Creative and analytical thinking concept. Attractive woman with colorful sketch on concrete background Source: AdobeStock

As we all look to lead our credit unions to the future, we are turning to the nebulous term “innovation,” but what does that really mean? I define it for my teams as making things better today than they were yesterday, and as a result innovation can happen anywhere within our credit union. All too often, I hear from credit union leaders that they are struggling to get support for their innovation initiatives, and this comes in many forms, from no executive or board support to siloed work, competing priorities and more. My credit union has worked through many of these hurdles over the years and by overcoming them, we have been able to launch many new innovative products and services. In the past year, I had been noticing a resistance from our teams that were assigned to the innovation projects and was struggling to figure out how to move past it.

One day while reading “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries” by Safi Bahcall, it hit me – and it was right there as the main concept of this book. In the book, Bahcall discusses the concept of “artists and soldiers,” and it is the balance between these two groups that allow companies to experience sustained greatness. In the very shortest of summaries of this concept, the “artists” are your employees who create the new products, services and experiences, and the “soldiers” are the employees who know the core of your business inside and out, honor its traditions and drive it forward steadily. The key here is the balance between these two groups. If you were to only ever focus on your core business model and never create or innovate, it may take 20 to 30 years, but you will eventually fizzle out like Blockbuster and Blackberry. On the flip side if you are just focused on creating “loonshots,” or crazy ideas, some can be very profitable like the iPhone but many can go the way of the Zune. What is needed is a virtuous cycle where the core business model provides the funding for the loonshots and the loonshots provide the innovation that keep the core business alive for another 30 years.

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