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Bletchley Park, Code Breaking & Credit Unions

Recently, I had the amazing good fortune to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of big data, well more like the birthplace of Big Data’s parents,– Bletchley Park, England.

Bletchley Park, the central site of Brittan’s WW II code breaking work, was not only known for its work on breaking the extremely difficult German Enigma cipher machine and shortening the war by an estimated two years, but also for the creation of the framework of what we recognize today as modern computing, under the guidance of the brilliant data visionary, Alan Turing.

Turing and his talented team of mathematicians, cryptanalysts and computational scientists had a BHAG (big harry audacious goal) of a problem to solve. The Germans were using the Enigma cipher machine to communicate between its navy, army and air force. The enigma enciphered one message into one of 159million, million, million possible ways, making it seemingly impossible to decode.

The team at Bletchley attacked this problem from all sides. To be efficient with their time, they broke the problem into a six-step process;

1. Intercept the message.

2. Determine how the messages have been encrypted.

3. Decryption.

4. Translate into English

5. Verification & cross-reference

6. Collaborate.

While this seems like an extreme simplification, have no doubt there were very large sub-tasks. For example, the pre-computer machine that Turning made for step #2 as well as #1 of intercepting the message.

The success at Bletchley hinged upon a few factors.

1. Talent/Resources

They were able to gather many people in a variety of talents from both the military as well as civilian sources. This included not only the top minds from the academia but also the best talent at support/process and project management.

When your credit union takes on a BHAG - What talent, what systems, how much time will you need? But most importantly do you have the culture? One of the important aspects at Bletchley was the belief that they could and would succeed. This positive framing keeps everyone looking for solutions, rather than objections.

2. Process

There was a clearly defined process that all parts of the organization knew about and and could see how their efforts helped to achieve the BHAG.

When your credit union is trying to accomplish an unattainable goal, remember it can be achieved when it is approached as smaller projects that fit together to achieve the larger goal.

3. Plan, fail, learn, and repeat

The team at Bletchley had many failures. But that was part of the process. They learned from each time and built upon the knowledge. It was expected.

Make certain that your credit union has a culture that can expect to have failure, learn from it and continue to improve. This is key to success.

With 2017 planning getting closer, what will be your credit union’s BHAG/ moonshot? The team at Bletchley had theirs given to them, but what do you want your credit union to achieve in 2017 or by 2020 or beyond?

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