Thought Leadership
Wed Apr 13 2022

The Brain Trust(s) at Bright

How we use Brain Trusts to build Consumer Technology.

 “Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

Ed Catmull, Pixar Executive

Consumers are impulsive. They do not have patience and they do not have time. Importantly, they have standards. You have but a brief moment to get it 110% correct. Else you have lost them.

The excitement of building a scalable and global consumer technology company is that you have to crack a hundred interesting problems. Some you have to crack exceptionally well so they deliver your core reason-for-being as a product; and some you have to crack well enough so they do not sink you.

This could be in Product Design, Brand Design, Marketing, Technology Platforms for Scale, Customer Success Management, Data Science Modelling, Human Organization or elsewhere. 

Strategy is paramount in all these areas. One wrong judgment and a project can fail.

How do we ensure that - as a growing company - we continue to make exceptional and well-judged strategic decisions, across our functions.

We are inspired by Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. How they implemented the concept of the ‘Brain Trust’ for the ambitious, radical and path-breaking animated stories that came from Pixar Studios in the late 1990s and beyond (see Creativity Inc).

The most poignant example:

Just weeks before the movie Frozen was due to release, the Pixar “Brain Trust” watched the movie:

They said no. 

They halted it completely. 

They wiped the whole project to rebuild. Wow.

The film was not working. Characters, design, animation was at the right quality. But the story was not powerful. It was not distinctive. 

At the cliff edge, they had the courage to say “hell no, not happening”, turn around and embark on another year of development before Frozen’s subsequent release.

And the result, well, we all know well. To quote the New York Yorker:

Frozen has earned $1.2 billion worldwide, becoming the fifth highest-grossing film of all time and by far the highest-grossing animation. That’s not to mention two Academy Awards, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a soundtrack that’s garnered more than a million album sales and seven million Spotify streams, official YouTube video views in the hundreds of millions, and a DVD that became Amazon’s best-selling children’s film of all time based on advance orders alone.


What is a Brain Trust?

A Brain Trust is a group of individual thinking beings - trustees - who come together to chart the best possible strategic decisions for a company. Our 5 principles:

        1. Every trustee comes to be a thinking and creative being.

        2. Every trustee comes to the table to participate, as equal contributors. It is non-hierarchical. It is anti-HIPPO.

        3. Brain Trusts need both the creatively strong and the discerningly strong, but the key is that everyone comes to the table willing to play both roles, bringing ideas and judgment:

  •  This is not an adversarial environment of two sides in a face-off. No one joins to be the smart-ass devil’s advocate.

       4. Everyone is a do-er. Willing to get their hands dirty and contribute once a path is laid.

  • “Consultants” are intellectually weak because they do not understand the do-ing. Strategy is useless without delivery. We must own the outcome to success.

       5. Brain Trusts exist to be freaking radical and to seek the alchemical. Trustees appreciate this one paradox of business strategy:

GOOD strategy is 80% logical, but GREAT strategy is just 20% logic.

So, where do we practice Brain Trusts today at Bright? 

  1. Business strategy
  2. Product strategy
  3. Product design
  4. Monetization and revenue
  5. Creative + proposition
  6. The credit business
  7. People and organization

Note the trustees can be different members across Trusts. In fact, they must be because different skills meet the criteria for different Trusts.

Where we are building new Trusts:

  1. Technology strategy
  2. Data science advances
  3. Customer success and experience
  4. Operations scale–up

Finally, some practical advice to make a Trust matter:

  • Brain Trusts start small: 3 is enough. They grow only as the culture is set, admitting new trustees who truly qualify for the problem area at hand, not uninformed passengers.
  • At its max, we believe it should be 4-7 people but not more. No one is just taking a back-seat without ownership. Everybody is a do-er, and an owner.
  • Trustees have mutual respect so people are able to challenge one another, without feeling offense. It is an environment focused on the right answer - the best possible answer - not the ‘HIPPO’ answer.
  • Brain Trusts bring data and evidence to the max, and also appreciate the need for good judgment when data is unavailable.
  • Judgment also benefits from a collective and aligned judgment, of all trustees, even if this means we agree to try a path to learn, where no one can be sure of the outcome.
  • The best trusts are also able to peacefully defer to some members in times of considered judgment, recognizing that some have more hone intuition in particular fields.
  • If a Brain Trust does not inspire boldness that pushes boundaries – divergent thinking and outrageous belief (at least once every 2 weeks!) – it is defunct and unfit. Reset.

A Brain Trust exists to chart 

bold, dynamic, considered strategy…

else go home.

Bright builds a life beyond debt.

Bright is a super app that crushes your debt. Our products include Balance Transfers for Credit Card Debt, Credit Score Boosters, Smart Financial Plans. and Automated Savings and Investments. We are the highest ranked app out there for helping thousands get debt-free every day. We're a consumer FinTech company, and we're experts in Data Science technology, with a team of 200+ Bright-Ones across the US, Europe and India.

Avi Patchava
CEO (joint) at Bright Money
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