In the world of finance, the Foundery stands out as a pioneering challenger to the traditional financial institution – think suits, three-letter acronyms and legacy software housed in massive, skyline-dominating buildings. Although the Foundery isn’t alone in this endeavour, the digital financial organisation is still in its earliest days and there are many unanswered questions and unsolved challenges that lie ahead. This is the nature of the challenge that the Foundery has accepted: there will be no obvious answers or solutions.
The key to success, however, is to recognise that with uncertainty comes opportunity – the opportunity to break new technological ground and seek new digital pathways that will one day reshape the world of finance.
This blogpost, however, isn’t about those challenges. Rather it is about the pioneering spirit, embodied by three overlapping spheres of innovation: science, design and engineering.
We understand science as both the body of knowledge and the process by which we try to understand the world. Science is humanity’s attempt to organise the entire universe into testable theories from which we can make predictions about the world.
Here the universe is taken to include the natural world – such as physics
and biology – the social world – such as economics and linguistics – and
the abstract world, such as mathematics and computer science [link].
If the goal of science is to formulate testable theories from which we can make predictions, how does it relate to the Foundery’s challenge of transforming the world of banking?
Science is the sphere that embodies the process of discovery. It is curiosity coupled with the discipline to establish truths and meaning in the world in which we live – including the world of digital disruption which the Foundery inhabits.
The pioneering spirit requires not only the curiosity to break new ground, but also a special kind of scientific curiosity to turn this new ground into groundbreaking discoveries.
Design is the conceptual configuration of an idea, process or object. It is understood as the formulation of both the aesthetic and functional specifications of the object, idea or process.
To put it more simply in the words of the late Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most significant pioneers of the 21st century:
“Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Whereas science is concerned with trying to understand the world that humanity occupies, design is concerned with the things – objects, ideas and processes – which humanity adds to the world, and how they look and how they work.
At the Foundery, the pioneering spirit is more than just breaking new ground: it is the creation of accessible pathways, including new solutions and disruptive technologies. Design is the process of creating new solutions – not just planning and configuring what these solutions are, but experimenting with how they look and work.
Thus design is the sphere which embodies experimentation. It is the courage to try something new, unencumbered by the fear of failure. It is the willpower to try over and over again until something great can be achieved.
Engineering is the application of science to solve problems in the real world. At one level engineering is the intersection of science and design – combining scientific knowledge with principles from design – but taken on the whole engineering is more that: it encompasses the design, control and scaling of constructive and systematic solutions to real world problems.
In the past engineering was typically associated with physical systems such as chemical processes and mechanical engines. In today’s technological age, we also associate engineering with abstract information systems and computer programmes.
Now financial institutions can be viewed as massive, highly complex and highly specialised information systems. So from this perspective, one part of the Foundery’s task is to engineer the processes, interfaces and information networks of the bank of the future.
Engineering is the sphere which embodies problem solving. It is one thing to break new ground and make new discoveries and experiment with new solutions, but something else entirely to translate the pioneering spirit into technologies and systems with the potential to change the world.
Bringing the Spheres Together
On their own, science, design and engineering represent different aspects of the creation process: science is the process of discovery, design is the process of experimentation and refinement and engineering is the process of problem solving. But this view alone suggests that there is a linear order to the creation process: that each process must take place in phases.
This isn’t my view and certainly isn’t the aim of this blogpost. Rather, my interpretation of science, design and engineering is that they are abstract, multi-dimensional spheres which embody the creative process. They are self-contained concepts which exist in their own right, but with clear points of intersection which link science, design and engineering. Together they are a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Whether it is the blockchain exchange, the novel application of machine learning to existing financial services or even our partnership-based organisational structure, science, design and engineering are very much at the Foundery’s core. These three spheres embody the pioneering spirit which drives our purpose: from the curiosity to explore more, to the courage to try more and the resolve to do more.
by Jonathan Sinai