Nov 11, 2019
Summary: Guest Ben Hammersley speaks on his take on how you need to be present today, so you can be future ready for tomorrow.
Amy Lombardo: 00:14 Hello and welcome to COMMERCE NOW, your source for FinTech conversations and emerging trends. Today, I have the unique pleasure of talking with Ben Hammersley. He's a globe Trotter and an author an adventure seeker, and he has the most wicked handlebar mustache you've ever seen. And today he's going to give us his take on how you need to be present now so you can be future ready. Sounds easy. Right? Well wrong. Let's get Ben's thoughts. So, Hey, welcome...
Ben Hammersley: 00:56 Thank you. Such a pleasure to be on COMMERCE NOW.
Amy Lombardo: Oh good. Thank you for that plug. All right, so I'm not gonna be able to do you justice. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ben Hammersley: So I'm one of those annoying people that disappointed my parents over the past 20 years by not having a job, they can describe, I'm currently a futurist or is a strategic foresight person. So I run a company called Hammersley futures, and we work with corporations and with governments and some high net worth individuals to sort of help them understand the future and specifically to help them understand innovation and the methodologies behind innovation. And that has come from 10 years of doing that. But, before that I was a technology journalist and I edited wired magazine in the UK and I was a war correspondent in Afghanistan and I've done many, many things. I run a digital studio making digital things for couture houses and luxury brands. And so I have this very strange background, which has come together into this one thing which is helping people understand the nature of innovation.
Amy Lombardo: 01:57 Okay. And, and what inspires you about your work? How, did this whole being of Ben Hammersley come together?
Ben Hammersley: 02:06 I think what inspires me is sort of two fold. There's this, there's the selfish reason, which is that it enables me to be increasingly eclectic and, and taking lessons and taking influences from, from lots of different things, which is very selfish because I'm, you know, I'm fundamentally sort of unemployable and the regular day job or you know, I'm, how would you put it neuro atypical. And so, so being, having a career where I can travel a lot and taking a lot of input and then synthesize it into something else is a great privileged but also the slightly wider thing. I think the thing that really inspires me over the past couple of years is that I think we've come to a set of methodologies and an approach to our work, which is genuinely helpful for people are at as sort of a holistic level. It's helpful for them in a business point of view, but it's also, I think it's genuinely helpful for them sort of personally and that sort of pastoral care aspect to it. If that's slightly weird way of putting it. Yeah,
Amy Lombardo: 03:13 no, that's a unique identifier. Yeah.
Ben Hammersley: 03:16 Is actually is very satisfying because, because I get a lot of people coming to me immediately after I get off stage routes out of a meeting or comes to me six months later and say that thing, that approach really changed the way that that I think and it's made my life or my business or you know, whatever it is that they're particularly interested in has made it better. And that's, that's incredibly satisfying. So that's, so I get to, I get to go away and be weird, which is, which is helpful and I, and I get to help people, which is great.
Amy Lombardo: 03:47 All right, so we're at a banking conference here. Intersect 2020. So can you give me some examples of areas you think banks are missing the boat? You know, opportunities that they can be capitalizing on.
Ben Hammersley: 04:08 So I, I think actually that question really highlights the difference between my approach and, and other futurists or other technologists approaches to these things, which is that I don't think there is a boat as it were or a collection of, of large boats that people are missing or not missing. It's very easy and I am very typical of the sorts of conferences and not just banking conferences but any, any industry conference to say, ah, you know, if you are not paying attention to, you know, subject X or if you're not paying attention to new technology Y then you are than you are falling behind and you're missing the boat as you say. And that's almost universally bullshit to be honest. In the vast majority of those conferences. And the vast majority of those subjects very specifically are things which are overblown and misunderstood and probably aren't at least right now relevant to the, to the individuals in the audience.
Ben Hammersley: 05:12 So instead of thinking about the world as in terms of innovation boats that you can get on or not, and if you don't get on them, then you're going to be left behind to continue the imagery. Instead, what I try and teach people is to, is to look at the boat and see if it's something that is suitable for their business in the context of their business. Okay. So another way of looking at this is that the vast majority of futurism that I do, where I, in terms of when people ask me directly, you know, what are the new technologies that we should be paying attention to? Almost all of those technologies aren't things that don't exist yet. They're technologies which do exist and are being used a lot, but they're being used in another place. Okay. And so in a lot of industries you can be very, very innovative literally just by being up to date.
