exist. But I guess it all started in school, so my background is in computer science. I’ve always been pretty good at coding but about halfway through my co-op I realized I didn’t like this, I didn’t like what I was doing, it wasn’t fulfilling everything I wanted a career to be. I knew that in co-op and it’s probably something to do with me as a kid. As a kid, I loved drawing, even though I was a horrible drawer, but I loved making movies. It was a creative outlet, I love that stuff, I never got to do it in school and I decide to stick with the science program and then I started off as a data analyst at Dell which satisfied the science aspect of my job but is still didn’t tap into that true passion of mine as a kid which was the creative side and that’s where I thought marketing would come in. To me, marketing felt like a good balance between art and science especially digital marketing, as digital marketing everything’s measurable, everything’s quantifiable, I can tell most of the story just by looking at the numbers alone so that’s how I got into marketing. Actually, if it wasn’t for my science background I wouldn’t have been able to lean into that to develop the creative side of my personality at work and I would not have been able to get the job that I have today. It also helped me to grow beyond being an introverted type of person to be a more extroverted being willing to quote on quote, ‘put myself out there’ and ‘talk to people’ and ‘communicate’. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be here today doing this podcast with you. I’d still be at my desk doing my work, not willing to can talk to someone maybe because of fear that I have that I might miss up.

Anish:

Great context. You mentioned you were introverted earlier in your career; can you tell us a little about that?

Jeff:

Yeah, I think that might have been part of play upbringing and I’m not gonna be stereotypical but my upbringing was: my parents wanted to make sure I had a good education, do well at work but don’t boast about what you’re doing, don’t show out if you gonna get reward you will get rewarded don’t ask for it, just put your head down and do your work and good things will happen to you. And, one manager at my first job plucked me out of the data analyst pool and put me into marketing and it is because she saw something in me, she saw some the videos I did actually, online, this was pre-YouTube, thank God, but she saw some of the content I put online and said, there is something in you let me help you get into marketing and that was the first step in me becoming more extrovert. What really got me to break out of my shell was actually here at TD. I’ve been lucky enough to have the right leaders, come to me at the right time, to give me the right nudge, to say we need to help you unlock your full potential, which was amazing. So, I’m very happy, I’m very fortunate to have the right people in my solo system, help me grow as a person and as a professional.

Anish:

It’s great to note that you had a support system in place to help you overcome it.

Jeff:

Yeah and I didn’t ask for it, that’s the crazy thing. As an introvert I didn’t want to ask for help because I didn’t want to trouble anyone, but they came to me, and I’m so glad that they did. I don’t remember when it actually happened, but yeah that’s when I realized, I do need help and if it wasn’t for them, again, I would likely not be where I am today.

Anish:

So, Jeff you had the fortune of someone identifying talent in you, what would you tell our listeners who haven’t yet been able to be noticed?

Jeff:

Yes, it’s very true. I would say, don’t let fear stop you from.. I’m not gonna say the word bragging, but don’t let it stop you from showcasing your work, don’t assume people know what you’re doing. It’s OK to let people know, if you’re proud of the work that you’re doing, let people know about it. And, if in a meeting for an instance, now we’re doing to get very tactical, but one of the reasons why I was able to kind of break out of my shell was because a piece of advice that a leader had given me – it actually had to do with meetings. So, in meetings people invite me to meetings and I would sit in I would just listen passively I would listen, listen, listen, until someone asked me a question, Jeff what you think, or do you have an opinion on that, and then I would say something. When in fact I really wanted to be engaged, I want to be part of a conversation throughout the whole meeting, but I was too afraid and what kept me back was I didn’t want to sound dumb. I was too afraid to say something assuming that people would say, why did he ask that? And then, I realized there’s no such thing as a dumb question, you’ve heard that before, there’s no such thing as a dumb question plus, if you really think about, it if you’re in a work environment and you have to schedule a meeting, you’re only inviting people to that meeting you know can contribute to that meeting. This meant, whoever set up that meeting and invited me likely thought Jeff has something compelling to share in this group setting that the other people across table won’t have. When that piece of advice was shared with me, I realized wow that’s actually true, so that allowed me to be more comfortable in voicing whatever was in my head verbally out and people would say, ‘yeah that’s actually true’. Over time it became easier and easier and easier to today, if I see something, I’ll say it. Now I’ll rarely be quiet in a room.

Anish:

That’s awesome, it sounds like a great way to build your brand. We’ve now got a pretty good background on your journey, if we were to look at your career with an innovation lens we’re there any principles you either knowingly or unknowingly applied to help you along the way?

Jeff:

I would say yes and no, because technically in innovation, innovations all about iterating, you scope out a narrow use case, test it in market, out if it works out, that great, if not, you learn from it and move on. I would say whether I realized it or not, one of the guiding principles of innovation I used was to just explore the unknown. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, I took a shot. I calculated the risk, at the time the risk were very low. So, in a way that comes back to how in innovation you scope out what’s called an MVP, minimal level product, you scope out your first use case, validate its fairly low risk and tested in market. So, in a way that’s what I did when I jumped from being a data analyst to a web analyst, the risk was worth taking so I took it. Thank goodness it worked out and I kept going, and had it not worked out, it would have been OK as well, that’s the other thing, in the world that I get to be in, there’s no such thing as a as a ‘fail’. A ‘fall’ generates learning’s that I can be applied to the next project. So, in that first jump, if I made the jump and it didn’t work out it wouldn’t be a big deal to me, in my eyes I would just learn from it and then look for the next career path.

