The last year has seen a much-needed focus in Australian politics and public discourse on disruption and innovation. Finally, we began moving away from talking about digging things out of the ground, and started taking a good look at the intelligence and innovation economy.
Tax credits for early stage startups, a focus on surviving from failure, and other measures (along with much of the general chatter) focused heavily on small businesses. Would-be pundits were conjuring up images in the public’s eye of a few hackers around a laptop striving to be the next Zuckerberg or Jobs.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the small. It’s inspiring, and it shows that (truthfully), anyone can turn a great idea into a huge business. These individuals or small teams can go on to create huge companies that create thousands of jobs, and change entire industries. But I believe we are missing a trick by only thinking about small companies when we talk about disruption and innovation. At best, we confuse ‘disruptive’ for ‘small’. At worst, we forget about a huge part of the market that can impact real change. It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow. We should be thinking about speed of innovation, not the size of the team creating it.
"It's not the big that eat the small, it's the fast that eat the slow"
We’ve seen businesses with engineering teams in the hundreds get outpaced by three people huddled around a computer in a cafe. However, we’ve also seen countless examples of large businesses producing real innovation, and that should not be ignored. There’s a lot of talk about fintech innovation, for example. And we’re involved in some of it — we’ve had several clients doing great things to change and improve financial services for businesses and consumers.
But what is the biggest innovation that has happened in all of fintech? If you think about it objectively — what has had the greatest positive impact on the world — you’d have to at least consider contactless payments. It is a seemingly simple invention that we have come to take for granted, but that saves every single one of us several minutes each week, hours in the year, and across the economies that have adopted this seemingly simple technology — countless hours of our lives.
MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave save you time every single day. You might not even realise it, but that is time that you have today that you didn’t have before this technology found its way to your wallet. And it came to us from two giant companies. That’s not even taking into account the time it saves the small business owners who don’t have to fiddle around with multiple terminals, pens and paper, receipts, just for you to pay for your coffee. I’m sure you didn’t think of it as some grand innovation — and probably didn’t put it in the same sexy bucket as the next hot fintech app.
But that is the best design — that which is invisible. It integrates into your life. But truly, this innovation has brought you more of the most valuable commodity you have — time — than anything else you have used in the last decade. And that innovation seems to have come from nowhere. No doubt there was immense effort in the background to get the technology ready, get it right and get it out there from Mastercard, Visa and the various other companies involved. But unlike computers or the web, which took years to catch up, it seems contactless payments was an overnight success in Australia.
"But that is the best design — that which is invisible."
That’s likely because of the attributes of large companies that we generally consider to be ‘bad’ — the policies, the bureaucracy and the sheer size of multi-national conglomerates. Yet it is those attributes that ensured Mastercard and Visa had the distribution, reach, relationships and the brand trust that made this innovation at all possible in the first place. This is just one example, but look around the room you are in. Think about the next ten products you interact with. Think about the next few services you use, and consider everyone (at businesses both big and small) working hard to make them better for you.
You’ll find the disruption and innovation that ultimately creates something that makes your life a little bit better doesn’t just come from early stage startups. It comes from companies of all sizes, and we need to ensure the discussion doesn’t ignore the big end of town.