Won’t We Be Their Neighbors?

A Mr. Rogers commencement speech shows how business theories can inspire the human dimension of credit union service.

As I’ve written about over the years, I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and Mr. Rogers was a family friend and visitor to my childhood home. For obvious reasons Pittsburgh has been on my mind the past few weeks.

While on an airplane I finally got a chance to watch the movie Won’t You be My Neighbor. I think a long airplane ride is the perfect place to watch this as you have plenty of time to reflect and absorb.

This may be corny, but I think there could be some real strategic lessons for credit unions to examine some of the messages or theories Mr. Rogers taught. I use the word theories here on purpose.


Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen introduced the idea that leadership action is often best guided by theories statements of causality rather than gut instinct alone or pure trial and error.

Christensen states the dilemma faced by managers is that data about what has worked in business is only available about the past, and given the acceleration of change across industries, that data might not be relevant for the future.

As he rhetorically asks, Why did God not create data about the future? Good theories enable leaders to make decisions in the absence of data, says Christensen. To Mr. Rogers, those theories are principles about how people should treat each other.

For those that don’t have two hours to watch the Mr. Rogers movie, here’s a quick read: a commencement address that he presented at Dartmouth College, his alma mater, in 2002. His theories can be pretty cleanly extracted.

More on credit unions and Mr. Rogers:

  • What Would Mr. Rogers Say?
  • Who Will Be Our Mr. Rogers?

As credit unions debate how to differentiate in a digital-first, commoditized market, perhaps some soul searching is in order. I might suggest a place to start.

Print out the Dartmouth speech (the link above takes you to both a video of his speech and the printed text) and bring it to your next senior team meeting and ask your colleagues: What would our members say about us, and what should they say about us? I would think this could be an enlightening strategic discussion.

At the very least, take a few minutes to read the speech.

Here’s just one short passage: Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.

As I travel around the country, it’s increasingly clear to me that credit unions are needed more than ever to make that investment, because people need help. They need to know someone has their financial well-being in mind. I hope we are up to that challenge.

America needs a neighbor like credit unions.

November 12, 2018

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