7 ways to get more (and better) creative ideas from your credit union team

Credit unions are a unique business. However, there are certain things that all businesses share. One of these is the need for innovation. Because the credit union business is constantly changing (now there’s an understatement!), it’s vital that credit unions keep innovating to stay ahead of the curve. And all innovation begins with a single, creative idea. But how do you get those creative ideas? Here are 7 ways that you, as a credit union leader, can get more (and better) creative ideas from your credit union team.

  1. Get them out of the workplace.

A change of location helps shake the brain out of its routine. It also gets people away from the multiple distractions of the workplace, which are not conducive to creativity. So try having a lunch meeting at a local restaurant. Maybe a nearby hotel has a nice lobby area for a small, informal meeting. If it’s nice outside, go to a park! Anyplace other than your credit union’s version of “Meeting Room C.”

  1. Give them the “What”; let them give you the “How.”

Nothing kills the creative spirit more than being micromanaged. Creative people (and we are all creative people) love being challenged. As a leader, it’s your job to set the goal (the “What”). Now, ask your team to come up with the “How.” Tip: prepare to be surprised by some brilliant ideas that you would never have thought of!

  1. Ask crazy questions.

When looking for creative solutions to your next credit union challenge, ask your team “crazy” questions. Questions like: “How would we solve this problem if we had $20 million to throw at it?” “How would a professional dancer solve this problem?” “How would three cats, working together, solve this problem?” Not only will this force your team members’ brains into their naturally creative space, you may just find the germ of an actual solution in some of the answers they come up with!

  1. Make a “play space.”

Creativity needs stimulation to thrive. People are more creative when they play. If possible, furnish one of your meeting rooms with a few toys (Nerf® balls, Legos®, etc.) and interesting, colorful magazines (not credit union—or any industry-related—magazines!). And, if you’re really serious about this, paint this room a shade of green. Studies show that the color green boosts creativity!

  1. Invite an outsider.

Every now and then, invite someone from outside the credit union (and, preferably, from outside the financial services industry) to sit in on a meeting. An artist, a comedian, an art historian. Someone who sees the world through a completely different lens than you or your team. This person might see solutions, or come up with ideas, that would never occur to someone from the credit union industry.

  1. Send your team out for a walk.

According to recent research done at Stanford, people do their best creative thinking while in motion—outdoors, down a corridor, or even just a treadmill. Many leaders have discovered the multiple benefits (including, of course, health) of holding “walking” meetings.

  1. Initiate “Plagiarism Friday.”

(Full disclosure: I plagiarized this idea from someone else, but I can’t remember whom.) Every Friday, have each member of your team bring in one great idea from outside the credit union industry and share what makes the idea creative and innovative. Then ask your team how that idea could be incorporated into the credit union.

  1. (a bonus tip!) Let your team know that ideas are welcome, encouraged, even required, from everyone.

No one has a monopoly on great ideas! That next breakthrough idea—the one that takes your credit union to the next level—can come from anyone on the team.

Creativity and innovation are the keys to your credit union’s success. Every new challenge (and it seems like there’s a new one every day) requires a creative solution. It’s up to you, as a credit union leader, to encourage, support, and value creativity from everyone on your team!

Creative youth employment ideas needed – Community Chest

Graduates gather during the Hire a Graduate Day of action march on May 17, 2017 in Tshwane. (Gallo Images)

Graduates gather during the Hire a Graduate Day of action march on May 17, 2017 in Tshwane. (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Creative ideas need to be found to decrease youth unemployment in a labour market which favours highly experienced employees, development company Community Chest has said.

“The high demand for skilled labour means that those with a post-secondary qualification are far more likely to find employment than those with only a matric certificate,” Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids said.

“However, while there are vacancies within the labour market for skilled people, we have to look at creative big ideas in innovative spaces such as coding, water challenges, climate regulation and urbanisation for opportunities to create new ‘big idea’ employment opportunities.”

Young people between 15 and 24 should constitute “that starry-eyed section of a society that’s eager to apply their newly-acquired skills and qualifications, embark on their careers and embrace the future by making their mark”.

“However, if they continue to hit a brick wall, they’re bound to become frustrated, discouraged and halt their job applications. To top this, there’s a real fear that they’ll join a cycle of constant unemployment and poverty. It is in this challenge that we have to find the opportunities to create a new cycle of sustainable job creation.”

