Friday, December 18, 2009

Lessons from an "Un-Conference" - BarCampBank Chicago

It was a week ago today that I sat in a classroom at the Illinois Credit Union League with 20+ other finance professionals from across the industry at BarCampBank Chicago.

What is a BarCampBank you ask?

A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering (an "un-conference") born from the desire for people interested in to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, presentations, and interaction from participants interested in finance, innovation and/or technology. The aim of BarCampBank is to foster innovations and the creation of new business models in the world of banking and finance.

The agenda is set by participants the day of the event. What do you want to discuss? Learn more about? Give a session or lead a discussion on? BarCampBanks are devoted to sharing and learning in an open environment - all participant driven. This allows people to more easily connect with those who have similar interests.
Sounds cool huh? That's what I thought. I attended a BarCamp proper (focused primarily on technology) last year and have been intrigued by the concept more and more after reading of other's adventures with BarCampBanks across the movement. Last week was my first BarCampBank.

I'm a little late to the after-party - there have already been some great postings on last week's event here, here and here. Here are a few of my take-aways:

  1. Having no agenda beforehand actually can be productive. This was the part of the event that scared me the most because I tend to overprepare for everything. Also we plan all of the council conferences' agendas months in advance. So staring at the blank board below was a little intimidating at the beginning of the day! But it worked. We went around the room initially and carved out topics people wanted to talk about...and then we discussed them. And the discussions never lagged - I was envisioning some sessions tapering off or dying mid-stream, but every session could have went over its allotted time (because everyone there was smart, thoughtful and not shy which helped too). I also learned something in every session.
  2. Social media is still scary. We kicked off the day with a ninety-minute discussion of social media dividing the room into two separate discussions - the novices and the more advanced users. I led the "intro to social media" group with Carla Day and it's always eye-opening to see how little some people know about social media what it is, how it works, etc, (not the attendees per se, but their tales of their colleagues, boards, IT dept, etc). I don't know whether it's because I'm immersed in it everyday, but there still seems an ignorance out there by some - I'm not saying every credit union needs to be on Twitter, I'm just saying your marketing department and others should at least know what Twitter is.
  3. Deep dish pizza is still good. Lunch. 'Nuff said.
  4. Board relations can be improved. In one of the sessions, I was surprised to hear how little staff at some credit unions interact with their board of directors. Most information is funneled through the CEO. Not good if you are trying to get backing for new ideas. Maybe cajole a short appearance and/or presentation at the next board meeting?
  5. Generation Y is still relevant to credit unions. One of the morning sessions I was in focussed on marketing to young adults and there was a general feeling that with the economic crisis and CU corporate issues in the last year, this issue was put on the backburner of many's strategic plans. In 2010, expect to see this issue highlighted again - as it should be.
  6. Anything is possible. After the BarCamp I attended in Madison last year, I wanted to hold a BarCampBank in Madison somehow. I got a group together to plan it, but it never got off the ground - months later I put something out on Twitter and it got the ear of friends Stacy Dugan and Carla Day. "Let's do it in Chicago instead!" "How can I help?" Boom. We talked. We emailed. Six weeks later we were standing at the event with 20+ others from credit unions, leagues, CUNA, vendors and even one lone community banker. Sometimes all it takes for your idea to take shape is to say it out loud.


Brent Dixon said...

Thanks for posting the recap, CM. I've heard nothing but great things about BCBCHI, wish I couldve been there.

Jeff Larche said...

Since the financial meltdown there has been tremendous frustration with, and anger AT, traditional banks. It's an ideal time for CUs, assuming they're willing to seize the opportunity.

I love the fact that you held this type of event, Chris. BarCamps would be considered pretty "out there" by just about any industry, but detractors would be missing the point if they wrote it off as overly "techie" or counterculture.

The fluidity of a BarCamp allows participants to set the tone and format. The becomes what attendees choose it to become. When I first heard about BarCampBank Chicago, I thought it was a perfect blank slate for CUs -- a category of business that is so "uncategorized," from a positioning standpoint (especially to Gen Y-ers), that it can become whatever it chooses to be in consumer's minds. Marketers in other industries would KIL for this opportunity to start with a clean slate!

Even the community-based feel of a CU -- in a time when the very meaning of the word community is debated by society -- becomes a perceptual positive.

What a hoot it would be if CUs were to become the place where growing numbers of individuals and businesses decided to move their money, as logic financial move and a protest against complacent banks.

Other people should hear this story.

I co-host the Milwaukee version of Likemind. If you'd ever want to appear as a guest speaker, we'd love to have you talk about the challenges your industry is facing and how CUs are responding.

And what's Likemind, you may ask (well, not you, but others reading this)? Similar to BarCamp, it's more of a concept than a formal organization.

Just "google" the phrase "Milwaukee Likemind" for a link to my own explanation, on my blog site, and a link at the bottom of that page to the international Likemind web site.

Christopher Morris said...

Thanks Brent and Jeff for the comment!

Jeff, I'll definitely look up Likemind - sounds cool.