Playing with Alpine Style

Patrick Hollingworth
September 11, 2015

Study the route, choose your partner, pack only the gear you’ll need, place trust in your systems, and then execute.

The changing landscape and our changing responses to it are becoming more and more evident. Everywhere you look you can see it. It’s kind of exciting and kind of scary in equal measure.

Anthropologist Margaret Read described her generation of baby boomers as immigrants, because they were emerging from World War Two into a new world that was completely foreign to them. In this century, we are again being cast as immigrants. It’s a New World out there.

A really simple of but good example of this struck me this week where I’ve been in Washington DC working with my friends from Executive Development Associates.

Just prior to boarding my flight to LAX I walked past a Travelex counter and my instant reaction was to pick up a few US $50 bills; upon reflection however I decided not to, as these days those notes just seem to sit in my wallet for the duration of the trip and not get used, such is the ubiquity of credit card payments and digital currency.

So I figured I’d continue to play a game that I’ve been playing at home for a while now – how long can I go without having any hard currency in my wallet? (in the past, not having any money in my wallet would have made me at the very least slightly uneasy; but this is all part of the process you go through when you start adopting Alpine Style into your daily habits).

And of course, it hasn’t been a problem. For the whole week I haven’t touched a note or a coin. The only real test came when I decided to have lunch at one of the many food trucks that line the streets at lunchtime in business parks all around the States. The food looked pretty good but would they take a digital currency?


Of course they did. The vendor just inserted her Square device into her smartphone and the payment was processed in about 10 seconds. (Square is a business started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2009 which enables individual smartphones to take credit card payments – simple idea right?)

It seems like only a few years ago that we used to travel overseas and spend half of our time worrying about where we had stashed our traveler’s cheques (hopefully not in your underpants).

There are two things to think about here.

Firstly, it’s a good analogy for the efficiency and cost-savings of going Alpine Style. I didn’t waste any time waiting in line at the airport counter to change my Australian dollars into American ones, and I didn’t have to pay for the cost of the exchange either nor receive the generally poorer exchange rate offered by currency vendors at airports.

I knew the system would enable me to travel light and fast, so I placed my trust in the system, and it worked. That’s exactly what an Alpinist does on the mountain: they do their research about the route, climbs with a partner they trust, packs the minimum amount of gear they need and nothing more, and then quickly executes.

Secondly, it’s a good analogy for the opportunity that often comes with change. Jack Dorsey created Square with one simple idea in mind: every small business should have access to the same tools that every big business has. Using this technology, my food truck vendor friend was able to take a credit card payment and not miss out on the sale that she would have only 6 years earlier**. The process of buying was incredibly easy, in fact it was pretty much frictionless.

* The story goes that Dorsey’s friend and co-founder Jim McKelvey was unable to complete a $1,000 sale of a glass faucet and fittings because his credit card would not be accepted for payment.

** Rumors are of an imminent IPO with Square’s valuation being in excess of US $6 billion, with Dorsey owning about a quarter of the company. Remember, this company did not even exist in 2008!

Although 85% of global consumer transactions are currently done with hard cash, the numbers are changing very quickly: in Australia cash transactions now account for only 14% of transactions.

Bill Gates is a big fan of digital currency, noting that many people in developing countries don’t have access to traditional banking infrastructure, as their amounts of wealth are so small that it would make a having a physical bank in their location incredibly difficult to maintain. Digital currency will change this. Globally, nearly 6 billion people have access to a mobile phone. That means 6 billion potential vendors, and 6 billion potential customers.

Any business that doesn’t make the process of payment as frictionless as possible is going to suffer. Those big businesses who are heavy and slow, who take three months to pay an invoice, they’ll suffer too.

The challenge for us all is to identify the opportunities that this avalanche of change is bringing. Study the route, choose your partner, pack only the gear you’ll need, place trust in your systems, and then execute.

Here’s to adopting the light and fast, Alpine Style appr