Big ideas and not “random piece-meal activities” are necessary to tackle youth unemployment in South Africa – rated the fourth worst performing country in terms of unemployment, the organisation said.

‘Big ideas’ 

RSA, ranked among the worst along with Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and Macedonia, has a youth unemployment rate at 52.6% according to World Atlas. With 67% of the country’s population said to be younger than 35, it is vital that government, the private sector, and NGOs “begin to talk about big ideas” to tackle unemployment, Community Chest said.

“Moreover, Stats SA’s recently released Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q1: 2017 indicated that approximately 58% of the unemployed in South Africa are younger than 35.  This has pushed up SA’s youth unemployment rate by 1.6%.”

According to the organisation, the country’s overall unemployment rate of 27.7% has increased to its highest in 14 years – with Stats SA finding that the unemployment rate remained high among those with an education level of less than matric at 33.1%.

The unemployment rate among graduates remained at 7.3%.

The organisation annually awards promising pupils from six schools in poorer Cape Town communities with study bursaries worth R100 000 each in mathematics, science, and technology.

The school also receives mathematics and science kits to facilitate learning and improve their performance in these subjects as part of a long-term project.

It also assists supports and mentors the bursary recipients while they study.

Economic recession, racial and gender inequalities, and imbalanced access to the labour market are cited for the grim youth unemployment rate. Education was cited as a key solution to the issue.

Read more on:    youth unemployment

Kill Your Old Ideas So You Can Be More Creative

I spent ten years “writing” a TV show about Silicon Valley. I spent hundreds of hours talking about it, collecting ideas in a giant Evernote file, brainstorming the soundtrack—but not much time writing it. Because every time I thought I had a handle on it, I thought of a better version. Over the years, I adapted my unwritten pilot into an unwritten book, movie, web series, and comic strip. I chased every idea at once, until the project loomed grand and unwieldy in my head. I was building up a mountain of idea debt.

Idea debt is the pile of ideas you keep revisiting but never finish, or even never begin. It can be a book, an app, a business, any project that grows in your mind but not in reality. It feels much more impressive than the projects you’re actually carrying out, with all their disappointments and compromises. As screenwriter Craig Mazin says, “The most exciting script in the world is the one you’re about to write. The least exciting script is the one you’re on page 80 of.” So that idea debt metastasizes, threatening to hold up the real projects, or halt them so long that they too become idea debt.

Like financial debt, a little well-managed idea debt is healthy. It’s good to mull over ideas, to file them for later, to give yourself more creative options than you use. But sometimes you need to pay that debt down. Luckily you’re your own debtor, so you have plenty of options.

Make it now

Take one of your big ideas. How small can you make it? What’s the minimum viable product? Shrink it until you can polish off in a day, then go do it. It shouldn’t be perfect, or even good, just done. Next time you dream about the big beautiful proper version of that idea, think instead of your real finished version, and how superior it is to the big version, because it exists.

In his 2006 video Brain Crack, Ze Frank imagined his unused ideas “on a beautiful platter with glitter and rose petals.” To avoid getting addicted to his brain crack, Frank said, “when I get an idea, even a bad one, I try to get it out into the world as fast as possible.”

Brain Crack was an episode of “The Show,” Frank’s daily vlog full of quick-and-dirty songs, speeches, and segments. Cranking out his ideas led Frank to a successful career in short-form video; in 2012 he became president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

Put it in your current project

Writer Ryan North gets a lot of ideas, and he doesn’t have time for them all; among other things, he’s busy writing three strips a week of his webcomic Dinosaur Comics. The problem solves itself, he tells me: “I have often times come up with an idea that’s a lot of work, and then I have T-Rex describe the idea in a comic (usually, hopefully with a punchline) as a way to scratch that itch.”

North cites Kurt Vonnegut, who used up stray ideas by giving them to his recurring character, fictional novelist Kilgore Trout. Vonnegut said that through Trout, “I suppose I’ve now summarised 50 novels I will never have to write, and spared people the reading of them.”

The greatest thing about this trick is that you can always expand on the idea later. One Dinosaur Comics strip, a sci-fi take on the fable of King Midas, became the comic book series The Midas Flesh. A strip about a machine that accurately predicts anyone’s cause of death inspired two story anthologies, Machine of Death and This Is How You Die.

Hand it over

One upside of idea debt’s perverse appeal is that the idea can seem so good, so worthy, that you just want someone to make it happen, whether or not that someone is you. So give your ideas away to a good home.

