A century ago, innovators like Henry Ford came to Detroit to build great companies. The city was the Silicon Valley of the era, says innovation expert Josh Linkner, a Detroiter with “deep roots and a lot of passion” for his hometown.
“When we were in that creative groove, our city prospered. We built beautiful roads, buildings, and universities,” says Linkner. “Then, that all stopped. We did this 180.”
The city retreated into bureaucracy, protectionism, and entitlement, he says. Institutions and infrastructure crumbled along with the local economy. The city became a “punchline.”
“It is a fascinating tale of what happens when you’re embracing innovation and what happens when you’re not,” says the 45-year-old entrepreneur, author, and speaker, who will deliver at keynote address at America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC), which runs June 26-29 in Seattle.
Innovation is “mission-critical” for all organizations—but especially now, and especially for credit unions, says Linkner, author of The New York Times bestselling books “Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity” and “The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation.”
Technology and generational shifts are changing the world at a rate like none other in history, Linkner says. And credit unions face an increasingly competitive marketplace, with financial technology (fintech) companies nipping at the industry’s heels.
“Too often, companies fail because they commit to doing things the way they have always done them,” Linkner says. “They think they’ve cracked the code of success and that will just work forever. But that’s a very dangerous approach.”
It’s time to innovate and reinvent, he adds. “If you are still running today’s game plan in 10 years, you are not going to be doing very well.”
Transformation is a process, Linkner says. First, you need to understand your starting point and develop a clear vision of your destination.
From there, you run a lot of little experiments and uncover micro innovations—tiny developments that add up over time.
“You are always changing, evolving, and adapting, but in a controlled, disciplined, nonrisky type of way,” Linkner says of his approach.
Think of transformation like eating an elephant: you do it one bite at a time.
Take a systematic approach to looking at each aspect of your business and run reinvention efforts with experimentation, testing, and data to guide you, he advises.
“Don’t think of innovation and reinvention as big, scary things. Think about them as daily habits in an ongoing process. Instead of innovating once a decade, you should be innovating 10 times a day,” Linkner says.
Consider situations like how you run your Monday morning staff meeting or how you greet members when they walk up to the teller window, he says: “Innovation is accessible.”
Everyone can innovate because everyone has the human gift of creativity, Linkner says.
“Creativity is the single most important weapon that you have, so you don’t become commoditized and lost in the shuffle,” he says.
But sometimes it takes work to summon creativity from within. You can build up your creativity like a muscle through practice.
To do so, Linkner advises:
• Creating an environment where it’s safe to take creative leaps. “If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing or getting fired, you’re never going to be creative.”
• Encouraging courage in yourself and those around you. Give permission to fail. “The biggest barrier isn’t talent, it’s fear.”
• Asking more questions. When you have a problem, pause and ask yourself 20 questions about the problem. You’ll instantly see many new paths forward.
“Curiosity is a building block of creativity,” he says. “The more curious you are, the more creative you become.”
• Getting in the zone. Approach creative endeavors like you would a sports game. “You have to warm up.”
• Seeking inspiration. Take your team on a field trip to an art museum or go for a walk in nature. “If you put yourself and your team in inspiring places, more creativity happens.”
Hire outside the box
In addition to embracing the creativity in your current workforce, look for job candidates who will thrive in a culture that embraces creative thinking, Linkner says.
Some people say the Masters of Fine Arts is the new Masters of Business, according to Linkner. “The really high-value skills are the artistic, imaginative skills which people use to imagine what can be, instead of just what is.”
A prospective employee’s philosophical alignment with the company is more important than what’s on their resume.
The job you’re hiring for today is going to evolve and change. The employee will need to evolve and change as well.
“Whenever I would hire people, I would look for intrinsic values first and job skills and experience second. I can always ‘train-up’ the job skills more so than I can change people in who they are,” Linkner says.
Credit unions should look for creative, outside-the-box thinkers, he says, possibly from nontraditional backgrounds.
“Bring diversity of thought to the equation,” Linkner says.
From jazz to venture capital
Linkner’s career certainly has been nontraditional. He started as a professional jazz guitarist, then founded and led four tech companies, including ePrize, a worldwide digital promotions agency.
And he’s made a name for himself in the tech world working in Detroit. He’s a founding partner of Detroit Venture Partners, which invests in tech startups, and is helping to rebuild his hometown.
Detroit remains a favorite subject when he is speaking to audiences because innovation has made a big comeback there.
“Things are really changing. There’s incredible momentum. Our city is really rising from the ashes,” Linkner says. “We are finally embracing the spirit of innovation and creativity again. We are reconnecting to those entrepreneurial roots and we are thinking about a new Detroit, instead of trying to rebuild the fantasy of our old one.”
►Experience Seattle at America’s Credit Union Conference 2016
America’s Credit Union Conference isn’t just an opportunity dive into crucial issues and witness inspiring keynote speakers—it’s also an opportunity to explore our host city of Seattle. This year, we have tours planned of several Seattle landmarks, including noted wineries, lakes, the Future of Flight Aviation Center, and more.