Taylor Swift Gets It…How About You?

Most of the news I consume daily comes from financial services specific publications. I read the daily info feeds from the ICBA and ABA, but also get feeds from The Financial Brand, Digital Transaction News and other similar sources that educate and inform.  I also regularly check in on both Fox News and MSNBC to get a well-rounded view of what constitutes the “headlines of the day” from different perspectives.  So, I read a story from Fox News that highlighted that singer / songwriter Taylor Swift had received the “Innovator” award at the iHeart Radio Music Awards.

Now, full disclosure, I am not a Taylor Swift fan. Which is not to say that I regularly sample it and find it not to my liking. Neither her country music nor her more recent pop songs are ever played on Sirius/XMs Classic Vinyl, to which my satellite radio is almost always directed.  But iHeart Radio selected her for their innovator award and that certainly caught my eye.  If you track her career, she was extremely innovative from writing her own material (still fairly unique given that when she first started out in show business, she was just a teenager …) to switching genres, her epic fight to control her music and managing to make both her live shows and studio work consistently thrill and delight fans.

And yet, Taylor herself acknowledges that her success was the result of much trial and error.  There was a video clip of her accepting the award included in the story. In the clip she says this, “What I did do was try to make the right decision for me at the time, whether or not it had ever been successfully done before,” she said. “I think maybe that might be the key because often times in any industry people are looking for a precedent, or data that shows this idea is a good one or a feasible one.” Swift continued, “People want an example of something working before. I think the coolest ideas are the news one, ones that set a new precedent.”  Swift is acknowledging that not following the traditional formula for creating and performing hit songs is the path she undertook.  Unstated is that this was a huge risk: can you imagine at her young age the pressure that was exerted on her to “conform”?

The next part of the clip is truly inspirational.  Swift made a specific callout to her fans, specifically those labeled as being young: “I really want everyone to know, especially young people, the hundreds or thousands of dumb ideas that I’ve had are what led me to my good ideas. You have to give yourself permission to fail,” she said. “I try as hard as I can not to fail because it’s embarrassing, but I do give myself permission to, and you should too,” Swift said. “Someday someone might think that they’re innovative.”  You can catch the entire video clip here. Incredible. She is acknowledging that innovation is not just an inspiration, a flash of immediate brilliance but many, many such flashes, some less brilliant than others. The constant flow of ideas, the partially written songs never finished, literally thousands of attempts to create music magic that must inherently go into the creation of what we ultimately see and hear.  I firmly believe that many young millennials and Gen Zs have no concept of the hard work that goes into being creative and innovating.  I frequently say that it takes 30 ideas to get 1 good one, but there are university studies that suggest that it might be many hundreds or even thousands of ideas to get one good one. My innovation workshops are focused on getting ideas out and onto the table without regard to how “good” those ideas are.  Swift knows what I consistently preach, that when we are free to ideate without fear of recrimination, then ideas are generated in volume, including truly crazy ideas. And sometimes, it’s the crazy idea that is the “good” one. More often, the crazy idea isn’t good (hey, I said it was crazy …), but the fact that it got produced got someone, perhaps even the originator of the crazy idea, to think of something that would never have been considered, but for…the crazy idea.

As financial institutions, we maintain a professional environment. We don’t think about structuring our operations around thinking, much less encouraging crazy ideas.  But I believe this is a potentially terminal error for bankers. Our non-FI competitors have no such self-imposed restrictions and are innovating like crazy.  We had better wake up to keep up.  When I do one of my Innovation Driven Growth keynotes, I include a quote that reads, “Don’t be afraid of being different. Be terrified of just being like everyone else.”  In the Thinking Room we created here at FNBB, a quote that stretches across the top of one wall says, “Innovation occurs when failure is an option.”  Bank professionals, we HAVE to be open to allow for failure, else we will not get true innovation.  Taylor Swift clearly understands this critical concept, how about you?