A few years back I delivered a keynote speech “payments 3.0” at the largest annual event for payments in the Netherlands. My key message to the audience – dominated by bankers and other payments in-crowd – was that the banks are suffering from a “reality distortion field” when reflecting on their own role(s) in the payments value chain.

I borrowed the term “reality distortion field” from John Gruber (Daring Fireball) who uses it regularly to explain in-congruent opinions of people who try to explain the Apple phenomenon. Also I regularly (re)use links and material that I find at his link-blog. Actually when reflecting on my own blog I tend to have a keen eye on what he is doing with Daring Fireball. So in a way I am in debt to John.

Actually I made the point that banks, from the perspective of their customers, are not even regarded part of the primary value chain between the parties involved. And it is right there, in the interaction between the primary actors where fundamental changes are taking place.

As a consequence the “four corner model” – and especially the bankers myopic perspective on it, was not such a good way to look at payments dynamics in the present day and age. Actually I pronounced it dead. I dear say with every passing day this has proved to be more true.

While I was advocating the uselessness of it to understand the changes in the payments value chain – for what ever that is in the current day and age in an interconnected world – I used the four corner model it self to illustrate my point. This model is heavily used in the industry and certainly not invented by me!

To illustrate my point at the conference I used the metaphor of two fish in a fish bowl. The fish are aware a world outside the bowl exists but have difficulties to perceive it and with keeping their idea on how important they are in the entire “universe” to function within reasonable bounds.

I borrowed “the metaphor of the fish speaking to each other in a bowl” from a lecture by Robert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch scholar in physics, currently dean at Princeton USA. Brilliant guy, by the way. He used the metaphor to illustrate how we as humans – being portrait by the fish – have difficulty understanding the universe which is outside of the bowl and can be seen through the distorting surface of the water or the glass of the bowl. Being trapped in this bowl we tend to overestimate our role and importance in that universe.

To emphasis the overstating of their role I used two graphics of the huge gold fish portraying the jackpot of the Dutch national lottery.

Maybe you are getting the drift of this? To explain my main and as seen by some controversial point – of which I have the illusion the thoughts were original – I explained my view by reusing many concepts introduced to me by others.

We are standing on each others shoulders: “Better stolen well then created poorly yourself” we tend to say in the Netherlands (“Beter goed gejat, dan slecht bedacht.”). The reuse of knowledge is an import part of the core notions on collaborability: we create a huge pool of shared knowledge.

Of coarse we are expected to reference the authors or to regard patents etc. but in the end we move on by collectively creating knowledge. To me the notion of this shared pool of knowledge as part of our capacity and potential to collaborate is a crucial insight into collaborability, my long time pet subject.

This week I learned that the very slides I created were reused by a long time and befriended colleague for a keynote at a payments conference in Vienna, Austria. He added his own elements and took the basis of my thoughts to tell his own story.

Still my first reaction when I saw the slides the day before was being “not amused”. I have to admit: my vanity was hurt a bit. “It is mine!” Keep off!”. I let it pass as I felt childish to feel that way. Probably I am just human?

Later in my hotel room while thinking it over I realized the irony of it all. He had picked up my message and incorporated it into the nucleus of his own story and build upon it. Was it not exactly what I had wanted initially? That others would pick up my views? He was not telling my story; no he incorporated it in his own story just as I did with the notions of John and Robert and all the countless and nameless others that had contributed to my story. It pretty much resembles the cooperation of the countless people involved in a traffic jam, one of my early and all time favorite blog posts.

Why was I then feeling not amused I asked myself. Was it vanity? Was it a (misplaced) feeling of ownership? Or was I suffering from the “Neglected Talent Syndrome”? (for the Dutch: “Professor Vijfje, miskend talent)

An other one of John Gruber’s terminologies is “Grading on a curve” to indicate that a comparison is made between two companies, or products or people with different standards. Obviously I was judging myself as the borrower differently then my colleague as the main difference was that in the second situation I was the lender?

My colleague delivered a great and well received keynote speech the following day. It was great to see how my initial idea had been truly understood and internalized by him and formed a small but corner stone element in his narrative and message.

Mission accomplished and a personal lesson learned.