Ken Kocienda

How to ‘rethink different’

Ex-Apple engineer believes future service relies on digital lifestyle, trust, and relevance.

May 4, 2022

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How to ‘rethink different’

Thinking differently is more than just coming up with ideas, says Humane Product Architect Ken Kocienda. It takes many steps for ideas to be fully realized.

Kocienda, a former product engineer at Apple, saw how thinking differently leads to innovation and change while helping develop the first iPhone in the early 2000s.

He recalled that process Tuesday at the 2022 Co-op THINK Conference in Chicago, using the iPhone’s development to show conference attendees the journey toward “rethinking different.”

He believes credit unions can take the movement into the future by thinking differently, intersecting humanity and technology, and creating a superior product experience by knowing their members.

Kocienda believes the path to thinking differently starts with seven essential elements: inspiration, collaboration, craft, diligence, decisiveness, taste, and empathy.

“These are not written in stone. But for creative and technical work, this is a good set of elements,” Kocienda says. “They’re also a good tool for 360-degree analysis. When your project’s done, think about how these elements combined to produce the results that you want.”

Moving further down Kocienda’s path, the seven elements combine to form molecules, including:

  • Inspiration and decisiveness form focus.
  • Test and empathy form intuitiveness.
  • Inspiration and craft form inventiveness.
  • Craft and diligence form momentum.
  • Collaboration and decisiveness form guidance.

Kocienda saw these elements and molecules come together in an alchemy that led to the unveiling of the original iPhone in 2007, although the process started well before that.

“One day I was invited to a team where the goals were, ‘Let’s make a smartphone, let’s build it around a touchscreen, and we’ll need a whole new operating system,’” he says.

Kocienda says Apple co-founder Steve Jobs believed ideas are not the end, they’re the beginning. Once an idea forms, people must focus on it until they reach their goal.

The iPhone developers focused until Apple’s goal of creating a pocketable, multitouch computer came to fruition. Accomplishing that required making the iPhone’s use intuitive by testing things like the keyboard and ideal pixel size.

While the goals, elements, and tests may change, the path toward rethinking different looks familiar no matter the industry. Kocienda has three ideas for future alchemy:

  • The future is digital. “Digital lifestyles have less friction.” 
  • Trust. “People need to trust the services we offer. If they don’t, we can’t help them.”
  • Relevance. If organizations make products and services relevant, people will use them, he says.

Credit unions, for example, wrap a sense of goodness around their products and services, which is a great place to start when rethinking different, according to Kocienda.

“Make things useful and meaningful to people,” he says. “That’s why credit unions exist. Take empathy and put it at the center and make this master molecule where all the other elements are connected to it. Empathy can make the difference for a more digital, trustworthy, and relevant future.”