Intellectual Curiosity Trumps Insularity

Venturing outside your comfort zone is key to discovering new ideas.

October 09, 2013
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Intellectual curiosity explains Jason Osterhage’s affinity for a wide range of subjects.

These subjects include Frank Gehry’s provocative architecture, the powerful lessons of business thinkers Nancy Duarte and Alexsander Osterwalder, and Pixar’s blend of productivity and creativity.

“I find inspiration in all of these places because I share Peter Drucker’s view that management is a liberal art,” says Osterhage, senior vice president of lending at Alliant Credit Union in Chicago. “It draws on psychology and philosophy, economics and history, current events, culture, ethics, and the latest applications of the physical sciences.

“I’ve always tried to find my way onto teams where I’m the dumbest person in the room,” he continues. “If I ever feel like I’m the smartest person in a room, there’s the potential to stop learning and growing.”

Osterhage entered the credit union industry eight years ago with Delta Community Credit Union in Atlanta and last year moved to Alliant, where he’s intrigued by the organization’s commitment to ask challenging questions and remain committed to credit union philosophy.

One of Alliant’s goals is to promote responsible borrowing in a way that creates lasting social benefit. That jibes with Osterhage’s dedication to monitor groundbreakers in all fields.

“Look beyond credit union boundaries to define the limits of what’s necessary and possible to accomplish,” Osterhage says. “Our business is unique in ways that matter, but I believe we can spend too much time talking to ourselves about ourselves.”

With social entrepreneurship, cross-sector collaboration, and conscious capitalism becoming buzzwords, credit unions possess a rare opportunity to differentiate themselves, Osterhage says.

To that end, credit union executives must recognize that they serve as the primary engine of growth and change, he adds.

“Leaders would do well to think of themselves as strategic leaders of social enterprises navigating today’s business environment—and then search within that broader frame for ideas and inspiration,” Osterhage says.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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