What a culture of open means

Sarah Blake is a user experience designer and part of the team at Kin
Sarah Blake is a user experience designer and part of the team at Kin

Culture is not just a social term, or a Sunday trip to Cinema Nouveau.

Culture also has meaning in the biological world. Perhaps metaphors from the biological context can help us to understand the importance of culture in the organisational social context.

A culture is what is used to maintain biological bits – such as tissue cells, or bacteria – outside of an organism in a way that is suitable for later. 

Another use for culture refers to live organisms added to substances to transform them, such as cultures that transform milk into yoghurt or cheese.

So “culture” is a living thing – and can be tiny and microscopic – that has a big impact. 

It maintains life; it promotes growth; it can transform substances.

When it comes to the social and organisational context, culture usually refers to the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours created by and agreed – overtly or not – by people. 

However, to understand how important culture is, consider how these values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours can maintain, grow and transform an organisation. 

Fintech and openness

From a financial services perspective, there is a sense that banking and banks are catching up with technology when it comes to openness. 

New regulations in Europe, for example, require banks to subscribe to data standards, and to make data available via application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing for other providers to build products and services through which customers can choose to interact with their banking data. 

The banks, therefore, will no longer be the sole gateway to a customer’s data. 

Technology has a long history of “open”, with the internet being perhaps the most pervasive example of the power of open technology. The internet is a connected system of networks founded on the philosophy of open standards, open protocol architecture and open networking. 

This set in motion the ability for people to do new things with the network, unconstrained by the original design – and we are experiencing the richness this led to today. 

But what has this got to do with culture? Articles and presentations from Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the internet, and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, demonstrate how the philosophies of openness were inherent in the early architects of the internet, and remain so today. 

They had a culture of openness. And this culture guided decisions made, and the thing built. Open was baked in, because open was the culture. 

What does a culture of open mean?

A culture of open believes in the power of networks and connection. It looks for opportunities to build on existing networks, products and services, but also provides the means for others to build on top of it. 

A culture of open imagines a better world for all through collaboration, rather than a better world for me through insular competition.

Being open requires and finds power in vulnerability. For example, a culture of open will not build products and services that lock a customer in. 

Instead, a culture of open uses the fact that the customer is highly portable to drive innovation in delivering value to a customer in order to keep that customer.

Vulnerability also means that culture of open exists in and believes in a new trust: where customers and organisations trust each other to the benefit for all. 

And so a culture of open is inclusive. Principles of accepting vulnerability and building on trust provide opportunities for wider inclusivity, and then opportunity from that inclusivity. 

A culture of open believes that we can all find ways to work better together, and are better for it.

Open organisations are more likely to build products and services that connect into and enhance a wide network, by building on what exists, and allowing others to build onto them. 

Open cultures look forward to others building on what they have created, and finding new opportunities from that.

A culture of open treats customers and data with care. Openness is about vulnerability and trust, and recognises the trust from and vulnerability of customers when they share data. 

Building the future

Open is coming to financial services. Whether that is embraced and leads to organisational growth and transformation will depend on organisational culture. 

Do you know how you, and your organisation, will embrace openness?

How does collaboration work across teams and departments in your organisation? 

Are you competing internally for the same customer, or are you collaborating to create better solutions for the customers you have?

How does your organisation feel about working with other organisations? 

Your direct competition?

An organisation which might be able to provide a different view of your product for your customers?

And how would you know if that is providing value to your customers? How would you know if that is providing commercial value to you, and to your partners? Do you call the organisations you work with partners or suppliers? 

How are ideas and knowledge shared in your organisation? Who is allowed to share this? Who is allowed to critique and discuss ideas?

Open is not just another product set or feature. Open creates the future. 

Sarah Blake is a user experience designer and part of the team at Kin, which uses the principles of open technology to build ways for people to collaborate around money.

This article originally appeared in the Collective Insight supplement in the 19 July edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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