‘Embracing Discovery’ Is the Key to Innovation at OJO Labs

This product leader empowers her team to answer big-picture questions creatively.
Written by Alton Zenon III
June 3, 2021Updated: June 3, 2021

“How do we reach more consumers, faster?”

A question like that is daunting because there’s often no right or wrong answer. 
To find a solution that makes sense for OJO Labs, Product Director Christine Luo asks her team to tap into their imaginations.

“One of my responsibilities is to make sure our team continues to think big and looks at our problem space with fresh eyes,” Luo said. “I love the spirit of everyone bringing forward their own ideas, especially in how they interpret the core problem and question.”

OJO Lab’s problem space is real estate technology. The company provides an AI-enabled chatbot that offers potential homebuyers listings based on their preferences. Luo said a good idea for advancing the platform can come from anywhere, even outside the real estate industry. Finding those solutions only requires an open mind. It’s a philosophy that Luo calls “embracing discovery,” and she said it’s central to her leadership strategy. 

A key component of embracing discovery? Ensuring that every team member — as well as engineers and designers — are on the same page. To ensure alignment, Luo said context and transparency are key. When everyone understands the context behind goals for the company and individual teams, while also sharing information as they work, it makes for better solutions. 

“I help teams understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ with everything we’re doing, which inspires more creative thinking for ‘how’ we can achieve our goals,” Luo said.

OJO Labs team
ojo labs

What’s your overall leadership philosophy?

My overall leadership philosophy is to lead through context. I don’t like to keep my teams in the dark and I believe information should be freely disseminated, with some caveats like confidential information. When everybody has the same context on what our business is trying to achieve and our long-term strategy, they’re able to speak the same language and make quick decisions with all the right inputs. It also helps when different teams are coming together to discuss trade-offs because everybody knows what the ultimate north star is. 

 

What does “embrace discovery” mean to you? 

Embrace discovery means never uttering the words, “We’ve always done it this way” and being satisfied with that answer. As we’ve seen with the advances in tech in the last few decades, there are always better ways of doing something, and that same mentality should apply to our team as well. However, embracing discovery doesn’t always mean building a brand new innovation. It can mean looking to other adjacent industries that are trying to accomplish similar things and seeing if there are best practices that can be applied to what we’re trying to do.

Embracing discovery doesn’t always mean building a brand new innovation.”

 

How does this phrase apply to how your team advances OJO’s product? 

When you’re working on one of the core products for a company, it’s easy to only strive for incremental changes that you know won’t disrupt. However, that also tends to mean the impact will be small. One of my responsibilities is to make sure our team continues to think big and look at our problem space with fresh eyes. 

It’s hard to be “new” after solving the same problems over time, but there are ways to simulate that mindset by asking questions like, “If we tried to build a competing product, what would it look like and what would be the differentiating features?” Diverse ways of thinking encourage us to think about the problem space as a whole rather than focusing only on what we can change in our product right now.

 

What’s a recent project where you’ve seen ‘embrace discovery’ embodied?

Recently, our team has been focused on the core question, “How do we reach more consumers, faster?” It’s been great to see the myriad ways the team has thought about this problem. Some focus on the “how” and bring up ideas around ways we can integrate the systems we use so they’re more reliable. Others focus on the “more” and ask how we can apply data science to more customer interactions. Some focus on the “faster” and think of ways to make our algorithms more efficient. Other team members consider the question as a whole and ask how we can augment our existing technology with new mediums of reaching out, which has been really successful. 

 

How does the idea of transparency apply to your leadership style and the team overall?

To me, transparency means opening the circle and letting others in. It can apply to a number of aspects, like letting people know that you don’t know the answer and raising your hand for help. It can be having a visible calendar so others know what meetings are flexible, or writing out thought processes and decision-making in a doc that gets shared with everybody. Lately, our team has been transparent by recording meetings when we discuss information that will be important past tomorrow. This way, we’re able to make our meetings open to others. 

Our team has been transparent by recording meetings when we discuss information that will be important past tomorrow.”

 

Engineers and designers are said to be partners in the product world at OJO. What does this triumvirate look like in practice? 

Product, engineering and design are all core parts of a team and each one needs to have an equal say in order to make our work effective. Having a happy and productive partnership between them comes down to communication. 

I talk with my engineering counterparts every day. We built a solid foundation of business context but we add to that by sharing what we’ve learned in our respective meetings. We’re able to tackle our problems collaboratively from that position and bring our own areas of expertise to the table. We listen to each other’s ideas and concerns, weigh the pros and cons of our approaches and make informed decisions based on our inputs and external factors. From a product standpoint, the best leadership I can provide is letting engineering have an equal say and making sure that they know the “why” behind what we’re doing and “when” so that they can focus on the “how.”

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