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Lessons For You From Places You Likely Never Looked

There was advice from a skateboarder. A man who has picked Paul McCartney's brain. A woman who built a well-known brand-and then quit. Another whose career battles included "Cupcake Wars."

They were among what is annually the best line-up of speakers at any credit union gathering, CO-OP Financial Services' annual THINK Conference, which delivered on its name last week in Anaheim. Elsewhere in this issue, Credit Union Journal has some initial coverage out of the meeting. We'll have expanded coverage in the May 30 issue.

Until then, here are some of the odds-and-ends, the interesting observations (both related to credit unions and completely out of left field) from the meeting:

• You can often be surprised where a keen insight about credit unions might come from. Consider this observation from skateboard legend and multi-million-dollar "brand" Tony Hawk, when asked what CUs can do better: "I think it's more of showing your passion for the credit union concept, as well, and not just showing facts and figures and your rates. It's about 'why I love being here' and 'why I chose to be here.' You can show all the advantages, but it's about more than being a product."

• Hearing Hawk's observation, Mark Meyer of the Filene Research Institute proposed that a Tony Hawk CU could be formed to fit the needs of a group of young people with a unique lifestyle. Hawk responded, "I feel there is more trust in my brand. But that may be an idea on a broader scale, but a skate industry credit union might be something that has resonance. People would feel they are all accessing together, that it is a social network of another sort. I think you could use that model across other industries, as well."

• Hawk added as an aside that he once had dinner at George Harrison's house, but not because the former Beatle was a fan or even had any idea who he was. Instead, Harrison's son had wanted to meet Hawk.

• Susan Packard, co-founder of HGTV and related brands, said that when her company bought the Food Network in 1997 it was referred to by critics of its simplistic menus as the "dump-and-stir" network. She said one thing HGTV soon learned was that demographically speaking, it was programming for its employees, nearly all of whom lived in Manhattan, when it's population of viewers was "Nashville, Tenn."

• Nancy Lublin, founder of non-profits Dress for Success and DoSomething.org, said she was "thrilled to be here to talk to a group of non-taxpayer-bailed-out banks." And then she added, "Talk about non-profits. The auto industry. The airline industry. And some big banks. We all work at not-for-profits."

Lublin said there should be no doubt why any CU should want to get into mobile payments, saying the average teenager gets 3,330 text messages per month. The best part? "There is a 100% open rate, even when they don't respond. It's unlike any other medium. You should be all over mobile payments."

Lublin shared an interesting bit of family history, too, that would strongly affect her life. Her grandfather had been the fifth son of five boys born to a Jewish family in Poland. At that time most Jewish males were eventually drafted into the army for a minimum of 20 years. So her grandfather's parents never acknowledged the boy had been born, hiding him and keeping him from school, and when he hit puberty, putting him on a boat to America. "At Ellis Island my Orthodox Jewish grandfather was asked his birthday, and he didn't know it. So they assigned him Dec. 25th."

That grandfather would eventually leave her $5,000 as an inheritance, funds she would use to found Dress for Success.

• Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert and author and whose talk to the TED Conference in 2006 has been viewed more than five-million times on YouTube, wryly observed, "I grew up in Liverpool, England, where everyone dreams of going to Disneyland. Now I and my family live in Los Angeles, and my children grow up in LA dreaming of going to America."

In the course of doing research for a book (he has several, including "Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative," and "The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything," Sir Ken shared that he had a discussion with fellow Liverpudlian and knight Sir Paul McCartney during which he asked McCartney if he enjoyed music in school. "Quite the contrary, he said he hated it," related Sir Ken. "He said he found it boring. When I asked if anyone thought he had any talent, he said 'No.' One of the other people in the same school at the same time was George Harrison No one thought he had any talent, either. It means that one music teacher in Liverpool had half the Beatles in his class, and he missed it. It s a bit of an oversight, really. My point is that human resources are like natural resources; they are often buried deep beneath the surface. You have to go looking for them."

• Porter Gale, VP-marketing with Virgin America Airlines, said Facebook has now grown to the point that with 500-million users it would be the third-largest country in the world.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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