Ben Hammersley: 06:02 Right? Banking in the U S is a good example of that. In that, in that if you compare banking in the U S too, as specifically consumer banking, if you, if you compare consumer banking in the U S to consumer banking elsewhere on the planet, you could very easily innovate massively radically for the U S just by being about five years behind Europe or you know, or 10 years behind China, right? Like if you really wanted it to be up to date, just big, just go and do what the Chinese are doing 10 years ago. Those sorts of things. So there is, there is a saying that William Gibson, the science fiction writer said that that the future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed. And that I think is very true. But, but all of these or this sort of talking around this highlights the thing that I like to talk about, which is that innovation is not a step change to a new future that everybody agrees on.
Ben Hammersley: 06:54 Instead, it's a methodology of continuous improvement based on your own personal context and the context of your business. And that takes, that looks at those new technologies. It looks at those big boats as you say and says this, the suitable for us is does this, you know, yes, this is getting the front covers of the economist and everybody's very excited about it or whatever. But it isn't necessarily the thing that our customers are most likely to benefit from the most or our business will benefit from the most. And so what do we teach you is a much more holistic and continuous practice of continual mindful attention giving innovation on a daily basis rather than going, everybody needs to be on the blockchain or we're all dead.
Amy Lombardo: 07:41 Right? You know, you have this unique thinking on this concept of being present or recognizing what is right around you and you have to be able to capitalize on that before you can look ahead and you maybe unpack that a little bit for me and just give a little more examples.
Ben Hammersley: 07:58 Sure. Maybe like some concrete examples of what you see in your business. Sure. So, so let's start actually from the beginning of the talk I just gave, which is that because of the exponential rate of change that we have at this time on the 21st century and rate of change in everything. And you know, as I as I said on stage that that technology and society and culture and business are all interlinked in a fundamental way. When one changes then all the others change in the olden days. So 20 years ago, 30 years ago, technology was, was this specifically technology was the sort of layer on top of business. So you have business and then you have the technology that comes in and makes it a little bit more efficient. Right? Like this fancy bolt-on. Yeah, exactly. And you know, fancy precisely that. And, and the, the CIO of the business or the CIO.
Ben Hammersley: 08:48 So the business was probably not even on the board. It's probably one level down at the same level as say the, you know, the facilities manager, something like that. Whereas today, specifically in, in data-driven businesses and financial services and banking are perfect example of that. Your business is what you do with your data and what you do with the data is fundamentally technologically driven and so everything is tied back to the technology, but that technology is so intertwined with the rest of the world that everything changes. Everything else, everything is as a codependent uprising and everything changed. When one thing changes, everything else changes because technology itself changes at an exponential rate because of phenomenon like Moore's law, which is this phenomenon that for roughly the same price every year, you can fit twice as many components onto an integrated circuit, which means that again, speaking roughly every year, computers get twice as powerful for the same price or the same power computer harms in price roughly every year.
Ben Hammersley: 09:47 Because of that exponential growth and because exponential growth is itself incredibly difficult for human beings to comprehend because technology grows like that, the rest of the world changes at the same rate and therefore for a futurist like myself, making strategic forecasts, saying what the world's going to be like in 10 years time, I am completely lying, right? I'm just making shit up at that point because it's impossible to do so. And I think we only have to look back over the past three or four years or certainly the past decade and see how society has changed in the past decade or the last 11 years since the launch of the iPhone to today in every aspect of of human endeavor, whether you're talking about business or culture or society or politics or everything, all of that is now utterly unrecognizable compared to where it was 10 years ago. So if I come up to you and say, Hey, this is what the future of banking is going to be like in 10 years time, I'm [inaudible], I'm just making things up and I might be right.
Ben Hammersley: 10:39 In which case in 10 years time you'll think I'm a genius, but I'm not going to be right. Right. And nobody's going to be right. And so if we, if you start from the basis, the fundamental basis that, that, that five year plans or 10 year plans are just wrong, then there has to be another way of living your life. There must be another way of actually doing your job if you're a member of the leadership team of a, of a bank. If your job, what to be on the board is to guide this organization into the future. And yet it is structurally impossible for you to predict what the future is going to be like, then you're going to need another way of doing it, right? And so what we came down to in terms of our work is that that other way of doing things is doing it as a continuous process one day at a time.
