Filed under: Development Development 2.0 Social innovation

Judo match at SIBOS conference

A judo approach to development?

This Monday I saw a Japanese woman – not much more than 160 centimetres tall – throw a 190 centimetre /90 kilogram solid Chief Financial Officer to the floor not only once, or twice, but some 20 times. After which she did it ten more times – with a crowd of some 500 bankers and financial sector specialists – and me – counting down until he was finally released from his plight.

This was in Osaka, Japan, at the SIBOS conference, an annual event organized by SWIFT, an international outfit that ensures that money can be sent around the world.

The event attracted more than 6,000 participants, and ran for four days (see Petervan’s Blog and SibosTV for more perspectives from the conference). The small, agile woman throwing the big guy around was Japan’s World Judo Champion, and the big guy was a very proficient judo practitioner. So no faking there!

The judo demonstration – and impressive it was – illustrated four classical judo principles, which were used to introduce innovation, and speakers addressed each of them in their talks:

  1. Maximize efficiency with minimum effort
  2. Train safe
  3. Sudden death
  4. Learn from competing

Mark Pesce, Founder of FutureStreet talked about maximizing efficiency with minimum effort and provided the example of coconut pickers in India who use mobile phones to automate their processes. He described it as “coconuts on demand” or “coconuts-as-a-service”!

Kosta Peric, Head of Innotribe, SWIFT’s Innovation “sand box,” talked about companies innovating but not being disruptive to the main business. Companies need to take into account the bigger picture and find a way to innovate in a cautious but safe way.

William Saito, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of InTecur, discussed failure and how we must embrace failure and learn from it – if you fail, try again but make sure you learn not to make the same mistakes. He stated “the opposite of success is not failure, but not doing anything.”

Sean Park from the Anthemis Group stated that competition is good, as you learn faster when you’re competing. He described how we have moved from an industrial to an information economy and how we now have unprecedented access to huge amounts of data, which allows us to try something different.

This was the beginning of an exciting day about innovation in the financial sector. And that was why I was there: to listen, learn and then talk about how we, in UNDP, are trying to re-invent development collaboration by innovating how we work – and how we need partnerships with innovators in the financial sector because we share some common features but also have important differences:

  • We are both working and exchanging experiences globally
  • We are both cross-sectoral in mandate – banks and financial intermediaries work across all sectors
  • The financial sector is at the same time risk-averse (a transfer cannot fail because of sloppy protocols or untested software) and risk-seeking – but with a systematic approach to manage and hedge risks (albeit admittedly with disastrously poor performance by some players, leading to the 2008 financial crisis)
  • The financial sector is changing at unprecedented speed – think how banks are increasingly virtual rather than physical, how mobile banking is becoming mainstream (thanks to bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation by the way), how cash is disappearing, how new credit forms are appearing based on reputation established by user endorsements, and so on.

In the financial sector this is pushing boundaries in many ways:

  • The use of big data to spot emerging trends
  • The transition from looking at knowledge stocks to managing knowledge flows
  • New approaches to dealing with sustained disruptions in technologies and markets
  • The exploration of how trends can be expressed in indexes like the Urban Performance Index (McKinsey) or the Social Business Index (Dachis group) (See even more indexes).

Is this relevant to UNDP and the broader development community? I believe so! And the audience was very attentive when I spoke about how we understand new development challenges: no longer confined to “poor” countries, but much more global in nature. And my appeal to look for new approaches to address them also resonated: from fostering collaboration beyond our traditional partners to learning to adopt a risk-informed portfolio approach that allow us to prototype, fail with grace and learn rigorously from our experiences – all the way to the need to stay on top of social, managerial and technological advances.

So what do you think? As we seek to come up with solutions that challenge all of us, is there room for a “judo approach” to development and lessons to share between the development and financial sectors?

  • 190cm tall, yes. Sadly I am 100kgs. Which makes Aiko Sato’s efforts all the more dramatic. Aiko is Women’s under 57kg World Champion and she is amazing. She is so fast and made me look like a dinosaur in comparison. Which, of course, was one of the principles we were trying to demonstrate in the seminar: Agility defeats inertia, small defeats big…
    Banks are facing some serious challenges – some recognise this, many don’t. Unless they embrace new ways of working, new models of transacting, they will go the way of the dinosaurs. Some might say this is no bad thing. I prefer to consider how traumatic sudden change might be compared to the gradual change that might occur if current models migrate to new models, rather than dramatic replacement. It’s all about the consumer after all.

    • webeditor

      Thanks Chris! You are a great sport, and there is a lot development organizations can learn from your metaphor too… just replace consumer with citizens/clients/beneficiaries… thanks again!