The view from your desk: imagining a future without you in it
The view from your desk is compelling.
It is so solid.
Your days, spent in its vicinity. The meetings, the calls, the printouts and paper jams, the post its and stray paperclips you never use but are always there. The disappearing stapler. The topography of departmental divisions. The loud sales guy in an open plan office and the team that seems to always have birthday cake on their bank of desks. The toss-up between sitting next to marketing (endless boxes of collateral all over the place but, hey, branded freebies) or finance (quiet, but no freebies, and they are sticklers for a clean desk policy).
Feudalism and the sharing economies of neighbourliness. Endless discussions over desk allocations and who should move where and get what.
This is not a piece about facilities management.
But it is a piece about the influence of what you see over what you can imagine.
The view from nowhere
The organisation you work in is huge. Profitable. Solid.
It has complex structures and infrastructures. Scores of employees and even more policies. Changing anything is a pain and it involves jumping through hoops that are man-made, internal. They have everything to do with how we used to do things and almost nothing to do with externalities. Placating risk and compliance, following the SARF or change request processes and producing reams of paper for internal control and audit.
The reasons why things don’t get done are almost entirely self-referential and can be boiled down to “we don’t have a department for that, we don’t have a room for that, we don’t have a system for that”, whatever that is. Looking around me, from my desk, I don’t see a home for that. And I see a million obstacles to creating one.
But what if my starting point was not my desk?
Transformation is not a hobby.
It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses.
It’s about survival.
The world doesn’t give a second thought to what you have, what you like and what is comfortable. The things that change your industry and steal your margin, your dominance or a march on you altogether are the things you were not prepared for, the things you didn’t anticipate, looking out from your desk.
The truth is, sitting in the bank, it’s impossible to imagine a world where getting sign-off from compliance is not a step in the process. Meanwhile the world moves on with no regard for your processes and the solidity of your walls.
The best digital solutions didn’t solve for the needs of a pre-existing organisation. They applied the art of the possible to customer desirability with a profitability angle. That simple.
And the view from nowhere says: whatever marries technological possibility with something that is needed or coveted will a business make. Because it will deserve a business. Your desk may have to move.
Here, there and everywhere
Not spooking executives has become a default instinct among innovation, transformation and digitisation folks. We keep translating the world. Taking the vast expanse of economic, scientific and technological activity and translating it into something accessible and digestible. We take the world and boil it down to something that could be plausibly viewed from a desk within the bank. Fabricating narratives of relevance to create urgency but, in the process, creating assumptions about starting points (me), guaranteed positions in the race (here) and likelihood of success (what do I choose to do next).
But the truth is you may not get to choose a damn thing.
The world moves at its own pace no matter what you do inside the four walls of your very solid building. No matter how doubtful your executives. No matter how meticulous your risk criteria.
The world moves on. And while your management are hoping the disruption will pass them by, it may be the world that passes them by instead. And your translation activity is not doing them any favours. Because it gives them the impression that they are part of the story whatever happens. That what they may suffer is a diminishing effect. Some frustration. Some bruising. Some concessions.
By making their desk the vantage point where the conversation starts, we (I am as guilty as the rest of us in this space) gave them the false impression of guaranteed participation and continued relevance.
Ask not what this can do for you
The truth is, there are no guarantees. The world is changing and with it our collective ability to imagine different ways of doing things and organising life. From a regulatory perspective, a practical perspective and, of course, a commercial perspective. In this changing world, anything that is technically possible, commercially viable and blessed by the regulator goes. Your processes be damned.
So the question is not how do you navigate disruption.
The question is not which trends are useful, which wave to catch, which startup to partner with, which emergent tech to back.
You have it all wrong.
You are not in the driving seat here. And, unless you are only planning for the next five years, you are asking the wrong question.
It is no longer about: I am here, there is some stuff there, what do I dodge and what do I pick for the next stage of this game that I am guaranteed a seat at?
The question is, in this changing world of possibility and newly coalescing value generation relationships, what is there I can meaningfully do: with credibility, reliability, capability and a little soul, that clients (current or future) would want to buy? What does the world need that I can provide?
No more, what can the world give me, but what can I give the world.
You are not guaranteed a living.
Hell, you are not even guaranteed survival.
The view from your desk is compelling. All this stuff. All this activity. All these people. All this money. Surely it’s solid enough for you to feel confident. You have choices to make. You are in control.
But choose wisely. The game has changed. Your starting point is only that. A starting point. It won’t vanish but it may fade, if you don’t do the right things and ask the right questions. And to do that, to play the new game with any chance of winning, stop asking what does this do for me? And start asking what can I do that the new economy needs? What can I do better than others for customers that know better and expect better?
Start on this path and see where it takes you.
You may find the view from your desk starts feeling way too restrictive. And not a little irrelevant.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!