Learn To Unlearn

Barry Diller has been (in part) responsible for Match.com, QVC, Expedia, and launching The Simpson’s. Seriously. When he was interviewed by Reid Hoffman, he explained that his personal process is based on learning and course correction. He says he’s at his best when he realizes he knows nothing. Over his career, Diller has continuously “unlearned to learn and learned to unlearn” – something Reid went on to label as being “an infinite learner.”

In the 1960s, Diller asked why shows didn’t have a beginning, middle and end like movies did (Lucy lived in the same apartment at the same point in life for years, why?). This insight led him to create the made-for-TV movie, and later – the concept we know today as the miniseries. He moved on to movies and put “just having a good story” in front of worrying who the stars would be. That led to “The Bad News Bears,” “Grease,” “Saturday Night Fever” and many others. When his wife took him to see how QVC worked, he was mesmerized by non-narrative based, multi-medium connectivity – in 1992 (before the internet, he saw the foundation of TV + phone + print +…)! He would later run Home Shopping Network (HSN).

Reid talks a lot about being not just an entrepreneur but an intrepreneur. They are the people inside of organizations who figure out that a problem exists and then move their company forward in the same way an external startup finds a problem and moves an industry forward. For his entire career, that’s just what Diller has done. He’d find a problem, learn everything he could, and then start asking big questions to see where it would take him.

When we think about finance and all of the storied institutions that occupy it, there’s a real sense of things being established and even sacred. Diller reminds us that it is not now, nor has it ever been the case. We are all in a constant state of flux. Even if we are not the ones who will discover the next buzzword (for example: impact investing, smart beta, ESG, active vs. passive, robo-advisor, etc.), we can be the ones who determine a response or angle that harnesses the power of what the buzz is really all about.

If we focus on learning to unlearn and take that vigor to the front-lines every day, we can be infinite learners too. Our industry will change, the question is if we’ll figure out how to change with it. Even better, maybe – just maybe – we can be the ones to change it.

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