The easiest method is to tweet out (or blog or Instagram) your idea. If it’s really that good, someone else will try it. Or take it to a forum dedicated to swapping free ideas: The ancient and whimsical Halfbakery, or the subreddits /r/Lightbulb, /r/CrazyIdeas, /r/SomebodyMakeThis, /r/highdeas, /r/AppIdeas, or /r/Startup_Ideas.

There’s just one big rule for this method: You really have to give it away. That means you don’t sell it, rent it, or remain involved in any way.

No one will pay you anyway. Novelist Neil Gaiman says people come up to every author with the same offer (which he always politely rejects): “They’ll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty.” Business ideas are similarly unsellable. As investor Tim Berry says, “The way real people with real ideas get value from them is by building a company to implement those ideas.” Unless the Patent Office will let you register it, it’s worthless. So don’t hand your idea to an expert like you’re whispering into a college grad’s ear, “One word: Plastics.” Just get it out there, and if the experts want it, they’ll find it.

I recently dumped an old story idea (a modern-day Romeo & Juliet told like a fictionalized Planet Money episode) into a Twitter thread. I was surprised how quickly I ran out of thoughts on what had seemed, in my head, like a rich and developed project. I was also surprised when someone who actually does run a fiction podcast emailed me for permission to write the story. (I gave it freely, of course. It’s not my idea anymore!) Even without that response, it was satisfying enough to get a few faves and replies.

Don’t worry about saddling someone else with your idea debt; it isn’t zero-sum. Once you hand your idea over, you’ll feel the pressure slip away. But its new owner will never feel the same obligation; it’s impossible to obsess over someone else’s idea as much as you obsess over your own.

Dump it out

After all the above, what’s left over might look good. But most of it will just never get done. That’s fine! Ideas might feel like pets or children, but they’re not; it’s healthy to abandon most of them. And if your gigantic idea file (pop-science writer Steven Johnson calls it a Spark File) doesn’t load you down, leave it be. But if it does, or you just want to clear your head, then take cartoonist and author Jessica Abel’s advice and dump it all out.

You’re probably dreading the thought of just deleting all your old ideas. So instead, make a grand gesture: Publish them. All at once. You can talk a little about each one, or you can just paste the raw file. This is the Spark File’s counterpart, the Bonfire.

Writer and consultant John Sexton published all his never-finished ideas in one massive Medium post, The Pile of Old Ideas — Volume 1. It’s a fascinating cascade of ideas: “Your brain is the ultimate VR device,” “The enemies of comedy,” “A taxonomy of farts.” It’s a shame Sexton couldn’t complete any of these. But more ideas will always come.

Inspired by Sexton, Boing Boing editor Rob Beschizza published two dozen unfinished video games in Killing my unfinished game dev projects. They’re fun ideas: A puzzle game based on DNA editing; a simulation of Lenin’s final days; a cow-clicker game about blogging; a Qbert MMO. “Ideas are cheap,” Beschizza wrote. “If you want one, take it. I’ll cheer from a safe distance!”

There’s a thrill and a pleasure to this approach. This is your magnum opus! The abandoned ideas are the new idea! Still, you need to get this done in a day or two. Don’t do what I did, imagining a metaproject that contains all my abandoned ideas going forward, and then abandoning that idea. Meta-idea debt carries a high interest rate.

Make a plan

You’re not going to get rid of all your ideas. Some are worth holding onto, worth doing. But now that you’ve stripped away everything else, you need to get started. You need to make a plan.

Lifehacker has, of course, plenty of help for you. Here’s how to get motivated; here’s how to complete a coding project; here’s how to start a side business; here’s how to finish a project. Choose a planning system: Getting Things Done, a Bullet Journal, Agile development. Choose goals, make a to-do list, and set deadlines.

A couple of years ago, I decided to buckle down and finish my Silicon Valley pilot. I set a schedule, I worked on it daily, and I ended up writing two pilots. I set them aside, came back to them a month later and… they were OK, but not that great, and not worth fixing.

I was free. For decades I’d dreamed this would be my very best project, and now I’d finally tested that theory. Even though I’d disproved it, I considered this a success: It cleared that part of my mind. I archived the pilots and the giant Evernote file. And I moved onto making my next project—for real.


Need an Investment in Your Business? Locavesting Has More Than a Few Great Ideas

LocavestingWhat if I told you that business lending is expected to grow 66 percent by 2013?

