IQ May Get You The Job, But EQ Grows The CU

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Do you know your EQ? Do you care to?

At issue is whether you are an entrepreneur or to what degree you have an entrepreneurial quotient. Having been an entrepreneur in several start-up businesses, I speak from experience in telling you that there may be an inverse relationship between EQ and IQ, because as anyone who has launched a business knows, you spend considerable time lying awake at night wondering what you were thinking and whether or not you were out of your mind.

Within credit unions, as with any business, there is entrepreneurship of a different kind to be found. It's the Ownership of Ideas, and the ability to champion those ideas, follow up and see them through to execution. It's sort of a business within the business (with the added bonus that it's not your money at risk-the real gutcheck for any true entrepreneur-just your time and perhaps your reputation). If you're the type of credit union executive willing to take risks with those latter two, someone's looking for you.

Two years ago the credit union community's think tank, the Filene Research Institute in Madison, Wis., created a first-of-its-kind program to foster "innovation." Until 2004, Filene, named after credit union patron Edward Filene, who observed that "Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something better," had focused on using researchers outside the credit union community to study a broad range of issues. But what was missing was the inside piece, and specifically, the organically grown innovation that could be shared so that credit unions-themselves an innovation-could become that "something better." Out of that was born i3.

i3 was and is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that you can't form an acronym out of its name in which the letters "CU" appear. The name stands for ideas, innovation, implementation. It also doesn't focus on political lobbying, isn't comprised of CEOs, and in what may be its singularly unique feature for a credit union group, produces tangible, tested product and service concepts and strategies that are put into practical use, not white papers.

Does that stir your entrepreneurial juices? (If a career in middle management, taking few risks and doing even fewer exciting things appeals to you, thanks for your readership to this point, but please skip to the next page.) If so, you may want to fill out an application.

'i3 is an opportunity to make a name for yourself and to be part of something bigger than yourself and also to do it at the national level," said Mark Meyer, whose heads up i3 and whose title is "Director of Innovation" at Filene. Meyer shared a story at the recent Credit Union Journal conference that when he was hired for the post, he asked Filene's Executive Director Bob Hoel what a "Director of Innovation" does? Hoel's response: "I don't know." That left Meyer to pioneer new directions, and one of the things he's done is look for other pioneers. But can they be found in credit unions? What about the rule of Innovation vs. Assets, that is the larger the credit union, the more likely groupthink overrules individual leadership.

"I think the largest credit union is nothing compared to a Citibank or a BofA. A credit union can be so much more nimble and swift," Meyer said, conceding that larger credit unions can become more "siloed" in terms of cross-functionality. "With smaller credit unions it's not so much an issue of assets as it is that they don't have the time. You have people who are wearing 15 different hats."

In credit unions of all asset sizes, Meyer reminded that the key question remains, "Are we creating cultures within our organizations that foster innovation?" Research and development, he reminded, is a "discipline."

If all that sounds appealing and you're still reading, you will want to submit an application to become part of i3. Applicants who are accepted are broken up into work groups, and immediately do just that: get to work. Meyer said that he "naively" thought before the launch of i3 that it would require five to seven hours of work per month, but most i3ers are putting in that kind of time every week, and I spoke to one i3 member last week who in one breath extolled all the excitement of the three I's-developing ideas, turning them into innovations and then implementing them-and in the next breath saying he was out of breath from the work.

i3 members sign on for a three-year period and are given one six-month project and two one-year projects. They meet physically twice per year, and are generally divided into cross-functional teams representing different professional disciplines (Meyer said i3 has never had a representative from HR).

"i3ers, generally, are passionate," said Meyer. "They are pretty altruistic. They want to see the credit union industry grow and thrive, and also want to make sure the industry is around. The reason we push for hard-core entrepreneurial skills is there is no capital given to them. We just say, 'Hey, take this.' We need people who answer, 'Let's get this done.'"

So, are you a risk-taking, entrepreneurial, innovative, cross-pollinating, make-it-work type? You can take an EQ test on the Filene website (www.filene.org) by clicking on the i3 icon, where you can also fill out an application.

Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal. He can be contacted at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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