NEW YORK — University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino and a group of uncoordinated 12-year-old girls know how credit unions could conquer big banks in the financial marketplace. Run the full-court press.
During his general session at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference at the New York Hilton, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell shared an anecdotal example of how basketball teams have emerged victorious over more talented teams by running the full-court press, a defensive strategy that seriously hampers the other team’s ability to run its offense, but requires considerable endurance.
He told the story of a group of 12-year-old girls in Menlo Park, Calif. who lacked athletic ability, yet went all the way to the national championship because of the defensive strategy. The game plan was the idea of their coach, businessman Vivek Ranadive, whose daughter was on the team. Ranadive purchased the NBA’s Sacramento Kings earlier this year.
Gladwell said Ranadive, who before coaching the girls’ team was unfamiliar with the game of basketball, couldn’t believe how little effort American teams put toward defense. Knowing the girls lacked athletic talent, Gladwell said Ranadive instead leveraged traits like hard work, endurance, courage, intelligence, knowledge of the community and the willingness to be disagreeable into success. Ranadive 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, he said. University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, whose team won the 2013 NCAA championship, uses the same full-court press strategy, he added.
“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 last 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.
“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. 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.