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Best-selling author Gladwell: Weakness often veiled strength for credit unions

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell said during America’s Credit Union Conference on Monday that weakness is often masked strength and that being an underdog has its advantages.

“A lot of our intuition about what an advantage is and what a disadvantage is, is wrong,” Gladwell said. “Bigger isn’t always better, and being powerful in a marketplace doesn’t ensure future success.”

Gladwell said big companies often spend less time and resources on innovation, adding that they have a more distant relationship to their customers.

He pointed to the example of college basketball coach Rick Pitino, one of the few coaches to use a full-court press approach to the game. In a full-press approach, players contest every inbound pass—a method seen as difficult and time-consuming, and one rarely used by other coaches.

“They don’t do this because it’s hard,” Gladwell said. “Playing conventionally is easy. What’s different, rare and scarce is effort, not resources. When looking at innovators who make lasting contributions, you see the same traits again and again: they’re creative, conscientious, and disagreeable because they feel that they’re right.”

Gladwell said credit unions should embrace the fact that they will never be as large as America’s biggest banks, adding that until the institutions embrace their small size, they will always think bigger is better.

Additionally, Gladwell said management leadership is a driving factor in motivating employees to work harder. He pointed to the Pitino example, saying the key to success was that each player contributed equally.

“The minute you start overwhelmingly rely upon a few players, it’s hard to maintain that common cause,” Gladwell said.

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