It’s a tired cliche to some, but the reality is that there has probably never been a time where thinking outside of the box has been more important throughout the credit union industry.

The challenges at hand in dealing with the corporate meltdown and its after effects, the increased levels of regulation being bantered around for the financial services industry, and an economy that is recovering with what almost appears to be a glacial slowness, demand new thinking on the part of Boards and Leadership Teams across the country.

But it’s not so easy to get out of the box…the box is comfortable, the box is safe, and the box is familiar…in times of turbulence, the box is the only thing that seems certain, reliable, and predictable. And that is precisely why the box needs to be left behind.

The driving forces behind this need are the two dimensions of change that impact business success…the speed of change and the familiarity of change. Few would argue that the speed of change shifted into a new gear a few years ago and has never looked back. But even more powerful in its impacts on our world is the level of unfamiliarity that we are experiencing every day in the changes we are seeing. The combination of these two elements is forcing leaders in the credit union industry to confront uncomfortable issues and to regularly make decisions that are tougher than any they have faced before.

As we continue down this evolving path, sacred cows will have to be sacrificed and our thinking about what is possible will be changed forever. Ideas once dismissed out of hand will become regular topics of discussion, and decisions once envisioned as options only in the most dire of circumstances will be made by those who seek to survive and thrive.

And in the middle of it all, some new killer application will likely appear that shakes up the entire industry…most likely introduced by a player who was never before even in the financial services industry. Because almost every major game changing application that has ever emerged in business has come from someone who was not a player in the industry whose game they changed.

Consider, for example, the potential of a cell phone service provider entering the market with the killer mobile banking application. When you realize that the use of cell phones for debit transactions is already prevalent in the overseas markets, the potential for Verizon, Spring, AT&T or T-Mobile to be the next big player in financial services is not that far-fetched. It’s exactly the kind of outside of the box thinking that could completely revolutionize an entire industry.

So what do you do as a credit union leader to ensure that you are getting out of the box and making the best possible decisions during these challenging times?

ACTION ADVICE: Engage your leadership team and your board in candid, open, and wide-ranging discussions that force you outside of the box that has historically defined your thinking. Identify and discuss the sacred cows and the off-limits decisions. Consider the difficult ‘what-if’ questions that may confront you in the months and years ahead…have these conversations now before the real pressure is on, and outline your action plan for facing the potential crises that may arise. Doing so will get you out of the box and will ensure that you are better prepared to respond to the opportunities that always arise when change occurs!