Democratising markets


My latest addition to changeisanopporunity is around the democratisation caused by digital technologies, using Nutmeg, an online investment management site which makes clear that anyone, even with small amounts of money can invest – and at costs which make it attractive to do so. This is achieved through the use of algorithms in this instance but it is just the tip of the iceberg – data and analytics (both descriptive and predictive), machine learning  and automation are all contributing to this trend. And as sensors are increasingly embedded in everything we touch and use, the internet of things will make all of this even more feasible and cheaper. At one level therefore technology is a real driver of democratisation – opening up privileged areas to a much wider population, and making expertise transparent and accessible rather than scarce and expensive – in that sense this is another aspect of abundance from scarcity.

But does the democratisation solve all problems? Does everyone have both the access and the capability to use the technology needed? Does everyone understand the implications of engaging (not just investment management but whatever platform transactions they are joining)?And does the transparency over costs and the comparison with traditional routes provide a complete view of the opportunity here? And let’s not forget that investment management is by its nature regulated to protect those who may be vulnerable but not every industry where digital democratisation is occurring has the same levels of oversight. . .

So this democratisation brings with it ethical questions as to where responsibility for decisions rests – and the extent to which making something simple to do, and cheap to achieve is sufficient of itself – or does it bring additional responsibilities?

Curiosity in fact does not necessarily kill the cat


My latest addition to in the Economic & Commercial section of is around leadership and the role of learning. I’ve been musing on tolerance of ambiguity a lot – not least because when I mention the fundamental nature of this as a leadership characteristic in my foresight sessions and workshops with clients, it resonates really well with senior teams. And yet, there seems to be very little published on it.

I was first introduced to the concept by friends at Futureworld from where I found this paper. And a few years ago I started to think about the issues of mindfulness, spirituality, aesthetic judgement and creativity not from an academic perspective but from the practical. It seemed to me that none of this was possible without the concept of a learning mindset (the ability to recognise that what we know is by no means all we need to know as well as the possibility of change) and behind that curiosity. So I was fascinated to see that a recent post and survey has recognised exactly that.

The post makes reference to how difficult it is for conventional leaders to be curious and I would echo that – in my many foresight sessions, many of the leadership teams I’ve worked with want to go straight to the ‘so what’ and even more so the ‘now what’ – the action arising. Without really showing any curiosity as to what lies behind a multitude of megatrends.

Nor do I believe that the sole reason for being curious and open minded lies only in the ability to be innovative and have new ideas. I think there is an equal and potentially opposite need to be curious for risk management purposes. After all, without curiosity to seek out what new competitors or new technologies have to offer, and the humility to expect disruption, how will organisations spot the issue until it is too late?