Getting to the future: learn, unlearn, persist. Repeat.
Learning is hard.
It is tiring.
It takes humility.
It punches your ego in the nose.
It often takes more than one try to work new things out and, with every frustrated effort, a spectre of failure looms.
Learning entails staying with the “not knowing”, for however long it takes, grappling with the confusing space between blissful ignorance and knowledge. The half light that comes before comprehension. Where you bump into furniture, lose your way and wonder why you are doing all this in the first place.
Nobody likes this process. Of being powerless and confused.
Some of us just get addicted to the incredible feeling that comes the moment when comprehension dawns. So we go through the process of learning again and again, endure the powerlessness and enforced humility of becoming a student each day for the heady rush or attaining understanding. Eventually.
It’s an acquired taste. You learn to like it.
But even when you love the high, the process is hard.
Learning is hard.
Unlearning is harder.
Because not only do you need to go through the painful process of learning. You need to do all that at the same time as telling yourself that the warm, well-lit familiarity just within reach has to be abandoned. You have to grapple in the dark instead. You have to move away from the answer you have and seek a new one. You have to make your own life difficult.
When put that way, it doesn’t even sound like good sense let alone a newly essential part of corporate life.
But unlearning is the only path to survival. Even if you can’t learn to like that, you learn to value it.
Because our industry is changing faster than our humans and what we taught our teams about how we do things and most importantly why we do them has changed so fundamentally that new things have to be learned, old things unlearned and habits broken. All at once.
And that is the hardest ask of all.
Habits are comfort.
They deliver results while your brain is blissfully on auto pilot.
Making coffee. Brushing your teeth. Looking over Nostro Vostro accounts.
Little habits informed by the way we have always done things. In turn informed by the things we knew to be true.
And now we have to unlearn those. Because new truths have emerged. Regulation has changed, the market has changed, the art of the possible has changed.
And the basic morality of banking is changing.
And the small habits of good people are not changing fast enough, habits that were informed by grand narratives that accepted hidden charges, delays and faceless corporate stonewalling. Narratives that increasingly hold no water, truth or value.
And although folks in innovation centres are learning new things fast, they are not teaching their colleagues in the branches or at the corporate RM desks fast enough. And if the learning is slow, the unlearning is as good as not happening. And our little habits, our bad habits, persist and colour
what banking is like for people despite all our digital riches and billions spent on transformation.
You know I am right.
Your bank is not implementing Swift gpi until the deadline even though it is better for customers.
Your SME accounts are retail accounts with a fee.
Some of your clients stop paying fees as funds reach maturity because they were pushy one year during negotiations and then you forgot to revise prices.
Your brochures were updated manually (find and replace) on a case by case basis and now you are not sure if securities that need to be listed, are, and if not, who is the listing agent responsible.
None of this information is digitally available. None of those interactions are digitally enabled.
We are learning. We are even learning to like learning.
But we are still doing the old stuff the old way while learning new ones. We have a business to run, is the usual refrain.
Or nobody has noticed how big the gulf between what we do and what we say we want to become is getting.
What was an easy leap from the old way to the new is fast becoming an abyss of different ways of working and disparate moral codes, tools and baseline assumptions about what fair is. About what right is. About what our duty of care is. About what good business is.
Actually. About what good is, full stop.
Good business, good sense and good behaviour.
That above all.
Good behaviour is non optional in the fast approaching era of transparent banking.
It is good sense and good business but getting to a place where we actually believe that, is part of the learning and unlearning I keep talking about.
And it is hard. But it is not optional. So if we have to do this, the question is when and how.
The first one is easy: now.
But the how is not so obvious.
We have defaulted to the easier side of a hard thing.
Learn. Leave unlearning for later.
Later is here.
Now is later. And before “later” becomes “too late”, we need to start stopping as well as starting. So the function of transformation, innovation and digital delivery needs to stop being about what new shiny thing we will add to the arsenal of marketable, sellable goods and storylines. It needs to
become a conversation of “what do I need to do in order to live to fight another day, in this changing world”.
And the answer is stop. Reflect. Take a deep breath. And focus your efforts of learning not on the shimmering distant horizon but in the places close to home where you thought you knew all there is to know and the world shifted and all that knowledge is now a millstone around your neck.
This is going to be hard. Harder than working out the new-new stuff. But when it comes to survival, it is the only choice.
You’ve been learning new stuff. It was hard.
And you were hoping it would end there.
But it hasn’t.
The next part is a long hard trek through the valley of comfortable habits where every step seeks to hold you back and every instinct screams “stick with what you know, you are good at it and it’s easier”.
But easy doesn’t come into it.
This is hard.
But the future awaits on the far side and the only way there is through. And once you get there, the only piece of knowledge you can hold onto with any certainty is that the clock resets and you are start learning and unlearning all over again. And again. And again.
That is what the future is made of.
You can’t fight it. But maybe you can learn to like it.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!