Originally published on CUInsight.com.

Ever visit someplace from childhood and think, “wow, I remember it being bigger”? Go back a few times or ask your kids (who are there for the first time) and all seems normal. You’ve just experienced Shifting Baselines.

It’s All In Perceptions

Think of it as a change in the perception of normal. I’m not talking about how your impeccable teenage styles seem ridiculous now. Let’s be honest, flower headbands will always be cool (as will bow ties). This is about one person’s standard becoming another’s outlier.

You may not be familiar with the term, and that’s ok. I’ve only seen it used when discussing environmental change. Even then, only in the oceans; fish size, abundance, and all.

But you’re in luck! I happen to have a background in ocean policy and marine science. It’ll come back around to credit unions, I promise.

The Salty Dog & New Fisherman

Let’s paint a scenario so everyone can grasp Shifting Baselines. We have two fishermen: one, an old salty dog, another freshly joining the industry. The former sings shanties of days gone by, the latter just waits for their first day on the water. Here’s where the trouble begins:

  • Our salty dog (lifelong fisherman) considers a “big fish” 150 lbs. and a “good” catch 1,000 lbs.
  • The newbie (no prior experience in area) is excited to reel in a “big fish” weighing 50 lbs. and sails home with a “good” catch netting (forgive the pun) 400 lbs.

Do you see the issue? What is great for one is ruin for the other. However, the new fisherman has no memory of the “better days” and instead considers their first day the norm. When our salty dog leaves the industry, their standard and memory goes with them.

Things Got Worse. No One Noticed.

Moving forward, smaller fish and fewer of them is expected (without ever realizing the loss). Yet we know the past really was brighter. In fact, who’s to say our old fisherman wasn’t reminiscing over already diminished catches? Maybe their elders sang of even larger fish!

Shifting Baselines In Your Credit Union

Are you suffering from Shifting Baselines in your credit union? Take the opportunity to speak with your longest-serving staff, board members, and even members. Get their take on how the institution has evolved. Are the new normals for the better?

Within the marine realm, Shifting Baselines almost always represent a loss. Does your credit union share the trend, or has the baseline improved?

If I walked in to your branch, my standard would begin at that moment. If compared to a member from 50 years ago, would I be pleasantly surprised or disappointed?

Do you have stories from your credit union’s “old salts”? Share them here or with me on Twitter at @JoeCUGeek.

For more information on how Shifting Baselines applies to our oceans, visit Smithsonian Ocean Portal.

Image credit: Me