Linda Bodie jokes that she’s not always the life of the party when she goes out.
Chances are she’s thinking about work, and when a good idea comes to mind—regardless of when or where—she’ll pursue it.
Bodie, CEO of $26 million asset Element Federal Credit Union in Charleston, W.Va., doesn’t believe a formal process is necessary for innovation. In fact, she thinks formalizing creativity could even be detrimental to the process.
“If we make it a ‘process,’ it loses the creativity and limitlessness,” Bodie says. “Good ideas can happen in the office, at a ball game, at church, at a party—anywhere someone’s creative juices are touched.”
Bodie finds inspiration from many sources. Once while dining out, she noticed that the restaurant used iPads for its cash registers, menus, and seating chart. It turns out the business was using “POS Lazu”—a complete point-of-sale (POS) system that runs on the tablet.
This sparked the idea for Element Federal’s “Go Kiosk,” which lets members open and fund accounts, apply for loans, and access documents from any computer, smartphone, or tablet.
Earlier, in 2009, the credit union developed and deployed a remote deposit capture system for the iPhone called iDeposit.
Element Federal does a variety of “quirky little things,” such as offering “call-ahead transactions,” where members can schedule a time to conduct business; and providing debit cards with custom images in as little as two minutes. “We surprise a lot of people a lot of the time,” Bodie says.
The credit union has been paperless for more than 10 years, and does 50% to 60% of new account openings and loan applications electronically.
Element Federal does all of this with 12 employees, including a part-time information technology staffer whose attitude is, “if I can’t do something, I’ll learn how,” Bodie says.
Her advice for fostering innovation:
• Don’t establish barriers or boxes around your initiatives. That stifles creativity.
“We talk about anything and everything,” Bodie says. “Nothing is censored.”
• Trust one another. Employees must know your purpose and be open to new ideas. Egos and baggage have no place in the creative process.
• Leave the building. Brainstorm somewhere fun or different—meeting in the credit union doesn’t usually spark innovation.
• Relax. “Use music or whatever frees your mind from the box it normally lives in,” she says.
• Make it exciting and fun. Engage employees, members, friends—anyone who wants to make something new and different.
• Look outside the industry for ideas.
• Prepare for failure. “I fail every day,” Bodie says. “Failure is good because then you know what doesn’t work.”
Check back Wednesday and Thursday for parts two and three of this special report.