The radio plays what they want you to hear

I love music. I grew up appreciating good music, and as I learned to play instruments, I explored different types of music and was exposed to so many amazing artists. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t have access to any of the streaming services we are lucky to have today. If I wanted to hear any tracks or artists not on rotation on a radio station, I had to head down to my local record store and buy an album. And I did that a lot. Although I now have access to any song I could ever want on my phone, I still have boxes of cassettes and CDs that I purchased over the years.

There is a big difference between listening to songs on the radio and taking the deeper dive into listening to entire albums. There is a song called “Sell Out” by a 90’s ska band called Reel Big Fish, which ironically was played on the radio often. One of the lines in the song says –

Radio plays what they want you to hear. They tell me it’s cool, I just don’t believe it.

You can find several other songs lamenting the restrictive nature of what we find on the radio. There have also been movies made portraying out-of-touch, or even evil, record company and radio station executives.

Today, out-of-touch executives are often replaced by algorithms that control everything from the music we hear, the news we consume, the people we interact with online, and the marketing messages we see. We give up control because we are constantly provided with short snippets of information that is both agreeable and easy to understand. It often gives us the illusion that we are learning something new, but we may not be getting the whole picture. I recently found myself telling someone about a story I ‘read’, only to back track and say, “well, I read the headline of the story.”

As leaders, are we taking the time for a deeper dive in the information we consume? Are we relying on summaries and headlines to make decisions that will guide the strategic direction of our credit unions? I was recently in a room with several other credit union executives, and it was very apparent that many of us, including me, don’t know enough when it comes to things like AI, FinTechs, or new payment methods. We know these changes are coming. We know they are important to discuss. But do we understand these tools, the effect on our members, and the effect on the way we do business?

So how do we get out of the trap of only listening to what they want us to hear? Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • Listen to the whole album – When we are faced with new information, challenges, and disruptions we need to take time to dig a little deeper. This doesn’t mean we need to become experts, but we should know enough that we can explain things in simple terms to our Board, members, and other stakeholders. This knowledge comes through reading beyond the headline, finding additional sources of information, and reaching out to internal and external subject matter experts.
  • Discover new bands – I think we all like to say that we knew bands before they were cool. Are we doing the same thing at our credit unions? Are we getting ahead of trends? This doesn’t necessarily mean we are on the leading edge of implementing new technology, but are we researching the ‘next big thing’ so that we are ready to include that in our plans when the time comes? This may require us to look outside our normal sources, including resources outside of our industry.
  • Turn off the radio – Sometimes all the noise is just noise. Pay attention to what’s going on and the evolution of the financial services world, but there are exaggerations and panicking that we can choose to ignore. Be patient. Listen to your members and understand the needs in the communities you serve. Listen to your teams, especially those that know all the pain points.

Credit unions can and should be leaders in innovation. We understand the needs of our members, businesses, and communities. We can create opportunities for a more inclusive experience that serves more people. Let’s play our greatest hits but make room for new hits and deep tracks.

Brian Lee

Brian Lee

Brian Lee is the President/CEO for Landings Credit Union in Tempe, AZ after previously serving as the credit union's Chief Financial Officer. Brian joined the credit union movement after ... Web: Details