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.