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nexxworks Partner Peter Hinssen interviews
Garry Lyons of MasterCard
Garry Lyons
Garry Lyons is Chief Innovation Officer of MasterCard.
He is responsible for developing and leading initiatives,
programs and strategies to foster innovation throughout
Areas of expertise:
MasterCard. He also runs the company’s global R&D
Infusing radical and sustainable
arm, MasterCard Labs, dedicated to bringing innovative
innovation in traditional environments
payment solutions to market with greater speed than
and financial services.
ever before.
Prior to his appointment at MasterCard, Garry Lyons was
the chief executive officer of Orbiscom, a leading provider
Based in: Dublin
of innovative payment solutions to the global financial
services industry. Orbiscom was acquired by MasterCard
in 2009. He is a technologist by training, with a B.Sc. in
Computer Applications from Dublin City University.
Innovation is a repeatable process. It’s an art and a science. And like
any science, you need structured techniques to get results.
What is the best methodology to enable innovation in a large company? I think it is
crucial for companies to function as a network in order to maintain the agility they need
to innovate. What is your formula for speeding up innovation and staying nimble?
Sadly, the word “Innovation” has become a bit of a buzz
results. The first step should be a clearly defined problem statement.
word these days, with some people thinking that all it
If you can’t clearly define the business challenge you’re attempting to
takes is to put a few geeks in a room with whiteboards and red bull to
solve for, then you’re wasting your time! But you also need to make sure
brainstorm, and then expect almost magical results. This can work at
that your innovation goals are largely aligned with your company’s
times but it’s not suitable for all forms of innovation and it’s certainly
strategy, otherwise it’s an exercise in futility. You should aim for 80%
not sustainable. You’ve got to be serious about innovation and foster a
of your innovation objectives to be aligned with your company’s wider
culture of innovation company-wide.
strategy and allow 20% to be a bit more out there.
I always say that Innovation is a repeatable process. It’s an art and
The next step is to develop structured processes which can take you
a science. And like any science, you need structured techniques to get
from ideation, through prototyping and user feedback, and (when ready)
into commercialization. But at the same time you have to think lean
people as possible: from business units, employees as individuals,
and act agile. You need techniques and methodologies to improve all
customers, partners, universities as well the developer community. You
aspects of the product development lifecycle: from the quantity and
simply cannot innovate alone. You need to involve all stakeholders.
(more importantly) quality of the ideas that you generate to the way that
you prototype; the way you test and iterate; the way you pilot; and the
way you scale. And remember that you should not scale until you have
done sufficient user testing and know that you have something which
people actually want (usually because it seamlessly solves a consumer
pain-point or addresses a specific need).
At MasterCard Labs we say that Innovation without execution is only
ideation. That’s why we’ve created a suite of Innovation Programs
which enable us to generate new ideas from a variety of sources, and
You seem to go about
innovation in a very
methodological manner.
fast-track the best ideas from concept to prototype and into market
faster than ever before. When our most promising pilots are ready for
commercialization, we move them into our “Incubation” team, where
they are assigned dedicated resources who work like a lean startup to
fast-track to market. Clear metrics are installed up front when projects
are ready for pilot: number of users, number of transactions, etc.… we
never use revenue as a metric at the starting point, though. Revenue is
a long term result when it comes to disruptive innovations.
The final point I want to make is that innovation should not be limited to
Absolutely, and that’s why our suite of innovation
programs and processes are so pivotal. But we’re on a
journey - a continuous process of improvement. Every time we run an
innovation program, we gain valuable new learnings. And that helps us
to continually develop, iterate, tweak, hone and improve our processes,
methodologies and techniques. There is no place for complacency.
the R&D department: it is everyone’s job. At MasterCard, we recognize
that good ideas come from a variety of sources so we involve as many
Can you tell me about the “Innovation
Express” program. I read it forces
employees to come up with a marketready product or service in 48 hours,
complete with a promotional video.
How does that work?
I read that you are a technologist by
training. Do you think such digital
savviness is a necessary characteristic
for a chief innovation officer?
The world is changing faster than at any other time in
human history. There are now more mobile devices on
Innovation Express is one of our innovation programs,
this planet than there are people. This proliferation of smart devices
created to go from problem to solution very quickly. We
is changing the way we live our lives and the way we pay for goods
present a group of teams across the company with a very specific
& services. As a result, peoples’ expectations from technology
business problem to solve for. Teams have just 48 hours to come
have never been higher. That’s why digital savviness is an essential
up with an innovative but credible solution to the challenge and turn
characteristic, especially in our industry. I always look for smart,
their best idea into a prototype product complete with business plan,
creative people who are passionate about how to use technology
video demonstration and go-to-market plan which they have to pitch
to solve real problems. But that doesn’t mean everybody has to be
to a select group. It works really well. Many of our most innovative
a computer engineer by trade, it’s important to get the right mix of
products in market were born out of this process. By way of example,
complementary skill-sets. With people from different backgrounds,
check out:
skill-sets and qualifications, you get different perspectives. However,
even the non-technologists within MasterCard Labs are passionate
about the power of technology – that’s important.
