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Megan Fath, CDO at Deloitte Digital

By Megan Fath (MDes 2003)

June 6, 2023

Megan Fath speaking at commencement
ID Alum Speaks to Graduates About the Challenges of Human-Centered Design

ID alum Megan Fath (MDes 2003) was our 2023 Commencement Speaker. As the US Chief Design Officer at Deloitte Digital, she works alongside many of the world’s most creative thinkers and makers to elevate the role of design while encouraging deep collaboration.

Following is the transcript and video of her speech.

Congratulations, class of 2023.

Today it is my great privilege to welcome you to the distinguished community of ID alum. Now your peers and your creative accomplices, we are thrilled to bring you into our fold. We will sponge your big brilliant minds and look to you to challenge us as we navigate and forge this next frontier of design together. In this alum community, you will find a diverse set of leaders who like you shaped their own paths and navigated different evolutions of human-centered design and technology disruption (my talk would be amiss if I didn’t mention AI once). In my own time since graduating from ID, I have gotten to know this community as fellow alumni, peers and colleagues, faculty members, mentors, recruiters, and advisors. Though a community spanning many eras, we all share a similar ethos and the same set of guiding principles imparted here at ID.

Look around this room. See where you are sitting. See who is around you. This is exactly where I was twenty years ago. We are directly connected, my friends.

And I’d be shortsighted not to also welcome the loved ones of our graduating class present here and those watching remotely. You too have been part of a long-standing community—those who have given endless encouragement and support. And now you too join another group—those parents, partners and loved ones that wonder what, indeed this strange career path is ahead. If it is any comfort, my parents are still puzzled about why I fly about the globe to draw pictures.

Now back to our amazing Class of 2023. Candidly, I am here on a mission. I have come to recruit you as human-led leaders. Before I selfishly become besieged by resumes, this is an opportunity beyond Deloitte alone. This is an open role call much more broadly. Every organization—Fortune 500, start-up, non-profit, government agency—needs more human-led leaders. I have not made it a secret that my agenda at Deloitte is to place more human-led, creative mindsets in C-suite-level positions. Why? There is not a moment more ready or prime.

Look around us—we need to solve big, complex problems with humanity. Logic will only get us so far in this next evolution. As I heard a high-profile CMO say recently, there is no turning back from empathetic leadership.

Watch Megan Fath’s commencement address.

And this starts with you. Before I detail the job description, which I imagine you all are exhausted by reading by now… rest assured you already have many of the qualifications and qualities.

As you set out you will find being human-led is so much more than launching a great product. Yet all of the skills are applicable—it is simply looking at them in a new context. Yes, ID will change how you see the world and lead. You have acquired more than a toolbox for solving problems through products. Frameworks, analytical tools, and research methods exercise the foundational muscle that will make you an exceptional human-led leader. Not a day goes by that I don’t put the very foundation of what I learned here to work in unexpected ways. It will sneak up on you.

And so, I give you three qualifications you already have and three challenges. Who doesn’t love a 3 by 3 framework? And I am sure someone will be capturing this in a more elegant diagram by the time I wrap.

So, three qualifications. These have already been imparted here in these very halls. 1: understand behaviors, 2: navigate ambiguity, and 3: reframe the problem.

1. Understand behaviors

In this moment to truly solve the problems of humanity, we should aspire to encourage people to lean into behaviors that are beneficial to them and to society. And not just in digital products. We understand behaviors and peoples’ motivations… so how can we guide friends and peers and all those around us to see and seize the opportunity and look for the ways to act positively for the world.

2. Navigate ambiguity

Every project here had a certain degree of unknown. Even the decision to come here required a leap of faith (and buy-in from your loved ones). Truthfully, the ambiguity doesn’t diminish. It increases exponentially—navigating the unknown element in career progressions, team pivots, and acquisitions to name a few. You will have moments your team will come to you for answers that you don’t have. And yet you do know how to help them lean into the promise of the fuzzy tomorrow. ID prepared me for one of the most ambiguous moments of my own personal life. In late March of 2020, I walked on my own into NYU Hospital, 38 weeks pregnant to deliver a baby in the worst week of the pandemic. The entire medical team and I were in uncharted waters—so much was unknown about Covid at the time. And yes, in one moment of the labor experience when faced with a hard choice, I did ask for a whiteboard. So yes, the lessons here creep up in your most vulnerable and unexpected moments.

3. Look at problems differently

The last qualification I have to offer in my unofficial job description—is your ability to reframe or look at problems differently. I will warn you that your loved ones will find this quality annoying and not as endearing as we want to believe. And yet it will be your superpower in every team, board or conference room.

These are just three of many qualifications for human-led leadership that you have already acquired here. Each of these seems so natural to the way we approach creating a new product or service. And yet they are wider-reaching skills than projects. They are the jumpstarts to great leadership.

And now for the three challenges—1: Embrace divergence, 2: Recognize our privilege, and 3: Lean into the Journey.

1. Seek divergence in your inner circle

We have often talked about the exponential impact of bringing in teams of human-centered designers. And so the assumption is that to succeed we need to seek out fellow advocates of human-centricity—a person similar in mindset and ethos as our own. In my own career journey, my best allies and advocates are those that come not from these programs but from business and engineering schools. Candidly, I would not be the Chief Design Officer without two people in my Deloitte inner circle. They have never attended a design class. And we have learned so much from one another by embracing the differences in our collective backgrounds. Four years ago, I shared my daunting aspirations to be at a partner level at the firm with a creative background—at that time only a number you could literally count on one hand. And my desire to become a single mother by choice. At the same time. And just this summer, then, raising that aspiration even higher to be the second-only Chief Design Officer and then the first woman to hold that position at Deloitte. Both times, they wrapped their arms around my wild aspirations and helped me chart the course. So, celebrate the treasure that is the diversity of thinking. Draw in people that think differently. You will help them achieve wild ambitions. And vice versa.

2. Recognize our privilege

To be a human-led leader, we need to consider lived experiences beyond our own. Coming to this amazing graduate program is an absolute privilege not afforded to all. Giving your microphone to others is very different from being their voice. Never before has it been so needed and evident that we need to give opportunities to others that would not otherwise. We will solve the most difficult challenges in this next evolution only if we diversify who can make decisions.

3. Lean into the journey

Lastly, and this is my hardest learned and still in-progress challenge: Being a human-led leader is relentless. It simply doesn’t take a break. Yes, the rewards are tremendous in the type of impact you will have. Yet truthfully, it is a constant high bar that you and others hold you up. Tomorrow, you will not wake up as a human-led leader. My third challenge is to lean into the journey. It is an evolution. Finding an authentic, vulnerable you will take a while. So be kind to yourself and others. Forgive your stumbles and others. Honestly, I almost scrapped this talk altogether as a recent interaction called into question my own self-view as an authentic leader. He was absolutely right that I could have been better in that moment. Yet one interaction doesn’t subtract all my other efforts. Learn from these moments. Being a true human-led leader is to own your mistakes. It sounds reductive, but be human in your efforts to lead humanly.

Yes, these three challenges are not solved overnight. Each is a process of iteration, collaboration, reflection, and stumbles. And yet this very program has given you all of the tools, frameworks, and approaches that will need to tackle them.

In closing, bring back to look deeply at the work on those walls upstairs… they will give you a glimpse of the big heart, toned brain muscle, and attuned ears of our future design-led leaders. Thank you Anijo for the kind invite today. I could not be more proud to welcome these human-led leaders to set out and disrupt the typical norms. We will be a better world for it.