Ben Hammersley: 11:24 And this isn't necessarily new. In fact it's, it's something that was in manufacturing. For example, Toyota invented the Toyota system in the 50s and, and that's what made Toyota. And in a cultural and religious context, you have a lots of people's spiritual practices, which are about continuous improvement. And you have lots of physical practices like yoga for example, where you can't win yoga, right? There's no end game of yoga, but it's a practice that you do every day and you get better at it, but you're always going to get back. You know, it's something you just do unless you're doing very yoga or wine yoga. Well indeed, but that, that, that does actually that's Dan, it [inaudible] other than that magnificent sounding activity, there's, you have to be in the States. This is what we do. It's exactly that. Goat yoga [inaudible] get tired after awhile. This is the thing.
Ben Hammersley: 12:19 But the thing of the thing about all these prints is that they're continuous practices. And so we try and look at what would it, what does it mean if innovation is a continuous practice rather than a continuous [inaudible] gentle practice rather than a kind of violence every five years we take on the, the, the new technology and an upgrade to it or half upgrade to it because everyone's confused by it, which is the standard Silicon Valley model of innovation, which is every five years they invent a new thing and everyone goes around and stands on stage and says, if you want us embracing this new thing, then you're all going to die. And so whether it's blockchain or the cloud or big data or AI or whatever it is, and of course those things aren't, that's AIDS, it's just not true. But it's also just not a sustainable method of innovation.
Ben Hammersley: 13:09 Right? Yeah. So, so I try and help people do that gradually. And so then the question is how do you do it gradually? And to do it gradually, you have to do it by really asking quite fundamental questions about what it is you do on a daily basis ordinarily and why you're doing them and who you're doing them for and who you're doing them with and how best can you serve those people or how best can you structure your teams or structure your internal processes so that you can put yourself in a position where you can better serve those people. And that involves things like employing more cognitively diverse teams. So you guys as many ideas and as much as much sort of empathy within your organization as you can. It means talking to your customers a lot more. It means paying attention to all of the processes you do and asking yourself on a, on a daily basis, why aren't we doing this in this way?
Ben Hammersley: 14:08 Because a lot of the things that many companies do, I've done that way because somebody decided and then that person left and nobody can remember why, but that's way the way they've always done it. And so now that that approach is actually much more uncomfortable than doing the same thing for five years. And then having somebody turn up and say, Hey, now you need to do the blockchain thing. Or Hey, no, he needs to do the AI thing. It's much less comfortable in that everybody fit many people. And I think most people actually through human nature kind of prefer to just sit around doing the same thing and then just to be told what's due next. It's much more complex and much more uncomfortable to be continuously, continuously asking, am I doing the right thing and what am I, what am I? Yes, and what am I assumptions.
Ben Hammersley: 14:56 Yeah, exactly. But it's also, it's a daily practice of what am I, what assumptions we make. Eating is what we thought we were doing is the concepts that we had 12 months ago. Are they still true? And asking yourself these fundamental questions. But if you do that, if you do that practice, then very rapidly you bring yourself as an individual and your team and your organization right up to the cutting edge of today. And once you're there and it's become a habit to be there, then the future takes care of itself. And in the vast majority of industries, just being up to date pots, you in the top three and in many industries that puts you into the top one. Because most companies, you know, when it's 2019 you know, in the world it's like 2002 inside the organization. Yeah. Yes. And if you just bring your organization right up to 2019 and you know precisely what it is that you're doing and who you're doing it for and what they want and what you, what you can provide and all of those sorts of things.
Ben Hammersley: 15:57 And you get there by asking these quite difficult questions and making these sort of mindfulness practices as it were. If you can get yourself up to that level, then you're profoundly well positioned in a way that all of your robots won't be. So one last question for you. Sure. And you're probably not gonna like me for this question because you just can't predict the future. But I have to ask this question because I want to get a different perspective. Sure. Because you are not a banker. So what do you think the future of cash looks like? So my personal assistant is Chinese and she was on holiday for the past two weeks and she just came back and she went back to her family in China and going Joe. And she was, she was telling me about this a couple of days, you know, a couple of days ago at time about the whole day, you know how it went.
