The need to unlearn

In part four of strategy's Future-Proofing series, TBWA\Hakuhodo's Dean Sciole says we need to erase what we already know.

For the February/March issue of strategy, guest editor Steve Mykolyn of Taxi posed the question to several industry heavy-weights: how do you future-proof the business? They came back with their thoughts on dealing with today’s world of rapid-fire change, and here we present the fourth of the series.

 By Dean Sciole

Future-proof: the ability to stay current. According to the Urban Dictionary: “To be forever ‘in.’”

To future-proof oneself is to discover the Fountain of Youth of knowledge. Unfortunately it’s more elusive than the Holy Grail, or a better-than-just-average Foo Fighters song. Achieving it requires going against nature itself.

Four million years of evolution has perfected the human brain’s ability to remember what it learns. Like a DVD-R, it hardwires essential experiences for the survival of the species. That’s why early man could never forget the image of a woolly mammoth in prehistoric times, and why modern man can never forget the image of Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

The obstacle to future-proofing is not our ability to learn, but our inability to unlearn – to erase life’s accumulated context that subconsciously affects our values and actions. As a famous creative director once said, “The only way to have new ideas is to completely forget old ideas.” We must re-boot before we re-educate. Replace our brains’ DVD-R with a DVD-RW.

To future-proof is to become a native of a new time. To live in the moment without historical judgement. To have unadulterated first experiences for the second time. And when successful, it even allows you to enjoy hockey in Colorado, without having to learn a word in French.

If you want to experience a future-proof world, come to Asia. Begin in Korea where legend has it you can walk from one end of Seoul to the other without dropping free Wi-Fi clocking at 100 MPS. But what you’ll have to forget is your wallet. Korea is nearly currency free, with almost all transactions handled via smartphone. Then stop in China, where on Singles Day on Nov. 11 online sales topped $5.75 billion U.S. But what you’ll have to forget is shopping carts because the Chinese today rely on online shopping for everything from groceries and clothing to midnight snacks and automobiles. Bricks and mortar are for Sunday strolls. Young Asians are inventing the future because they’re not tied to the past.

The homework:

I’ll give you a choice of two assignments. You can watch either the Chinese film Tiny Times or the Korean drama series Heirs, (bonus points for both). You’ll need to forget the idea that Asia is merely developing. What you’ll discover will amaze, delight and definitely frighten. Welcome to the future.

Dean Sciole is managing director, TBWA\Hakuhodo Beijing. Half Irish, half Italian, two-fifths creative, three-fifths planner, one-fifth management, 22 years in China. That pretty much sums it up.

Illustration by Gary Clement.