Funding innovation: a penny for the thought you never had
A few years ago, my boss told me he had no intention of making any decisions around the things I kept bringing to him. So we are clear. He had no intention of making long term bets, spending money or transforming the business model.
So why am I here? I asked with barely suppressed incredulity, not that he actually thought this but that he openly told me what I already knew was true. We weren’t even keeping up pretences here.
You are my canary in the mine, he said.
Fat lot of good that’s gonna do you. I said.
Don’t underestimate yourself, he said.
Don’t overestimate yourself, I said.
It was high noon.
And I wasn’t trying to be a brat. Or at least no more than usual.
What I was saying is what I have firmly believed since way before that conversation.
Looking at what other people are doing in order to decide where to place your bets when it comes to digital transformation writ large is going to be as effective as looking at other people’s blood tests to determine your own state of health. And if you are doing it to spot the unicorns, by the time they look like unicorns, you are too late.
Your own journey is your own. It doesn’t happen unless you are on it.
A truism, perhaps.
But having seen banks and big financial institutions (FIs) try to take short cuts over the past ten years I feel it needs to be said: you cannot outsource this. You cannot send in the cavalry to fix this for you.
You cannot avoid the pain and discomfort of change no matter how many digital agencies and management consultancies you engage. There are no silver bullets, there are no generic answers and the only way for your organisation to make it to the other end of this road is to get on the road. Nobody can do it on your behalf.
A digital future entails moving away from your analogue present. All of you. The bits that can change and the bits that have to be ditched because they cannot change. And the angst of working out the difference.
No canary in the mine can do that for you. Or even remotely help.
A penny for the thought you never had
The transformation our industry is on is terrifying because it is sweeping and relentless. It’s been going on for ten years and it feels like it is only getting started. Noting is safe.
Systems, processes, products, definitions of value, stores of expertise. Everything is being questioned, challenged and redefined.
Everyone is looking around them to see where things will land, where others are pushing the boat out, where the new normal is emerging. Everyone is trying to keep calm, maintain a semblance of control, try and impose a bit of their own wishful thinking on the future. Everyone is hoping their canaries in the mine will tell them if someone is getting it more right than wrong so they can copy or buy. Or if they, themselves, are getting it exceptionally wrong. By comparison.
The problem is that comparative advantage makes little sense in a fluid constantly changing worlds, and the unique ideas that really propel the change tend to be too tied to the moment in time, the market niche, the capabilities of the bringer or the genius of a team that looks at the world and thinks thoughts that are not constrained by legacy, experience, ulterior motives and prior interests.
Discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought
I didn’t think that. A man called Albert von Szent-Györgyi did. But I wish I had thought it. Because it’s snappy, it’s clever and I agree.
The things that make you stand up and go “hey that’s cool, I wish I had thought of that myself” are:
- either spectacular in their simplicity – be it IFTT, natural language rules engines or the clean simplicity of businesses like Trade It, looking at the client job to be done and doing it with no drama and with full deployment of digital capabilities: the art of the recently possible at the service of the human, fancy that….
- or ideas that are staggering in their freshness. Stellar’s collateralised goat remaining my all time favourite example of what imagining a solution that is not bound to the way things used to be looks like. Stellar created a financial instrument that allows people to lend and borrow with no bank accounts involved by tokenising sources of wealth such as a collectively owned goat or future crops.
Tech, check. Problem, check. Solution, check.
Imagination bound up in knots by what used to be possible, normal and accepted? Not so much.
And that is the point, old boss of mine.
That is the point, banking boss, banking colleague, banking client.
That is the point.
The thought you and I can’t have because we are part of the machine that needs to change. We have to be part of the change itself, don’t get me wrong. We are the custodians of old, we know stuff and have skills that will make the journey safer, faster, less painful, more beneficial for all. Have no fear. There is a place for us.
But it is not that or architect. It is not that of canary either.
It is the place of acceptance that the most incredible things about this new world of ours are yet to be thought. The most incredible ideas are yet unborn.
And if they are thought by people who work with us for people who bank with us, then this journey may have a pretty awesome destination for us all.
So as we count the pennies of prior profitability, and fear for their future, we should pay them out, not to the endless parade of comforting PowerPoint peddlers. But to the thinkers of crazy new things, the people who look at the same world you and I look at and see a totally different one.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as 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!