Can you have a mortgage without interest?

The NPR podcast Planet Money (one of our team’s favorite listens) recently featured a story on Stephen Ranzini, who runs a community bank in Ann Arbor. Stephen’s bank had been given an award for serving the often under-served members of his community, but was confronted by a community member whose demographic needs were not being addressed by the bank.

As it turns out Stephen’s bank is located in part of the country with a huge Muslim population, and this community member said that Muslims are not supposed to pay or receive interest. Naturally, Stephen didn’t think it was possible to offer products, such as mortgages, without charging interest, but was intrigued by the challenge.

Stephen decided to take on the challenge and did his research as he tried to create a financial product that would be conform to his Muslim customer’s religious needs.

It turns out you can create a mortgage without interest. Well… sort of.

You’ll have to give it a listen to this great story from NPR to hear all the details.

Our product development philosophy

For our team, there’s an adrenaline rush that comes from making something new and sending it out into the world to have it impact the lives of our customers. We love building.

Below are a few of the ideals that drive our product development. Hopefully a few of these will help explain the method behind how we work.

Make something people love

It’s tempting to make a product that 100 people use and like (sort of!) instead of making a product that 10 people love. Our product decisions will help create fanatics.

Listen to what’s not being said

Anyone can ask what features should our product include. Then do all of those things and end up with bloated software. We spend time with users observing behavior beyond what is said.

Empathy first

We view every interaction as a way to gain empathy. We aren’t defensive about critical feedback, rather we use that as a way to deepen our empathy for those that use our product.

Learn fast

Each release of a new feature is meant to help us learn something about the world and those that use our product. We readily admit, that we don’t know everything right now.  On the contrary, learning quickly means that we accelerate our knowledge over time. This is the beginning, not the end.

Prioritize ruthlessly

One way to build bad software is to do everything suggested by every user. Beginning with empathy first, we can focus on the features that deliver the most value. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Focus on outcomes

We exist to help lenders become more successful. Currently, that means saving time chasing down paperwork. We never want to lose site of the end goal. Every feature, every release should help us move towards our end goal.

Productivity and the Digital Revolution

I just realized there are only 24 hours today and I will consume those hours in approximately the following way:

  • 7 Hours: Sleep
  • 1 Hours: Workout
  • 1 Hours: Get ready for the day
  • 2 Hours: Prepare and eat food
  • 3 Hours: Commute to and from work and attend client meetings
  • 2 Hours: Product demos with potential customers
  • 3 Hours: Catch up on email and phone calls
  • 1 Hours: Create this content
  • 2 Hours: Weekly team meeting and goal setting
  • 1 Hours: Attend a dinner meeting
  • 1 Hours: Maybe an a tv show before falling asleep

And yet after I get to the end of the day and still have a long list of outstanding items to do in my backlog. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way.

During my commute yesterday I listened to a podcast by Freakanomics in which the host, Stephen Dubner, interviews Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter, Faster, Better on the topic of productivity. Freakonomics had recently asked their listeners what they most wanted to improve about themselves, and the overwhelming majority of listeners responded that they would like to be more productive. Preach!

Productivity is everything. If we can become 10% faster at a task, then we have 10% more time to do things we would like to do, right? Well where is that 10% disappearing to?

Supposedly, we are experiencing a technological revolution which is supposed to increase our efficiency with each new app or desktop widget, yet we find ourselves having a harder and harder time keeping up with the demands of our busy schedules. So what is happening? Is this technological advancement not a revolution after all?

“There’s actually a big tension and a difference between efficiency and productivity.” Duhigg explains,  “There’s this debate about whether the digital revolution is really increasing productivity. And when economists and people with common sense take a step back, what they say is, ‘Look, it’s not about all these gadgets and apps; it’s about learning new ways to think about possibilities, new ways to think about our capacity for work.’ And when that really gets spread through the population, that’s when productivity really increases.”

So while we have been equipped with more applications and tools to increase efficiency, we need to rethink how best to use them and to what end, and thus increase overall productivity.

“Ah, but what are some deeper strategies for becoming productive?”, you may ask. Duhigg suggests the following strategies specifically for your workplace.

Motivation – We trigger self-motivation by making choices that make us feel in control. The act of asserting ourselves and taking control helps trigger the parts of our neurology where self-motivation resides.

Focus – We train ourselves how to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions by building mental models, which means that we essentially narrate to ourselves what’s going on as it goes on around us.

Goal Setting – Everyone actually needs two different kinds of goals. You need a stretch goal, which is like this big ambition, but then you have to pair that with a specific plan on how to get started tomorrow morning.

Decision Making – People who make the best decisions tend to think probabilistically. They envision multiple, often contradictory, futures and then try and figure out which one is more likely to occur.

Innovation – The most creative environments are ones that allow people to take clichés and mix them together in new ways. And the people who are best at this are known as innovation brokers. They’re people who have their feet in many different worlds and, as a result, they know which ideas can click together in a novel combination.

Absorbing Data – Sometimes the best way to learn is to make information harder to absorb. This is known in psychology as “disfluency.” The harder we have to work to understand an idea or to process a piece of data, the stickier it becomes in our brain.

Managing Others – The best managers put responsibility for solving a problem with the person who’s closest to that problem, because that’s how you tap into everyone’s unique expertise.

Teams – Who is on a team matters much, much less than how a team interacts

I would highly recommend you take 38 minutes to listen to the entire interview, as I found it extremely interesting. AND I bet you will find yourself with an extra 38 minutes throughout the day if you can apply his recommendations to your daily workflow.