Expert Interview – Michael Taylor

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your area of ​​expertise with concrete examples of your clients?

I am trained as an architect and worked for international design firms and consultancies for the first five years of my career. I spent time in Copenhagen, London, Beijing, Toronto, Seattle, and Zurich but never worked on conventional projects, like a building. I tackled projects that related to complex infrastructure, urban networks, mobility, and collaboration and innovation; because of this, I worked with a lot of technology concepts like IoT and peer-to-peer platforms. 

In 2017, I entered the blockchain space when I joined a very early start-up that was building a blockchain-enabled IoT device to monitor medicinal products in vulnerable supply chains. Here, I led design as well as marketing and communications until our product launch in early 2019. After two years of working with a blockchain solution, I was very invested in the technology and what it could do. So, I joined Verum Capital. We are team of blockchain experts, coming from many different fields to support organizations large and small with blockchain-related projects. 

The projects I work on are generally of two types: First I work with major organizations, including global corporates and national governments on strategic blockchain integration projects. Here, I might help to expose opportunities to use blockchain to do things better or expose desirable future scenarios that could be made possible using blockchain. Second, I work with start-ups, new ventures, or new initiatives that want to bring a product or solution to life using blockchain. Here, I bring insight related to blockchain-based business models and decentralized ecosystems to the venture building process. 

In either case design thinking and systems thinking approaches are incredibly valuable. They allow me to approach the technology with a human-centered bias that prioritizes the empowerment of the end user. 

Which of your mandates struck you the most and why?

I am currently working with the Ministry of Justice in Georgia, writing a strategic document that outlines the opportunity to move public services onto the blockchain. The project, in cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is a special one for two reasons: it has allowed me to develop scenarios and outline future opportunities focused on the end user — in this case the citizen — which I consider to be my real expertise. The project also brings together exceptional expertise from the client, The Ministry of Justice, who supports and encourages new ideas and is very bold and ambitious. The Ministry of Justice in Georgia is already a leader in implemented blockchain projects; to be a part of their next step is very exciting.  

From your long experience, what advice would you give to someone who would like to become an Expert?

Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” idea has been cemented within professional circles. A lot of people believe that the best way to build expertise is to focus on one thing and do it repeatedly. This approach might be valid when in pursuit of subject matter expertise; but, in my case it did not make sense. Working with emerging technology, specifically the blockchain, means that you are constantly tackling new problems. So, my expertise comes from a process, and this has been honed by working on very different problems. The lateral problem solving that I can bring to blockchain use cases comes from working through design strategies on all sorts of projects.

So, to be an expert in an emerging field that requires problem solving, it helps to have a diverse or even disparate background and exposure to different disciplines and different ways of thinking.  

Can you please share an example of successful collaboration between Experts and decision makers?

At Verum Capital, we are working with a well-established educational tech solutions provider that supports access to learning through an existing and successful product. Verum Capital has worked with their advisory board to outline opportunities to accelerate adoption, improve integration, and build community around their solution through the use of the blockchain and it has evolved into an exciting venture-building project. 

So far, the collaboration has been very successful for many reasons, but a unique contributor to our collective success in this instance is that none of us has a rigid perspective. For example, the decision makers often act as tech cheerleaders, which allows us at Verum Capital to be very skeptical of erroneous or irrelevant applications and use cases. Similarly, the decision makers often take the role of visionary, which allows us to be more practical. When decision makers are resolute in their approach it’s very hard to push an idea forward collectively. As the subject matter expert, you spend all your time encouraging change and you never get to critique it. So, inverting roles or playing devil’s advocate can be really advantageous.   

What do you think is missing to help Experts and facilitate the work of decision-makers?

I think a big blocker for experts and decision makers is that we still have a very fixed idea of where expertise should come from and oftentimes, we are looking to experts of a previous generation to solve the problems of today. This approach is very evident in the blockchain space, where finance and IT professionals are often looked to for expertise. Of course, they are indeed often experts. But as I said earlier, a process and a way of thinking can sometimes be more important to facilitate change than a subject matter specialist. Sometimes the perceived experts that are looked to for matters related to blockchain know a lot about the tech but still solve problems with a bias toward centralized thinking. As we know, blockchain requires decentralized thinking, and this new approach does require that decision makers bring some new experts to the table.   

What is the difference that makes you an expert and not a mere specialist or consultant?

Expertise, in my case, comes from breadth and depth of knowledge. Specialists are typically engaged to bring in a focused perspective, but rarely work top down to shape the big vision. Similarly, consultants are typically brought in to get a specific result, cut costs or increase the top line. These are important roles. But, at Verum Capital we work like experts because we are working to create new opportunities by developing a vision and then bringing them into reality using a specific set of tools. 

I also think that experts are less apologetic than the specialist or the consultant. Experts approach solutions with an ideological slant, in our case we believe that decentralization will create valuable new opportunities and we work with people who have a similar outlook. We don’t try to force solutions into places where they are not needed. 

What is the most common problem you encounter?

At a very high level, the most common problem we see is an inability to work through problems related to blockchain in a structured way using a rational approach. When working with blockchain tech there are three clear roads to failure that happen at very distinct moments within a project. If you have done things out of order or without precision, you might have cut yourself off at the knees before you even started. 

How have you been finding your clients so far?

We are based in Zurich, so we are very lucky to be situated in a country with progressive blockchain regulations that support and encourage the growth of the space. While also being neighbours to some of the biggest organizations in the world from global corporates to banks to international agencies. This has created a very favorable context and we have been able to find smart decision makers taking on clever projects with the blockchain. 

What has been your most effective advertising medium to date?

During COVID a lot of the conferences we typically attend were postponed or cancelled, so we have been forced to speak at virtual events more than usual. Virtual events, if produced well so as not to be exhausting for the listener, are a really great way to meet new contacts. Unlike an in-person conference, you can make focused time to talk to new people and make interesting connections. These connections have been really exciting and valuable for us at Verum Capital this year. 

What is the profile of your typical client?

Our clients come in all shapes and sizes; the only thing they really have in common is an interest in the blockchain. However, we often work with established international organizations that have a global presence, and new ventures with a promising solution. Established organizations, like global corporates, are typically trying to kickstart an internal use case, manage a transformation, or expand their offering through the use of the blockchain. New ventures are generally only focused on their offering. Typically, they have an existing solution or portfolio of solutions and want to introduce blockchain for strategic reasons. Of course, these are two ends of the spectrum, we see everything in between!