Updated: Feb 24
Does any of this sound familiar?
Business is pretty good, but not great if you’re being honest. You’ve implemented some new ideas, but the competition always seems to be moving faster and raising the bar even higher. You have a new idea that could take your business to the next level, but it’s quite different from what you’ve done in the past, so it’s been hard to get consensus from the leadership team on how to move forward. Besides innumerable hallway sidebars and countless emails and phone calls, you’ve had three formal meetings with detailed presentations. At the last one, the decision was to have yet another meeting, and invite the risk and legal team.
As we regularly evangelize to the executives we work with, the answers you need to win are not in your conference rooms or in your forecast models. The answers are outside your four walls, and you need an urgent focus on finding the latent needs and pain points of your customers and prospects in order to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
The best course of action is rarely having another internal meeting.
Get Out of the Starting Blocks Quickly
The first word in our FIRE™️ (Fast Iterative Responsive Experiments) framework is fast because one of the most important outcomes of the process is shortening the gap between ideas and results. The sooner you can get a new product in the hands of users, the sooner you can accelerate growth and make life harder for your competition.
Just as getting out of the starting blocks quickly is the key to victory for sprinters, the key to driving growth is shortening the gap between talk and action.
There is generally a positive correlation between risk and return, so it should not surprise us that an emphasis on perceived low-risk activities has resulted in a commoditized competitive landscape where the primary differentiators have been pricing and an often vague idea of “service” or “relationships”. This is exactly the kind of environment ripe for external disruption from new entrants, as we have seen over the past decade and a half.
Breaking this pattern to find new areas of growth means straying from the well-worn paths of the competition. Pursuit of new avenues of growth means trying new things, and differentiating yourself from the competition means doing things others are not doing. Understandably, that can feel scary and risky to bankers who have come up in an era where their primary source of revenue is net interest income, and being right 99% of the time on lending decisions is a primary driver of success.
The natural reaction to internal proposals for new ideas is to slow down and think things through. This is not wrong, but too often it leads to ‘paralysis by analysis’. Teams confronted with uncertainty too often default to “let’s have another meeting” instead of deciding the best way to test the uncertainty quickly and cheaply.
This is not to suggest you should rush ahead carelessly and ignore potential risks. What’s critical is that you consider rewards along with the risks, and that you scale your risk management controls commensurate with the risks you're actually taking at each stage rather than starting with everything that could possibly go wrong at every stage.
Action>Talk: Here’s What To Do Instead
Make sure everyone agrees what problem you’re trying to solve and at least a general idea of what success looks like (you can always refine it later as you get more data). If you can’t articulate the reward, people will naturally focus on minimizing the perceived risks, which approach infinity in the abstract).
Decide the biggest unknowns and assumptions you need to test. Pro Tip: The biggest risks in new ideas are rarely about technical feasibility, they are generally about solving a problem people care about in a way they will actually use. Save the detailed technical analysis and vendor due diligence until after you’re clear that you’ve clearly defined the problem and have tested potential solutions from the end users’ perspective.
Frame a series of simple experiments to test the most important of those questions and any big assumptions that you’re making. The key is making sure you’re testing the most important things first and not testing too many things at once. If customers don’t care enough about the problem to use your solution, you probably don’t need to test the technical integration yet.
Practice what we call Agile Risk Management, which is all about scoping and scaling the risk management appropriately to the level of each stage of the experiment. If you’re testing customer desirability with a lightweight prototype, you may not need to worry about cybersecurity or data security yet. Test that later.
Don’t forget to consider the risks of doing nothing or delaying action for too long. Your competition won’t wait for you, and neither will your customers.
As the old saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Get out of the conference room and start taking some small bites.
________________________________________________ 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.