Ben Hammersley: 16:47 And she was saying that not only did she never see any cash like physical cash throughout the whole trip, but also she never saw any credit cards either. And this came to the head when she tried to pay for it. She went out for lunch with her brother and she got her wallet out and she'd got her physical credit card out and her brother started laughing at her and she, and she was like, why are you laughing? You may and he lifted up the tablecloth on the table and other than this tablecloth under the glass tabletop was a QR code and he'd already paid the bill by scanning the QR code on the tabletop with the, with WeChat, which is the dominant app in China. And so in China it's, it's incredibly rare to leave the house with any form of wallet or credit card and certainly with any cash now this changes many things.
Ben Hammersley: 17:38 It changes fashion, right? Because you only need one pocket, which is the pocket for your phone. You don't really need a handbag apart from other things. Right. But you don't need a purse, you don't need things for carrying money cause it's all on your phone and everybody from market store holders to beggars in the street to the Chanel boutique, take the same payment platform, which is through your phone. That's one possible future. Okay. Yeah. And in some places I can see that becoming, you know, 100% in China and some bits of the U S I can see that being 95% of your day at this if not we chat. But something like Apple pay and contact lists, you know from my, I bought loads of things this morning and bought it with my watch, you know, of through Venmo. Exactly. All of those go out. You just pay each other that way.
Ben Hammersley: 18:25 Precisely. And you and you know, and certainly in the UK where I'm originally from contact lists, Apple pay, whatever you want to call it, is pretty much universal everywhere. However, you know, I live in Brooklyn and or on planes or in hotels or in corporate headquarters. And for me to live my life cashless solely through, you know, Apple pay and or my sort of platinum Amex or something is totally doable and perfectly, perfectly understandable future. But whilst my assistant was on holiday, I was moving house from Los Angeles to Brooklyn and I drove across the U S and I drove through the Southern States of the U S and certainly that pigeon forge Tennessee goes cashless will be a good 10 years after Brooklyn, New York or Venice beach, California where I'm sure, and so when you have a conference like, like this for example, which where the audiences are bankers but they're, but they like regional and local bankers as well as like your, the mental image you have, when I say the word bankers, right?
Ben Hammersley: 19:30 Those guys, their version of innovation around something like cash or payments or something is going to be different and will be just as innovative, but it won't be the grand myth of a capitalist society that say the cashless society vendors are putting forward. Yeah, right. Yeah. But it will be a bit, it'll be the dominant thing in their region that they correctly work for that work for that thing. Micro society. That's right. Yeah. And then Mike, Chris is, it might be 10 million people. It might be 100 million pieces. Okay, that's fine. And so we'll see. And this is, this has been the same everywhere. You know, if you look at M-Pesa, for example in Kenya, that's been a mobile cash solution that's been there for 1520 years and has been as a major part of their economy. And then you have things like local cash systems where we, a friend of mine again lives in Kenya and is currently doing it, setting up her own currency for a local, for a region.
Ben Hammersley: 20:26 Oh wow. And there's quite a few of these around the world where it's physical cash, you know, it's real, the real bank notes, you know, and they're only accepted within that community. And so it keeps economic flow going around the community. And so they're not dollar rich or shillings rich or whatever, you know the Kenyan currency is, but the rich and the local, you know the economic movement hat. Yup. Yup. And again, that's now that's also a solution to the question about what, what does society, what does cash look like? Because that invites you to ask the question of what is cash in the first place and why do we have cash and what is it for and what is the definition of a, of a healthy economy in T? Is it the number on a spreadsheet or is it the movement of money? Is it the fluidity of money rather than this rather than a, a stock somewhere living in a bank account or not moving.
Ben Hammersley: 21:19 And any economist who's gotten past the first year will tell you that that is the flow of money. That's the important thing, not the stock of money. And so cash is a pretty good thing to flow around. And so again, the reason I'm being like giving you five different answers, the question is because there are a million different answers to that question or around that every different context and the why is organizations will look at their context of their marketplaces and if they're small organizations will go well here in this place with this group. And when I've spoken to my customers, they've expressed what they want to do and I'm providing them the solution to the thing they want to do. And it turns out the best solution, the thing we want to do is QR codes or the best solution is our own local currency or the best solution is more ITMs.
