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Grey innovation: disrupting age stereotypes in fintech

Sometimes you don’t even know you hold a stereotype until it is right in your face.

" Diversity of thinking is both intellectual and emotional."
Juliet Bourke, Partner, Deloitte

Recently I attended a fintech start-up hub to hear a talk about the collaborative economy. It was the working space I had expected, albeit with a twist.

Open and airy but with a few intimate cubby holes for talking, concrete floors, state-of-the-art lighting, large screen TVs, chalkboard walls. You get the picture – and so did I. I had seen it a 100 times before in photos of Google, Apple and Facebook headquarters.

I hadn’t expected the electronic sign-in process – with no human to greet me on front desk and help me find my meeting – but that was only a little disruptive. Small potatoes.

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Here’s the thing that smacked me between the eyes – the people.

Remembering those photos, I had expected everyone to be younger than me – much younger. Hipsters, beards, black jeans, t-shirts and beautiful. But at least 50 per cent had grey hair and a few even had wrinkles. And while most were in jeans and t-shirts, some of the youngest were wearing business suits.

REALITY CHECK

My stupidity hit me in the moment. I had conflated the term ‘start-up’ with young and hip.

By way of serendipitous reinforcement, the next day I happened to read the latest paper in the Future Inc series entitled The Future of Work. It was this sentence which jumped out at me, “the average age of entrepreneurs in Australia is 45”  – and it’s the same in the UK (47) and USA (40).

That statistic came with examples, such as Mark Fordree and Mike Giles, founders of Ignition Wealth described as both having “over 30 years’ experiences in experiences in financial services”. They would have been right at home at the Fintech hub.   

Standing back from the specifics of realising I held age-based stereotypes, I wondered if there was a bigger insight about the process of change. How had I gained insight into my hidden stereotype?

I realised it was the potent combination of an immersive experience (being at the Fintech hub) and knowledge (reading the Future Inc paper). I suspect if it had been only one, the fledgling insight would have drifted away. It was the head/heart combination that cut through.

AN EVEN BIGGER QUESTION

If that’s right, then how can I be more deliberate about accelerating my personal growth - gaining relevant knowledge and experience to help me think differently? 

This question led me to reflect on how I came to be at the fintech hub – and the experience of being somewhere new. When I rewound my mental tape, I remembered accepting the invitation to attend had been an intentional choice to do something different.

I was a last minute invitee – and not on the list of usual suspects. The collaborative economy is not my field and I didn’t know anyone in the room.

But I had been looking for an opportunity to put into practice one of the fundamental principles of diversity of thinking – namely to grow by stretching sideways into an aligned field of knowledge. Not just learning more and more about my own field - and not just learning about random new ideas in the vain hope there will be something meaningful. 

And it worked. Not quite in the clinical way I expected but I definitely got what I was looking for. The presentation and discussion helped me to see the topic of collaboration through a different lens. I learnt about digital collaboration and the effects of city-based infrastructure and regulation on collaborative behaviours. My thinking was stretched.

What I also got was experiential: the visceral experience of being part of the fintech world.  Plus I had the added bonus of seeing my age-based stereotype in stark relief. 

My biggest insight: diversity of thinking is both intellectual and emotional. When I combined using my head and my heart, I not only saw things from a different point of view, I saw myself differently too.

Juliet Bourke is a Partner at Deloitte and author of “Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions “

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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