Why we need ‘the fool on the hill’

That video just over there, which you are about to watch (right?) will make you squirm for a minute.

Not because it’s horrible or obscene (it’s not), but because you’ll find yourself super embarrassed for an utterly clueless guy dancing all by himself on a hillside at the Sasquatch Music Festival.

But … come to find out, this poor fool actually is something special. Something that, according to Andrew Tarver, 97 percent of the world is not.

He is an innovator.

Tarver, founder of the consulting firm Bold Rocket, showed the YouTube clip to a group of initially baffled executives during a keynote address at the ATM & Mobile Innovation Summit which took place in Washington, D.C. in September 2015.

“The first person dancing didn’t really care about what other people felt,” he explained as the video rolled. “People are mocking him, but he’s comfortable in his own skin. He is innovating.”

After a painfullly long minute, Dancing Guy is joined by a few people whom Tarver called “fast followers.” And then, he said …

‘What you see at 3 minutes and 2 seconds is a movement.’

“You’ve gone through innovation, fast followers, early adopters, late adopters,” Tarver said. “And now you’ve got the only people who are still sitting down at the music festival — the laggards — who now are thinking, ‘Are we the ones who look foolish?'”

The video presents an excellent non-industry example of the way a movement starts; of the way that new apps and devices and groundbreaking products and services become common; of the way that every consumer financial services provider today wants to operate — or thinks, rightly or wrongly, that it already does.

There’s a 97 percent problem with that.

“[W]e try to challenge this industry to innovate when actually 97 percent of the people who work in it are non-innovators,” Tarver said. “That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a statistic and it’s part of who we are. But in order to innovate, we’ve got to encourage people who are more open-minded who will take on the challenge and are comfortable in their own skin.”

It’s also essential to think like a customer, not like someone with a title working in financial services, Tarver said. This means recognizing that, “I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I really, really, really want a mortgage. I wake in the morning and say, ‘I really want a home.’ But [financial service providers] talk about products. We talk about things that aren’t real to individuals.”

Financial service providers additionally must start thinking about how firms in other industries gain a picture of their customers’ behavior before they make a transaction.

According to Tarver, Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are the companies that today do the best job of understanding users and anticipating their actions based on data that offer clues about their habits, predilections and desires.

It would be a mistake to write off these companies’ example because they represent another industry, he said, because their objectives are the same — to know the customer. And the source of this knowledge is the same — data. Data that creates a story about the customer’s aspirations with every app download, Web search and debit transaction.

This is your ‘digital soul.’

Tarver defines this as the digital representation of where you are, where you go, what you do, what you eat, and practically everything else about you that can be gleaned from data floating about the digital realm.

Forget the Ashley Madison breach. Visa allegedly has worked out an algorithm for determining the likelihood that a person is having an affair based on GPS location and movement, transactions at hotels within a five mile radius of home, and the purchase of flowers and strange gifts.

“They’re using data now, all companies, to try and work out profiles: What you’re doing and how you’re doing it. And you have to be aware of that yourself as a human being, but also from a company perspective: What does that mean if others are starting to use this?”

Get away from being an expert.

Tarver encouraged his audience to step away from their current perspective: “Spend at least an hour of your week thinking about how to do things differently. Challenge yourself to get away from the computer … try and hold some time to actually think bigger … think about your friends and family … think about how other industries are moving forward … challenge yourself to think about the world you work in where you’re actually a customer … ”

And importantly, he said, “Surround yourself with people who have got the beginner’s mind. Put some experts around them, but don’t kill them. Don’t tell them it can’t be done … You’ve got to have the mentality of someone who is going to say, ‘Go for it. Do it.'”

Be the fool on the hill.

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