Updated: Feb 24
“The new Apple Card is boring, I can’t believe it’s not contactless” says the banker who has been working on an upgrade to their ten year old mobile banking platform for the last three and a half years, and it still will not offer any form of payment capabilities at all.
“I don’t understand why banks don’t just bite the bullet and close all of their branches and move everything to mobile already” says the fintech guru who has never worked in a financial institution or even been responsible for maintaining a profitable business in her life.
“The cores just need to build APIs into everything and open them up to everyone, it’s really not that hard.” says the bank technology director without a trace of irony, right after he cancels the monthly innovation committee meeting for the second month in a row because no one had anything to discuss.
I enjoy a spirited debate as much as the next person (and we try to have that weekly on the Breaking Banks podcast), and I almost always learn something from listening to different perspectives. The dialogue around fintech has swollen from nichey, nerdy conversations in a few cities to a worldwide daily discourse of epic proportions, thanks in part to social media. This is mostly a good thing, and I like that the conversation has spread so far beyond the handful of early adopters who were mostly talking with one another ten or fifteen years ago.
But I’ve also noticed a rise in staunchly-held and loudly-expressed opinions that are not always supported by a deep understanding of a broader view or sometimes even a trace of solid reasoning. I guess hot takes trump perspective and analysis.
Innovation Sports Talk
I have started to call it Innovation Sports Talk.
Surely you could run your favorite team better than those idiots in the front office. Just dial into the local sports talk radio station and share your ideas, no experience necessary.
“Tell you what I’d do, Mike. I’d trade two of our underperforming rookies for that internationally renowned superstar who plays for our arch-rivals.”
Besides the fact that no GM with an IQ higher than a bean burrito’s would ever even think about that trade, that superstar’s salary is nearly as much your team’s entire payroll and he’s locked in for 3 more years on a no-trade contract.
“They just aren’t hustling out there, Mike. Believe me, if I was their coach, they would pick up the pace or else they’ll be riding the bench. It’s as simple as that. <Honey, can you get me another beer and pass me the second stuffed crust pizza? I’m on the phone right now.>”
Like playing any sport, successful innovation is something that looks easy when you watch talented professionals do it from afar. You don’t see the arduous practice on boring fundamentals or the countless trial-and-error repetitions trying to perfect that one play. You take the high level of performance for granted, and you loudly declare that you would not have missed that 60 yard pass while running full speed and trying to avoid a violent crash with an onrushing defender in front of 80,000 people.
Unlike sports though, there are not always clear and definitive winners and losers in innovation. There is no universal scoreboard. There is no season championship to settle all boasts and bets once and for all.
What might seem like a boring and incremental announcement from the outside might actually be a brilliant tactical move to defend and extend a mature business that serves as a cash cow that can be used to fund new groundbreaking innovations.
And that splashy new invention that’s making all the fanboys and fangirls swoon right now might turn out to be an expensive paperweight that bankrupts a high-flying company.
It starts with understanding what you're trying to do. Are you trying to extend the line of your current results, are you trying to bend the line to a higher level of performance, or are you trying to transcend the line to a completely different level?
Read related: The Tyranny of Results
Get Off of the Sidelines and Into the Game
Still we like to watch and discuss and theorize. It’s fun to be an armchair pundit, we all have hot our own takes. But innovation is more than just a spectator sport and there are a lot of ways to win the game. The only sure way to lose is to sit on the sidelines.
Joe from Springfield, you’re on the air... ________________________________________________ The corporate and executive growth programs from the Alloy Labs Institute are the industry leaders in helping financial institutions build and leverage their innovative capacity to create competitive advantage and drive growth. We have taught these principles in boardrooms and classrooms around the world, including at leading graduate schools of banking. Unleash exponential growth potential, build internal innovation capacity to "unbreak the bank", and quickly forge ideas into results. You can also learn and apply some of our industry-leading tools and frameworks and learn best practices from peers on operationalizing innovation in our open (co)Lab sessions. Both are open to non-Alloy Labs member financial institutions.