Tactical priorities often trump strategic visioning, which is put off and pushed down the road. In the meantime, industry after industry is threatened by the unexpected emergence of disruptive technologies. Exponential increases in computing power and storage act as the accelerant. Here is a short list of industries engulfed in the fires of change:
- Once dominant BlackBerry® teeters on the brink of irrelevance.
- Dell struggles to respond to the unprecedented success of the iPad®.
- Newsweek halts publication of its print edition.
- Priceline and Expedia send traditional travel agencies to the verge of extinction.
- Print advertising is supplanted by Google Adwords.
- Barcode scanning turns Best Buy into a display case for Amazon.
- Free massive open online courses (MOOCs) threaten the traditional university business model.
Visionizing the ideal credit union in 2020
Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union is in the midst of a significant, multi-year IT installation. CEO Ann Brittin does not want the significant focus on this tactical priority to come at the expense of strategic visioning: “Cornerstone has done traditional strategic planning for years. We know what our priorities are for the next couple of years. We now need to open up our thought process on where the credit union industry will be in 2020 and where Cornerstone will position itself. To help us do that, we reached out to Prism Decision Systems.”
A provocative strategic retreat
8:30 a.m. — We begin the day viewing Corning Incorporated’s A Day Made of Glass 2. We want to shake up the 32 participants, make them very uncomfortable in their thinking about the pace of change and instill a little cognitive dissonance early on a Saturday morning. Senior managers then deliver superbly prepared presentations on emerging technologies such as personal teller machines and the “mobile wallet.”
The facilitator reviews examples of sudden disruptions to business models, shares Ray Kurzweil’s stunning forecast that $1000 will buy computing power equivalent to that of the human brain by around the year 2023, and asks,
- Like so many other industries, is banking at an inflection point?
- Will the mobile channel radically reinvent banking?
- Will new disruptive technologies threaten the current credit union business model?
- What new competitors will emerge: Google, Apple, Wal-Mart?
- Who will be our future customers?
- What is the emerging role of social networks?
- What credit union business models will survive?
9:30 a.m. — All 32 participants are energetically engaged. Conversations flow.
Assumption busting and backwards-from-perfect thinking
The team is starting to remove the blinders of their habitual thinking. The power of their biases is diminishing. They are beginning to see differently and are ripe for some assumption busting. Small groups are asked to
- Identify Cornerstone’s key assumptions about the future.
- Ruthlessly question their validity.
- Generate new assumptions that will govern in 2020.
- Then ask: “What if?”
Participants describe possible alternative futures. There is laughter in the room. With this cue, the facilitator unleashes backwards-from-perfect thinking:
Imagine the industry-leading credit union in 2020. What are its characteristics or attributes? What makes it ideal, perfect?
Small groups share and cluster their responses. Together, we produce an affinity diagram that reveals seven distinct attributes of the ideal credit union in 2020.
11:30 a.m. — We break as vigorous conversations continue over lunch.
Strategic profiling reveals immediate opportunities
Using Prism’s Group Decision Support System™, the team assesses those seven attributes in a strategic opportunity profile that (a) ranks them in terms of importance to future success, (b) assesses Cornerstone’s performance against each and (c) identifies whether or not each was new and innovative. After discussing the vote profile and looking at the disaggregated results of the board, management team and volunteers, the team agrees that there are two immediate, high-leverage strategic opportunities. Subgroups conclude by eagerly presenting immediate implications to Cornerstone’s planning over the next 12 to 14 months and then out to December 2015.
2:00 p.m. — We adjourn. We meet our primary objective: to agree to a targeted list of implications to planning over the next 12 to 14 months and then out to December 2015. We also meet our secondary objective: to elicit testimonials that this was the most enjoyable, engaging and productive one-day strategic retreat ever.