Having said all of that, we have a saying here that “Cool doesn’t cut it”.
I.e. it doesn’t matter how shiny a technological innovation is, if it doesn’t
Diversity is key if you want to achieve radical innovation. Cultural diversity;
solve a real problem, address a consumer pain-point or make a process
age diversity. gender diversity; diversity of skill sets, experiences and
more efficient, then we are simply wasting our time.
backgrounds - You need them all! Without diversity, you end up with a
situation where everybody thinks along broadly similar lines. They come
up with similar ideas, and they make similar mistakes. With different
people you get different perspectives, different thought processes and
How do you organise your innovation
teams? Are they fixed, or do you
change them? And what kind of
experience are you looking for?
better output.
As a large organisation, how difficult
is it to keep competing with smaller,
agile, disruptive newcomers with
much smaller margins today?
geographies and hires people with a variety of skill-sets
from a variety of cultures, backgrounds and disciplines. We change
the composition of project teams regularly to ensure fresh thinking and
we never innovate in a silo. We regularly supplement Labs resources
with virtual teams to come up with better, more creative and smarter
innovations. We involve employees from right across MasterCard
and we collaborate with many groups outside of MasterCard who are
helping to shape the business that we are in: customers, merchants,
other companies, universities, the startup community, etc.
There are benefits to being in a large established
company with funding, a trusted brand and significant
alternative revenue streams. Once you’ve got CEO support, the ability
to move fast and operate like a start-up is actually not that difficult to
do. We’ve learned a lot over the years and reached a point where we
have a pretty good set of processes which do give us the ability to
be nimble. However, one of the biggest challenges is prioritization as
unlike startups, established companies that are publicly listed have to
strike the right balance between revenue and profits today and in the
What was your proudest moment
as a chief innovation officer?
I never like to dwell too much on victories, and having
such a fantastic team here in MasterCard, along with the
ability to innovate and collaborate with partners, startups,
etc., we have ‘mini-victories’ all the time. But if I was forced to pick
something, I’m very proud of the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, due in part to our innovation capabilities and methodologies,
chose to partner with us to launch MasterCard Labs for Financial
Inclusion, a new Financial Inclusion focused Innovation Lab in Nairobi,
Kenya which will focus exclusively on developing solutions for people
living without access to mainstream financial services – truly enabling us
to live MasterCard’s “Doing well by doing good” mantra.
As a successful Chief Innovation
Officer at MasterCard, you have
proven that fostering radical innovation
in a large company is possible.
What would you tell those
“non-believers” who stubbornly
claim that it is impossible for a large
company to achieve radical innovation?
Firstly, I want to stress that sustainable innovation is
as essential as radical innovation. We, in MasterCard,
obviously do both. We’ve been around for almost 50 years and
we’ve become relevant in payments for 4 reasons: the quality of our
products, our people, our processes and our infrastructure. If you look
at our processes, they’re highly documented, highly analytical, they
have appropriate segregation of duties; our infrastructure is secure,
scalable, reliable, fault tolerant, everything it needs to be to support
2.1 billion cards being used at 38 million merchants in 210 countries
around the world in 150 different currencies. This rigor is critical for our
core business but it doesn’t allow us to experiment and take risks with
new technologies, hence the reason that we created MasterCard Labs
about 4 years ago – we recognized the need for a complementary part
of MasterCard whose sole purpose is to look at the future from a fresh
perspective, take risks and move quickly.
In these fast moving times, with technology evolving at a phenomenal
rate and new challengers surfacing in our markets almost every day, all
organisations need to move beyond merely optimizing their products
and services. They need to look to the future, focus on the implication
of technological and consumer trends on their industry, and try radically
new things. This is a completely different level of innovation: one that
is much harder and which cannot afford to be bound by the usual
infrastructure, rigor and processes of a large company running six sigma.
This is the kind of innovation that only works with highly independent
teams that enjoy full support from their management. Top down support
is crucial, because the nature of disruptive innovation is such that there
will inevitably be failures along the way to achieving success. When an
innovation is going to fail, you need to fail smart – i.e. fail fast, fail cheap
and most importantly, learn as much as possible from that failure so
as not to make the same mistakes again. CEOs need to be aware that
they are investing in the future and that looking at the future from a fresh
perspective, while critical for every business, does not typically deliver
short term revenue uplift, but it does generate short terms costs.
About Peter Hinssen
An entrepreneur, advisor, lecturer and writer, Peter Hinssen (1969) is one of Europe’s
most sought-after thought leaders on radical innovation, leadership and the impact of
all things digital on society and business. For more than fifteen years, Peter led a life of
technology start-ups. He lectures at various business schools like the London Business
School and the Stockholm School of Economics, is a Senior Industry Fellow at the
Center for Digital Transformation of the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine,
and functions as a board advisor on disruptive and digital innovation. Peter performed
keynote presentations for Google Think Performance, Nimbus Ninety, Gartner, NEXT
Peter Hinssen
Berlin, PayPal and Apple among many others.
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