Payments Innovation

The Oracle At The Intersection

This week is a big week for PYMNTS.com as they will play host to their annual Innovation Project. It is an annual pilgrimage I look forward to every year. I have had the great privilege of serving as an IP judge for the last three years.

As a card carrying payments geek, I get excited about what IP brings to the forefront of the mash-up that is social/mobile/banking/retail/platform commerce/payments. A quote from one of my favorite book by Norman Maclean is “eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it.” I suppose the theme this week is “eventually all things merge into one – and Karen Webster and IP runs through it!”

In addition to the hours I spend evaluating the applicants for the Innovator Awards, I spend a good bit of time preparing for the event thinking my way through what I want to try to glean from the many mature/incumbent and emerging entities that attend. This year I kept getting pulled to a source that I didn’t expect. Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

How, you might ask, is a letter written for the last 51 years by a man who is well into his 80s who has built a behemoth conglomerate with the acquisition of a long ago defunct textile mill, relevant to IP? That is an incredibly fair question, and the answer is, because his letter mentioned Tinder (seriously, it did). Now in fairness, the Oracle did so in tongue-in-cheek (and worry not, Mrs. Buffett, he said he wasn’t ready for Tinder!), but the fact he mentioned this “matching” network and the context in which he did so says just how far we have all come.

Mr. Buffett pointed out the enhanced productivity we all gain through technological advancement and that said improvement monumentally improves output and therefore standard of living. All true. The Oracle even gave a direct shoutout to Airbnb, recognizing that Airbnb supplemented a totally sold-out hotel market, but in fact lowered cost of attendance for shareholders.

Mr. Buffett is correct. Innovation is the engine of America. The business of America is business. Capitalism and innovation produce winners AND losers – sometimes big on both sides. But it is a model that ultimately enhances the quality of life for the aggregate better than any model known to mankind.

The intersection is here. Even the Oracle sees it. Shift happens – it is beautiful, painful and twisted, with the right amount of confusion. But the outcome is always better. And the power of the platform economy is going to be mesmerizing — and that is why I love this conference so much.

Our job? The job of the Oracle? America? Learn, innovate, invest and stay out of the way (all those attacking Uber, you hear me?).

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