Q+A with Chris Finlay

Chris Finlay (MDes + MBA 2012) spends his time helping UnitedHealth Group create experiences that matter for the 90 million+ people it serves through its enterprise-wide Design Studio and Innovation Council. He co-teaches the Healthcare Innovation course at University of Minnesota's Carslon School of Public Health. He has been recognized for his work as a design thinker by Businessweek. Not only did Chris earn a master's degree at ID and a bachelor of fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, in true ID multidisciplinary fashion he also attended the Culinary Institute of America. Chris published his first book, Getting to Thank You, last year, and we got in touch to find out more about what this accomplished graduate has been up to.

What inspired you to write Getting to Thank You?

It was a long journey that began when I got to ID. Learning from Patrick Whitney, Larry Keeley, Jeremy Alexis, Chris Conley, and Vijay Kumar was wildly inspiring. Finding the language tobe understood and connect design and business around people’s needs and to learn frameworks that brought my ideas to life in new ways meant I couldn’t help but take notes on, well, everything.

At the same time, I also started to notice a gap between the more theoretical books and the more tool-focused ones. Getting to Thank You is a blend of the two. I wanted to provide readers with a set of theoretical and practical tools used by most professionals, most often, connected across a typical process—ultimately, to create a real practitioner’s guide to human-centered innovation.

What is the toughest thank you to get?

The toughest "thank you" to get is a deep one. It is the one that you often feel physically, and it can come in a few ways. It comes from using a product or service that seems so right for you that you could never have expected it and the joy it creates. It comes from someone doing something so generous that you could never have imagined it. It is magical.

You moved from consulting to working in-house at UnitedHealth Group. How has your approach to innovation adapted or stayed the same?

Truly understanding what collaboration means client-side was one of the biggest lessons. Recognizing that the type of collaboration that happens in a design workshop, or inside of an innovation consultancy, is different from everyday collaboration that happens on other peoples’ terms and across disciplines in an ongoing way. Recognizing that difference helped me create deeper relationships and empathy for my colleagues, and ultimately greater progress and success.

What from your experience at ID has had the most impact on your career?

The most important thing has been learning the language of human-centered design from the people who pioneered it. Adding my MBA on top of that was an incredible boost. There is not another school like ID, as far as I can tell. My time ID has made all the difference in my career.

What do you see making the biggest impact in healthcare in the near future? What are you most excited about in your current work?

I’m really excited by the fact that the future of healthcare is no longer just being invented by doctors and clinicians, but also by designers and behaviorists who are interested in empathizing and understanding people to create the best possible products and services. I'm excited that both groups are increasingly collaborating and appreciating what each has to offer in deeper ways. This is reshaping how innovation gets done in healthcare.