Yes, yes, I’m aware of the economic slowdown; I’m writing this review after the U.S. debt crisis and a stock market week rocky enough to make me skip watching CNBC and Fox Business channels for a long time.  And no, no, I do not have ocean-view property in the middle of the Moab to sell you.

The aforementioned growth is referenced in Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It by Amy Cortese, a renowned Brooklyn journalist. The book explains:

“Analysts at the Gartner Group project that P2P (Peer-to-Peer) lending will expand…to $5 billion in loans worldwide. The brisk growth…will be driven by investors seeking higher returns and borrowers shunning (or being shunned) by banks.”

Ready to learn more? Good, because this book is one of the most honest showcases of monetary hope to the small business community, online or off.  Locavesting examines how communities and small businesses band together to establish alternative financing to reluctant banks.  I asked the publisher for a copy after seeing it in a bookstore, and was emotionally well rewarded by its text, summed up in the conclusion’s first sentence: “What would the world be like if we invested 50 percent of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?”

Learn about financial resources that can develop your community

Cortese infuses historical connection into her examination of alternative funding, much like that in The Economics of Integrity by Anna Bernasek and The Mesh by Lisa Gansky. Starting with Blue Sky legislation launched in Kansas, Cortese shows how American culture has conducted and reacted to overinvestment that correlates with the national mood of the stock market.

The author’s tone towards traditional markets is never sullen, but she is definitely critical of standard investment considerations.  “A-ha moments” abound that bring historic events into context with attitudes towards small business today.  Here’s a quote that reflects that enlightenment:

“There is a strong perception that small companies and startups are extremely risky–that’s the reason, after all, the SEC created such high hurdles for those companies to raise money from ordinary investors…Larger companies may have the resources to better weather a downturn, but size no longer guarantees safety. Who would have thought that Lehman Brothers, a 150-year-old investment firm that had just logged its most profitable years, would vanish virtually overnight?…At least you can rest easier knowing that a local business probably isn’t dabbling in highly leveraged derivative trades…”

Cortese also informs us how alternative small business investment can beneficial, such as in the following quote on co-ops:

“In the United States, about one in every four people belongs to a co-op of some sort. The country’s 29,000 co-ops collectively generate $654 billion in revenue….Co-ops tend to fill a need that the marketplace is ignoring.  And often they are at the forefront.  Those crunchy-granola natural food co-ops were instrumental in establishing the organic and natural foods market — well before John Mackey opened his first Whole Foods store in 1980 or Walmart glommed onto the organic trend in 2006.”

The funds and programs explored in Locavesting run the gamut from long-established community banks to newcomers like Profounder.  You will read about a Local Investment Opportunity Network (LION) in Port Townsend, Washington, or the support to Cops and Doughnuts, a bakery run by Clare, Michigan, police officers.  Contributions from rural America are brought to light through the book’s opening view of Milk Thistle Farm, an upstate New York organic dairy farm well known in New York City, and Slow Money, a program that connects local investors to food enterprises.

You also read about the pitfalls that some experiments have encountered, such as Prosper.com’s dealing with SEC claims “despite compliance due diligence” prior to its operation. Cortese notes that the SEC “is acutely aware of many of the issues holding back small business capitalization.”  Other challenges include conducting due diligence on small businesses and capitalization in some instances due to the recession.

Yet interviewee Alan Cantor, vice president of philanthropy at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, sums up why individuals poured $4.5 million into his fund, “double the amount last year:”

“People are tired of finding out about collaterized debt obligations and tranches and all this chicanery that was happening with their supposedly traditionally invested money.”

ends each chapter with a pro-and-con review of each fund devised.   Also, if you are inspired to create an alternative fund for your community, you will have contacts and websites for more information.  Deciding to provide contact information is a brilliant and welcomed touch.

Putting small business in the spotlight

As someone who has been reviewing business books for nearly two years, I can say it’s been difficult finding books that provide financing suggestions tailored to small business.  A lot has been written about Wall Street, and yet so much of Main Street has been overlooked in print. This wonderful read puts small business front and center and is great for background education or for learning about financial resources broader than Kiva and Kickstarter. Read it along with Wealth Creation for Small Business Owners to get the best ideas on how to manage your finances before seeking investments.

Locavesting is an ingenious finance book, but more importantly, a savvy beacon that can help small businesses and communities muster critical ports in a fierce economic storm.