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Mob rule, mass transit and plastic cards

I've written before how groupthink, not only makes my skin crawl, but is counterproductive to innovation (it is the grit that makes the pearl, remember). But I've been thinking a lot about herd behaviour lately.

I have a natural revulsion to following the crowd. How easy my life would be if I just cut & pasted popular opinion, without critique, without question (without real understanding). I feel much more comfortable being the nerd in the back asking, "Excuse me, which bank is using this? How much money exactly will this save? Do we really need a Facebook page?"

Then there was a snow storm in Paris this Wednesday - and I came face to face with how well my contrarinan nature would fair against the rule of the mob.

It happened to coincide with Cartes 2010. As the snow continued to come down heavily in Paris on Wednesday, the organisers announced that the roads were clogged and delegates should start leaving. I packed up my stuff and moved to the Parc des Expositions RER station to join the throngs of conference attendees and commuters to make my way back to central Paris.

The platform was crowded (as expected) and the trains were delayed (as expected). A train pulled up, the doors opened, and I made a split second decision to miss this one and catch the next train. However, the mob had other ideas. Everyone starting pushing, and pushing and we all (included a small child) were forced onto the train. Once on, the crowds continued to push. I yelled "Stop! There's a small child here!" A man, who spoke English replied, "I'm not pushing, I can't stop". So, here we all were, all of us 'not pushing' but yet all of us being pushed and crushed.

Mob rule: 1 - Liz: 0

(Some comparisons to systemic risk and the economic crisis there - but today I'm talking payments)

What does this have to do with a cards and ID show in Paris and our industry as a whole? Let me lead you down my garden path...

I had lots of conversations at Cartes about NFC mobile (2011 will be the year of NFC, in case you didn't know). All these talks were amidst an immense exhibition hall filled with plastic card manufacturers (and quite a few magnetic stripe dealers). 

I asked someone at Gemalto "Isn't this all going to be replaced by your phone soon...aren't cards going to die out?" 

"Oh no, came the reply. Cards are still widely used for IDs, for banks etc... Even mag stripe is still a viable business. Maybe in 20 years it will all be replaced by the phone, but not now."

Now, yes, Gemalto is in the plastics business, but which 'mob' is right? The mob developing and pushing mobile payments and NFC or the mob pushing cards - or the mob pushing cash? (Which according to MasterCard's own research 85 percent of global payments by value is still done with paper cash.)

Whether it be pushing innovation, making an unpopular 'honest decision' or picking the 'small, up and coming vendor' over the established giant - that act takes bravery (and may require brute physical strength).

Ultimately, the crush on the 5:30 RER to Paris was caused by lack of information. No one knew when the trains would arrive, so everyone wanted to be on the train that appeared. 

This is the only cure for groupthink - information - frequent, transparent, disparate, dissenting, old school, new school, the reasons for success and the stories behind the failures.

This should lead me into what it was like being on the MasterCard booth during the WikiLeaks events, but I shall save that for another blog.  


Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 13 December, 2010, 11:59Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Excellent post Liz!

How I too despise the bully-boy nature of Groupthink. Couple that with our tendency not to question but concur, along with a natural bias towards saying "Yes" rather than "No", I wonder how anything gets changed by an individual within an organisation at all.

Maybe that's why we see so many innovations occur outside of the normal channel.

Look at how banking is being changed not from within, but by start-ups like Zopa and others.

But I worry about your Facebook reference. If someone had asked me the same question I'd have said "of course you do".

How else can you gauge what people think of you if not by social networking - its giving you a channel, isn't it?

Above all, don't forget how any businesses came to be. It was in response to what the market said it needed.

Markets, like waves are never made, they're ridden. Never forget that!


Elizabeth Lumley
Elizabeth Lumley - Girl, Disrupted - Crayford 13 December, 2010, 14:58Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Thanks Neil, 

I didn't mean. 'No, you don't need a Facebook page' I meant, the question should be allowed to be raised. Ultimately, discussions may lead to a 'yes, let's put together a Facebook page'. Or another firm may feel their presence on Linkednin and/or Twitter is enough. 

I think, sometimes, bandwagons get too many people jumping on them blindly. I am a big believer is having a real business reason for any new app/product/strategy etc..., whether it has to do with social networking or not. A sober step back, may lead to a better thought out strategy in the long run. 

Elizabeth Lumley
Elizabeth Lumley - Girl, Disrupted - Crayford 13 December, 2010, 15:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

However, you make a really good point that, especially banking innovation, tends to come from outside the established players. That is something that I don't feel has really sunk in with most traditional banking players. 

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