NEW YORK — The secret to credit union competitive success is the full-court press.
During his general session Monday at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference in the New York Hilton, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell shared an anecdotal example of how an untalented group of 12-year-old girls used the full-court press to take their team all the way to a national championship.
The group of girls, daughters of Silicon Valley software engineers who weren’t athletically gifted, instead leveraged traits like hard work, endurance, courage, intelligence, knowledge of the community and the willingness to be disagreeable into success, said Gladwell, whose books include “The Tipping Point” and “Blink.”
Their coach, the father of a team member, recognized that if players were willing to work hard enough to run a full-court press for an entire game, their efforts would negate any offensive strategy.
“What appeals to me most about that story is it appeals to so many of our attitudes about underdogs,” Gladwell said. “We misunderstand what is so powerful about underdogs.”
Underdogs do win, he said. In fact, in the past 300 years, in military conflicts in which one country is much smaller than the other, if smaller opponents don’t play conventionally, they win 63% of the time.
University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, whose team won the 2013 NCAA championship, uses the same full-court press strategy, Gladwell said.
“Dribbling and passing and playing the conventional way is fun, easy and satisfying,” he said. “The full-court press is hard. That’s a crucial point. So often, when we look at any competitive situation we assume that what is rare is talent.”
Instead, he said, what is rare is effort.
“It’s far harder to find someone willing to work hard than to get someone who practices three-point shots,” he said.
So what is the credit union equivalent of the full-court press? The question was posed to Gladwell following his address by a listener who submitted it via Twitter.
Embracing the fact that credit unions will never be as big as big banks, and that’s a competitive advantage, Gladwell said.
Unless credit unions embrace being small and bring that to people’s attention, they will fall into the tendency to think bigger is always better, he said.
And when a credit union pitches its small size, it should add that it works harder to please members as a result, he said.
Management leadership is key in motivating employees to work harder, he said. On the girls’ basketball team, the key to success was that every player contributed equally, playing an equal number of minutes each game.
“The minute you start overwhelmingly rely upon a few players, it’s hard to maintain that common cause,” he said.
Being disagreeable – a willingness to go against the grain without peer approval – is also key.
“In the years leading up to the financial crisis, all institutions were agreeable,” he said. “They were all in lockstep marching off the cliff.”
However, when a leader is disagreeable, it’s difficult to know when an innovative idea is indeed innovative, and when it is wrong, he said.
And being disagreeable doesn’t mean you can take a poll of those around you and use it as a measure of whether an action is right. While a disagreeable person isn’t infallible, they at least are steadfast in their actions, back them up with reasons, and are willing to admit when they are wrong and need to change course, the best-selling author said.