Anish:

If you had to boil up 3 principles that you want listeners to take away from this conversation what would those be?

Jeff:

So, I would say the first is pretend you’re the company. If you’re the company, don’t be afraid of change. If you believe it at a company level, and also as yourself, believe anything is possible. Don’t be afraid of change, you never know where lighting is going to strike. Secondly, I would also say, just because no one ever done it before doesn’t mean you can’t. And, third I would say chase your Passion, that’s the reason why I realize in my 3rd year that I didn’t want to program, it wasn’t tapping on my creative side and I chased my passion. I wanted a role that balanced art and science and for me digital marking was the answer for me, for you it could be something totally different. So, change your passions. This is even more true in the future as automation is coming in, it’s coming not to replace jobs. AI is coming in to automate tasks within jobs, so the entry level job that I had or that you may be gunning for in the near future, won’t exist in a couple of years. In the future, organizations will have positions that require us to really up our game. We really have to focus on what makes us human. On the flip side, you’re gonna be looking for the jobs that have no mundane tasks because those mundane tasks won’t exist anymore. You’re gonna be looking for positions that fulfill you as a person, and in turn the company’s going to have to prove to you that the job that they want you to take will be as fulfilling for you as it is for them. So, chase your passions, do what you really want to do because the jobs that I had or even Anish that you have today, they won’t exist in a couple of years. In the very near future, the future of work in general is going to be purpose, we are going to be looking for jobs that have purpose, that align to our values. So, the sooner you understand that the sooner you chase your passions, the more align you will be for the future.

Anish:

Great takeaways Jeff, great principles to keep up of mind. It’s unique to think about yourself as a company. About your career, how have you been able to apply those 3 principles in practice?

Jeff:

I would say, don’t be afraid of change goes right back to my first job. It took some convincing but if it wasn’t for that marketing manager, I had as a support system in place to get me comfortable with change, that was the first, actually it is probably the first step I took of being comfortable with change. Especially in the type of role I’m in with TD, I have to be comfortable with change otherwise I can’t help the bank innovate for the future. The second one I had talked about, just because no one’s ever done it before doesn’t mean you can’t, setting precedents, that’s a direct analog to what I’m doing today. Everything I do today for the bank is brand new, it’s gray, it’s probably part of who I am, I love operating in the unknown, I love charting a new path. Again, because no one’s ever done doesn’t mean I can’t do it. My final point about chasing your passion that goes back to university, when I actually had the guts to admit to myself, that I don’t want to do this. So, I would say just have the bravery to say I don’t like this, or I do like this and I want to chase it. So, I would say the three I just gave you: don’t be afraid of change just because no one’s ever done it before doesn’t mean it’s not possible, chasing your passion. All three don’t operate in isolation; they’re all part of the same thing. It has to be inside you and it all starts with not being afraid. The act of not being afraid allowed me to actually chase when I love. They actually all operate together, they are not independent. If I didn’t have all three together, I probably would not be where I am today. I would probably be down the current path of an analyst. I truly believe that all three work together, if one of them was missing, it would probably have changed my career path.

Anish:

Now that’s motivating. You’ve used the word ‘passion’ a few times today, it seems like a big driver that keeps you engaged and keeps you going; are their tips and tricks you can share with our listeners?

Jeff:

Don’t chase the job and don’t chase a job title, chase what you’ll learn from that job and does that learning align with their passions. If it’s a 9 to 5, if some people want 9 to 5, that’s totally fine. My philosophy is always about, ‘am I having fun and am I constantly learning’? If, one of those fall off, then I know it’s time for me to move on to something else.

Anish:

Great, appreciate you sharing your truth in relation to what fuels you, insightful context. Jeff, to wrap up I do want to ask, as you’re in innovation and being in that space you always have to be forward thinking, what advice could you give our listeners as they prepare for the future of work?

Jeff:

This is interesting, we keep hearing about the advances of artificial intelligence and all the automation that’s coming in. Well that’s already impacting the workforce today. We’re seeing in the future, which is already happening now, we are being hired for our soft skills. So, things like people management, creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity, dealing with people in general, are the skills that will keep you alive, very employable for the future. So, I would say just focus on what makes you human and you will be extremely employable going forward.

Anish:

Wow, a lot of gold in that last part, thank you for sharing. Jeff, this has been amazing, I do want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Any closing thoughts?

Jeff:

I accept PayPal for tips. I heard about Ascend two years ago and I just thought to myself, after I attended the conference in Toronto in October, I thought wow I wish this organization was in place when I first started my career. Who knows we’re I’d be had I had this type of support so I’m more than happy to always come back and have these discussions, whether it’s a podcast or connecting with me through Ten Thousand Coffees, I’m more than happy to pay it forward.

Anish:

I do want to thank you Jeff once again for taking the time to talk to us today. Hopefully our listeners have been able to get some great takeaways on applying concepts from innovating as a company to now innovating with your career. Jeff, is there anywhere our listeners can go to stay in contact with you?

Jeff:

Yep, you can always find me on LinkedIn, I’m pretty sure I’m the only Jeff Chan at TD.

Anish:

Okay, thank you everyone for joining today, this is your host signing off, stay well and keep innovation!