Futurist to Recruit Credit Union “Change Agents” at Amplify

With the here-and-now already keeping credit union leaders awake at night, why does the Northwest Credit Union Association need to disrupt a perfectly good, restless night with all this talk about the future? Make no mistake: Amplify Convention will focus on plenty of day-to-day challenges in Spokane October 7-9, but keynote speakers will also help attendees move toward the credit union of tomorrow.

Andy Hines, a lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, is among keynote speakers. Hines is motivated by a hunger to “infect as many change agents as possible” with his message.

Because Hines is a bona fide “futurist,” Anthem took to the internet to “e-interview” him.

Anthem: Credit unions are so mired in daily stuff such as the regulatory burden, scale, competition — how can they get out of the “today trenches” and look to the future?

Hines: We futurists love to look to the long-term, of course, but we recognize that one must take care of the current business, and that should be the primary consideration! So, there’s a balance between the here-and-now, and the future. 3M has been used as a leading example of an innovative company. Their key approach was to give employees 10-15 percent of their time to work on whatever project they wanted, and it turned out they got all sorts of great innovative ideas from this. I think a similar approach could work with the future, or maybe it’s the future and innovation. In my work, we’ve used competitions, or what we called “adult science fairs” to provide a focus for these future-based innovation ideas. Or we’ve created internal idea-sharing software, or mixed in external “crowdsourcing” idea generation.

The key principle is to give some percentage of dedicated time to exploring the future, give it a focus, and make it fun. People come up with amazing ideas when they are fully engaged and having fun.

Anthem: What obstacles keep big ideas from being implemented, and how can credit unions avoid those pitfalls?

Hines: The #1 obstacle I’ve seen is the notion that we have to get it right or perfect the first time. And when we don’t, it was a failure, and therefore to be avoided forever and not spoke of ever again (okay, a little extreme, but you get the point). This perfectionism may keep organizations working so long to get a new idea right, that by the time they are ready, the market has already shifted in a new direction. Let’s take an example. There are all kinds of signals around emergence of new economic ideas such as peer-to-peer, sharing, collaboration, etc. The signals are somewhat weak at this point, but they are multiplying. Now is a great time for organizations to do some experiments in this “next economy” or new business model space. In many organizations, if someone proposes to explore, say, a P2P product idea, someone else will quickly point out the previous failed experiments in this space, and effectively kill the idea. Really, the assumption behind playing in a new space is that we won’t get it right the first, or even second time, but the only way to learn is to get in there and get our hands dirty. So, we look for small experiments to run, where the cost of failure (or, the investment in learning) is not going to harm the business in the short-term and provides valuable experience so that when it is time to move — and it will be at some point — you are ready.

Note that I’m saying “small experiments” — not trash the current business and invest everything in some speculative venture. But devote some small percentage of time and money to playing in the “new space” to gain some experience and learning. We sometimes call this de-mystifying the future.

Anthem: What are some missed opportunities that come to mind because of future-fear?

Hines: I think “future-fear” often operates sub-consciously and leads individuals and organizations to talk a certain way about the future. It may sound confident and optimistic, but is really about fear. Last year, for example, I gave my “futures scenarios” talk to a credit union group, and afterwards a leader quipped that “Yea, but we’ve been around a long time and we’ve always managed to get by.” It’s fear masquerading as hope. It’s a view that the future is scary and full of threats and it breeds an atmosphere of hunkering down and reacting — survival mode. Sure, the future has it challenges, but a different perspective is that it is a place to create new opportunities and proactively capitalize on trends and developments. In my experience the survival mode group is going to miss new opportunities because they literally cannot see them.  

The NWCUA’s Amplify Convention is scheduled for October 7-9 in Spokane. In addition to keynote presentations featuring Hines and other top political, economic and marketing experts, the Strategic Link Trade Show will showcase the latest credit union products and innovation. Heroes of Hope: A Gala in Spokane City is the theme for the dinner and auction to benefit Credit Unions for Kids, and the Amplify Awards program will recognize the 2014 Summit, CUNA, Advocacy and Chapter Excellence award winners.

Registration for Amplify Convention is open online.

Questions about this story? Contact Lynn Heider: 503.350.2225, lheider@nwcua.org.

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