Ben Hammersley: 22:06 And again, this taps into is not a technological thing. It's always a social thing. So having moved from the UK to the U S five years ago, the instant thing that I noticed is the 3% on a bad day, 1% on a good day, you know, surcharge to all ATM withdrawals, right? That's illegal in Europe. Literally illegal. Right? And so one of the features of cash will be, it won't cost anything for me to get cash, for example, because that's because that's a 3% tax on being poor. And in terms of social inequality, that's unacceptable actually. You know what I mean? Spot-on. So, so will you, do you only get to that realization when you start to question actually what is this for? Right. The same thing for, for contact lists, I have the, the Apple cart from Apple and from a product design point of view, the whole process of applying for receiving, activating, using the Apple card, both a digital thing on my watch and on my phone and as a physical artifact when they shipped me the actual metal card, the product design of that, the service designer that is in is astounding. It's, it's a good 10 years ahead of everybody else, right? In the U S beautiful. There's a process, and I've used it a lot today to buy coffee and things, but that's not the future of payments because the future of payments cannot depend on somebody owning a thousand dollar device in their pocket. Right. The future of payments has to include like my five-year-old you turned five two days ago and is now getting an allowance. She gets 50 cents a week because my wife is stingy.
Ben Hammersley: 23:52 Earn that 50 well yes, and she has chores to do it. Exactly, but she's not going to have a cashless. If I went to her and said like, yes, I'm going to, I'm going to credit your contact list. You know I'm credit. You're in contact with that physicality, right? Yeah. And she can't park. There are no gumball machines that we'll take. We'll take like Apple pay and gumball machines. That's right. And gumball machines is her big thing right now. And so she's obsessed. And so like for her the best payment solutions is coins, whereas for the nation, the penny makes no sense. Right. For example. Right. And for the user, the U S bank notes are a disaster. They're all the same size and color. Somebody used to redesign those, but now, and I think we're good there [inaudible] it's like it's an impossible question, right.
Ben Hammersley: 24:50 Which is why I sort of blooded a path it for what photo booth but to come to this solution. But to answer that question, you have to answer it as an individual and the [inaudible] for an individual and for the companies that services individuals, you can come through, you can come to an answer. It won't be the same as the guy down the street or the person in the one state along. And certainly it won't be one person's four States along any other direction. But for your 100 million people it will be perfect. I think this is a good place.
Ben Hammersley: 25:18 Do we have any other impossible solutions? Disposable problems? No. Unless you've got something else up your sleeve, you think fun there. No, I mean, well other than I think this can be an interest. One of the interesting questions as well, once you start these new technologies come along, they do invite people to rethink the fundamental nature of the transaction. Yeah. And once you start to rethink the fundamental nature of the transaction, you then start thinking, well, why am I doing this transaction with this company? And so there are organizations out there and I think the Apple card is the obvious first one of these where if I was a bank I will be terrified that organization deciding to offer those services and this is what we saw in China with WeChat and the other equivalents, but not necessarily with cash accounts like you know consumer banking.
Ben Hammersley: 26:10 But something like insurance. Amazon knows everything I have in my house because I basically bought most of it from Amazon. So why I don't have my rental insurance around Amazon is literally a thing that puzzles me on a weekly basis because they could offer it to me immediately. They know, you know, they know where I live, they know about your other thing, right. They know the value of my stuff. They know the end and they also know from that they know all the demographic information they have. I have a 1516 year purchase history with them internationally. I have all of my banking details like they know the risk and everything from all the demographics or there's this thing they could underwrite that trivially will be easy for them. Amazon doing household insurance. I know Facebook has a banking license in Europe. I think the next big thing coming along down the line will be people just going, well I gave all my money to Apple anyway or to to T mode or bottle.
Ben Hammersley: 27:06 I don't have that much savings. You know I only have a few hundred dollars in like in the cotton account, you know my checking account anyway, I never write checks. I'll just hold a positive balance with T mobile and I'll just close down my bank of America account, something like that. And it's from an individual person point of view for the vast majority of people will make no difference whatsoever. That's really, I think any of my true regulatory approval because of that. It might not happen here, but it will certainly happen in other places as it has as it does in China.
Amy Lombardo: 27:36 Cool. Well thank you for sitting down with me today. This was fun. I feel like I could talk to you for hours. You want to do one more plug for me for COMMERCE NOW. Oh beautiful. Alright, follow him at, @Ben Hammersley and stay tuned for more episodes on COMMERCE NOW.