Fintech and Graffiti – Distant Cousins

Buzzwords such as innovation, disruption and FinTech seem to be so popular that they have found their way into almost all spheres of life. In this article, however, I feel the need to reintroduce a long-lost cousin, graffiti.

Buzzwords such as innovation, disruption and FinTech seem to be so popular that they have found their way into almost all spheres of life. In this article, however, I feel the need to reintroduce a long-lost cousin, graffiti.

About 9 months into our journey, the Foundery team had seen multiple new partners join the initiative. It was therefore pertinent to pull everyone away from their beloved desks, get together as a team and get to know each other a bit better. After searching far and wide we decided to partner with The Talking Vandals (https://www.facebook.com/thetalkingvandal) for a graffiti team building.  The Talking Vandals structured the event for us utilising graffiti as a medium to explore concepts that have been pervasive in the graffiti world and that can be applied in the new business domains of innovation and disruption. Three of these concepts resonated with us at the Foundery:

Graffiti Principle 1 – Know your history

Any graffiti artist that wants to be taken seriously needs to have a thorough understanding of the graffiti sub-culture and its history. Graffiti artists pride themselves on knowing about pieces of work in their area and the story behind these pieces. Before we got to the painting, The Talking Vandals gave us a crash course in graffiti culture and terminology so that we could better understand what we were about to do.

In the worlds of Fintech and disruption this too is a critical piece of the puzzle. Knowing the history of how existing systems and solutions evolved is the first step in understanding how to disrupt them.

Graffiti Principle 2 – Plan

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You would be mistaken if you assume that graffiti artists pitch up at a wall (or any other surface) and just “wing it”. These pieces of art are carefully designed and planned. The mural that we painted was planned in numerous layers beforehand and even rendered in photoshop. Print-outs of the plan were distributed to all team members on the day so that we could all picture the final masterpiece. These plans, however, still allowed team members room to add their own flair to the mural.

Salim Ismail is a director of Singularity University. In his book, Exponential Organizations, Salim outlines a common trait between all companies that show exponential growth: a Multi-Transformational Purpose (MTP). Both the graffiti plan and an MTP enable the team to focus on a common goal while still allowing enough room for individuals within the team to flex their creative muscles.

Graffiti Principle 3 – Don’t be a Toy

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Finally, some slang! In the graffiti subculture a Toy is slang for… well let’s just say that people labelled as Toys are considered undesirables and you wouldn’t collaborate with an artist that you considered a Toy.

Innovation and disruption is not easy. Teams will often find themselves fighting in the trenches together. Would you choose to have a Toy with you? Fundamental to any high performing team is the team members’ ability to interact with each other as humans. To be able to create something beautiful, it is critical therefore to ensure first that you construct your teams with human beings that can co-exist in the same space and only then focus on understanding the required skill sets.

The team thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with the Talking Vandals. Along with sharing in a part of the graffiti sub-culture, we had the opportunity to watch two amazing artists apply their skill and it was a treat. It is no surprise that we could learn about the disruption world from graffiti artists who have been disruptive in their own world for much longer. We look forward to applying some of these principles in how we disrupt the world of corporate and investment banking.

by Tyrone Naidoo