Envisioning the Future of Money: The Elephant and the Blind People

July 25, 2019
Sanjib Kalita

When we built Money20/20, several years ago, we knew the world was changing but didn’t quite know exactly how. Different industries were simultaneously grappling with disruptive technologies, business models and expectations. Views of the current and future states varied dramatically based on one’s industry, function and experiences. It was a bit like the parable of the blind people and the elephant in the following paragraph.

“A group of blind people heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.”

We built Money20/20 so that all of those touching the elephant could meet and discuss their perceptions with others. From our perspective and place in the industry, we could hear several simultaneous conversations that had commonality and key differences.

Money20/20 helped bring these conversations together in a manner like never before. The result was industry progress and acceleration of several initiatives.

After 8 years with 14 events in 5 countries, we have striven to create a global community of like minded people so that discussions continue to progress. I daresay that we, along with the thousands of others, have been talking about the elephant in the room for quite some time. While there may be general agreement about the elephant, the next step is to figure out what to do next. Do you try to get it out of the room? Do you give people rides on it? Do you use it to move heavy objects? Each of these options creates a waterfall of many other questions like who is the target, how should it go to market, etc. That is part of the reason why more people have joined the Money20/20 community each year.

Over the past few years, I’ve met more Product Management and Product Development people at the events. My sense is this is because these are the people that need to figure out what to do with the elephant, and how. Product Management is both an art and a science that distills technological capabilities through the filter of customer empathy to build a better mousetrap.

Launching a new product is very difficult, which is why most new products fail. But the ones that succeed are able to generate outsize impacts.

People have recognized these impacts and the good thing is that the industry is experimenting and taking risks more than any other time before. Because of this, it’s a good time to remove your fear and engage with others. You might be surprised with what you will learn. You will be doubly surprised with what you can teach others. Talk to others so that you can identify the elephant in the room and figure out what you should do next. Progress for the industry, as well as for you - both professionally and personally, begins when these conversations start.