Getting your ducks in a row

Getting your ducks in a row

A foresight workshop from the archives.

One of my lockdown guilty pleasures has been rewatching Jason Statham films. (OK, so also, Cobra Kai, anyone???). Parker tripped the wire of a memory of a trip to to Boca with the Futures Industry Association in 2016. Synthalpy strikes again.

Boca Raton Resort & Club, Florida

So what is synthalpy, you may be asking. Synthalpy is the productive energy released when two worlds collide.

A long long time ago, I was with Mark Field, among others, at a knowledge management conference in The Hague. And Mark cooked up, and named, synthalpy, a new, tongue-in-cheek, movement to supercede knowledge management as The Next Big Thing. Synthalpy encourages the collision of different worlds and harnesses the productive energy that results from those collisions.

And there was a lot of synthalpy in 2016 at FIA's 41st Boca convention on the future of the derivatives industry in a strange and fruitful, synthalpoetic intersection of new world and old worlds, both mine, and those of the derivatives industry as a whole.

Winding back...

My very first day at work was 6th October 1981 at Fiamass - my first Reuters newsflash was the assassination of President Assat of Egypt so I can date it precisely to 6th October. Fiamass was a tiny new financial futures brokerage which, in those days, housed the Gelderman tickertape clacking through the pork belly orders from Europe on their way to Chicago. My first job, apart from researching 19th century railroad prices in back editions of the Bank Credit Analyst at the British library, was  doing hand drawn 15 minute bar charts of Treasury Bill futures (and then Eurodollar futures when they were launched in the December that year) and doing Elliott Wave counts on them. Then through to working on the LIFFE floor, and then, in the late 1980's, responsible at LIFFE for indexes and index products for a while and on the FTSE Steering Committee. That was my first encounter with the regulators internationally as we worked towards a good tax and regulatory environment for index products. And it was my first brush with fragile liquidity when hauled up to explain the role of index derivatives in the 1987 crash. I remember Diane Abbott was a pretty stern questioner at the time. I ducked out of that world in the mid 199o's, only to reconnect with it in about 2014, running a session on fintech disruption and innovation for the Futures Industry Association in London.

One thing led to another and I finally ended up at Boca, in 2016 at the 41st FIA meeting there, to run an interactive session on the future of market infrastructure - technology, liquidity, regulation, geopolitics, end users, new players. Here's the blurb.

An interactive session designed to provoke a lively debate about what’s next for our industry. The future of the industry’s market infrastructure is being shaped by a host of developments in regulation, technology, operational processes and the changing demands of end-users. The innovative format of this session will enable delegates to listen to the views of industry experts before holding their own ‘roundtable’ discussions with fellow participants, developing their own observations and then sharing their feedback with the rest of the audience.  Views from the session, as well as surveys undertaken during the whole conference, will be aggregated and serve to provide an overview of what the industry expects to see in the future. The findings will be presented on Thursday’s session on The Future of the Industry.

We ran a survey that led into the session and then gathered up the insights from the session with other datapoints from sessions and corridor and cocktail conversations into 'The Results Show' to close the conference.

I thought I'd share three synthalpoetics (or whatever term we can coin for moments of synthaply insight - MOSI's? Synthles?) that struck what is going on as the industry gets its ducks in a row (with thanks to Clive Furness, whose ducks-in-a-row at the New Players table you can see here).

Clive Furness's ducks, all lined up on the work table at a foresight workshop at FIA's 41st Boca convention, 2016xx

1. Synthalpoetic one: collaboration and trust. There are a good number of people from my derivatives era still fully engaged. There are also a great number of new and emerging players. The productive collision of worldviews between old and new, and between players with different roles, was energetic and sprawled and buzzed through every formal and informal space. The very final closing conversation spoke about new business models, where the historic boundaries and shapes of organisations are settling into new forms with the value chain a mix of insourced, outsourced, sources of value being redistributed. At the heart of successful new value creation will be different kinds of collaboration, which those who were reflecting felt could be detected in the different kinds of business conversations they are starting to have, cooperating towards a new derivatives industry as much as competing towards it. John Boehner, former speaker of the United States House of Representatives spoke, in a breakfast briefing, about the need for there to be trust between people on different sides of an argument for things to progress. And new forms of collaboration will take trust, and a good argument, to be successful. Linking rather nicely to my last post about struggle and combativeness.

2. Synthalpoetic: invisible synthles. In the survey, we asked people to rank the six themes in priority of how gamechanging they were.

Regulation came first and new players last in that gutfeel snapshot. I wondered, out loud during the closing session, if this was because regulation is all around and has been pressing, urgent, dispiriting, highly visible and audible since 2008. But is it the present priority rather than a future priority? Wind forward five years and is there are more balanced and well anchored regulatory landscape, one that takes up a lot less energy and attention, a bit more in the background?

New players, by contrast, can disrupt things dramatically, synthling away, but are out of sight and hearing, and not always recognisable when they first arrive. How can structured foresight techniques give the industry the peripheral vision to spot what's going out out of the immediate awareness of this world, create border crossings into other worlds to give new perspectives, leap forward in imagination and then work back to the present, as well as work forward from what's immediately taking up time and attention?

As a friend of the Association of Professional Futurists, I play a little in this world, and I think that FIA/APF synthalpy should be on the agenda for both. Andrew Curry, with whom I often work, frequently quotes Gaston Berger on the purpose of futures work being to 'disturb the present'. A different kind of disturbance that makes more intentional room for different plausible futures to be explored. How strange it would be for me if my two different worlds of futures collided. Synthalpoetic fireworks and explosions of all kinds.

3. Synthalpoetic three: the next generation. The last, hand on doorhandle, question we tucked into the survey asked people what they'd say to someone from the next generation thinking of joining this industry, ranging from 'it's brilliant' to 'go join Google instead'. A great chunk, well over a third, of replies ticked the box which said 'it's going to be tough for the next years, but it will be worth it'. And there was that spirit of oldtimers and new timers, together in productively colliding worlds, throughout the three days.

Back to Mark and the Hague c.1999. Mark, synthalpy has arrived. Be proud of having got there first. I shall aim to be the first synthalpoet in this new world. And perhaps I'll rediscover a use for Elliott Wave counting.