Learning to Unlearn

With experience comes many lessons. In advertising, those lessons can be invaluable but also potentially dangerous.

Personally, I’m in my 15th year in digital marketing. Every year should draw me closer and closer to saying things like “we’ve always done…” or “this always worked in the past” – but you won’t hear me say either of those things. It’s not that I discount the lessons learned. I’m just reminded constantly that the rules change every day.

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The idea we all thought would totally work might’ve sucked more than we’d like to admit. And that thing we did just for fun was actually the biggest success yet. So we have to adapt, and unlearn some of the “truths” that we cling to.

The concept of unlearning is a funny thing.

We work so hard to learn a new skill, just to find out a year later it’s no longer relevant. It’s tempting to cling to it, but holding on only gets in the way of our progress.

Unlearning had to happen when the web changed from a static one-size-fits-all experience to the responsive jigsaw puzzle it is today. Clinging to that predictably 960px wide site design was restricting progress toward the new thing.

Social media requires marketers to unlearn almost daily. Lessons in good advertising don’t often apply. Why? Because it smells like effing advertising. That’s not what social media is about. It needs to be real. It needs to be candid and clever. Applying too much professional polish to a message is often the quickest way to being ignored.


Make sure you’re unlearning your old ways and making room for new rules, new knowledge, and change.

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