I'm not sure why, but Legos have been popular at credit union gatherings this year. Legos have been part of presentations on the company itself (how it rebuilt its blocks into something new and better), and have also been a common metaphor used by numerous speakers for how organizational leaders are comprised of adults who have lost their inner Lego-builder and-as a result-the ability to be creative and innovative.
The most recent reference came last week when author and strategist Kaihan Krippendorff urged CUs to take a lesson from his seven-year-old son's enthusiasm for a column of Legos that he saw as a rocket capable of also scooping up dinosaurs. "What [my son] did was look beyond the obvious fundamentals of the strategy and create something new and different. Kids stack their Lego pieces in a unique way and share it with the world," Krippendorff told NAFCU's annual meeting in Boston. "And they do so passionately. This ability to be innovative is not something we learn, its something we are born with. The challenge now is to get people to unlearn what they've learned."
It's those "learned" habits that lead to so many predictable and unimaginative strategies, said Krippendorff, the author of "Outthink the Competition: How a New Generation of Strategists Sees Options Others Ignore."
Krippendorff's book explores people and organizations he calls "out-thinkers" who, when faced with a challenge, see "beyond the obvious choices...to a fourth option. I believe that ability we all have, to find the fourth option, is the source of innovation and competitive advantage."
The so-called fourth option is a reference to what Krippendorff refers to as the three pieces of the "old playbook" of business: Lock up resources, leverage economies of scale and lock in members.
For credit unions entering the 2014 strategic planning season, he used an illustration of a diamond-shaped diagram comprised of the "eight Ps": position, price, product and promotion in the top half of diamond; and processes, physical experience, place and people in the bottom.
"When you get home ask yourselves, 'Where do you have a fourth option?' And give it a score: 0=no difference. 1=different; competition will catch us in fewer than four years. 2=different; competition won't catch us for five years or more.
Credit unions can score that for themselves using the free tool available at www.kaihan.net.
Krippendorff said there are "five strategic narratives that winners use more often than their losing peers," including: Get there first; coordinate the uncoordinated; force a two-front battle; be good ("Winners recognize the strategic value of being good, and this should play directly into your mission statement"); and create something out of nothing. "We play the game of business following a rule that doesn't exist; that you have to play with the pieces on the board. Look at your game and say: "What if we couldn't influence any agents in the game? What if we could only add or subtract things?"
Now, go start playing with your Legos.
* NCUA last week announced it had a buyer for the Autoland car-buying service it had been operating ever since it placed its former owner, Telesis Community CU into conservatorship: its biggest client.
San Diego-based Mission Federal Credit Union purchased Autoland, the national car-buying service CUSO, and plans to make investments in the company. Autoland has continued to operate even as NCUA sought a buyer for the CUSO, which NCUA took over when Telesis was taken over and liquidated in early 2012. Autoland serves more than 200 CUs.
"We were [Autoland's] biggest client," Debra Schwartz, CEO of Mission Federal told Credit Union Journal during NAFCU's annual meeting last week in Boston. "We know Autoland is going to be a great fit for us and are excited about it."
Schwartz, who said more than 80% of members who purchase a car using Autoland finance a vehicle through Mission Federal, added initial plans call for making some investments in new technology. Two other CUs have small stakes in the CUSO: California Agribusiness CU and Kinecta FCU.
Schwartz said member satisfaction with Autoland has always been very high, which dovetails nicely with Mission FCU's own culture of high member satisfaction ("We've never heard of a member not finding the car they wanted with Autoland"). She added it plans to invest some of its capital in technologies that also support Mission Federal's high-touch approach, as well. Autoland employees have already been moved to a new facility in Chatsworth, Calif.
Looking ahead, Schwartz expects the CUSO to keep growing. "We'd be very happy not to be Autoland's biggest client," added Schwartz.
* I have not been able to confirm it, but the early word is that Gigi Hyland-the former NCUA board member and prior to that, legal counsel to corporate credit unions-will be named the new executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation, succeeding the retiring Bucky Sebastian.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.