Emerging Australian Ideal #5: Recasting the Mould

December 4, 2014

The times… they are a’changing.

Bob Dylan’s classic tune penned 40 years ago, has reinvigorated meaning today. Rather than just political and societal change the song was birthed from, it is now an apt metaphor for how we are resetting the rules and doing things like never before in all spheres of life.

The last of our Australian cultural ideals – Recasting the Mould – is the culmination of a few different societal shifts.

Shift 1:  Our mental artillery has changed irrevocably

By this, I mean that the tenor of our education and employment has changed.

In his TED Talk ‘Why Our IQs Are Higher Than Our Grandparents’, moral philosopher James Flynn shows how our mental artillery has changed over the past century, referencing the work of Alexander Romanovich Luria, famed Soviet neuropsychologist and developmental psychologist. 

Prior to entering the scientific age, Luria found that people were resistant to classifying the concrete world and deducing the hypothetical (i.e. speculating about what might be). Furthermore, they didn't deal well with abstractions or using logic on those abstractions.

In an illustrative interview, Luria asked of someone, 

"There are no camels in Germany. Hamburg is a city in Germany. Are there camels in Hamburg?" 

"Well, if it's large enough, there ought to be camels there." 

"But what do my words imply?

And the man responded, "Well, maybe it's a small village, and there's no room for camels." 

In other words, the subject was unwilling to treat this as anything but a concrete problem; he was used to camels being in villages, and quite unable to consider hypothetically the possibility of there being no camels in Germany.

Now, not only do we have much more education, but also much of that education is scientific, and you can't do science without classifying the world or proposing hypotheses. We are educating people to take the hypothetical seriously, to use abstractions, and to link them logically.

What about employment? There has been a both an increase in cognitively demanding professions, as well as the increase in the demands made on our cognitive faculties within these roles. (Compare the doctor in 1900, who really had only a few tricks up his sleeve, with the modern general practitioner or specialist, with years of scientific training and this transformation becomes quite apparent.) 

Shift 2: Technological advancement

It’s an old tale to spin, but it’s worth stating that the rapid technological advancement of computing has afforded us new ways of being: conducting play and business, interacting with  one another, and understanding ourselves.

Moore's law describes a driving force of technological and social change, productivity and economic growth in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It observes that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

By extrapolating these observations, it stands to reason that the fathomable future will hold unfathomable technological advances, bringing us into what futurists call 'The Singularity'.

Recasting the Mould – How we approach Mastery in this era

With increased mental artillery and technological capabilities at our disposal, the emerging contemporary Australian ideal of blue sky thinking and stretching the limits of human endeavour is taking root.

However, even in this age of endless possibility, it still takes incredible effort to break out of the norm. At the heart of this ideal is the spirit of entrepreneurialism, which is about creativity, bravery and risk-taking.

Now, these values might seem quite vanilla for a thrill-seeker, but recasting the mould goes further than that. Far from shallow novelty-seeking, this ideal is about the new expression of mastery. Research shows that a liking for novelty, neophilia, is a reliable predictor of wellbeing, provided you've got a certain capacity for perseverance (The Guardian ‘Do Something’ manifesto, 11 January 2014)

As anyone who has tried to correct himself or herself singing a wrong lyric knows, it’s not easy. The process goes somewhat like this:

1.  Discovery – a song that’s worth paying attention to

2.  Getting to know the content – Listen to the song, maybe look at the lyrics if you want.

3.  Giving it a shot – Try singing the song when it comes on the radio, but mess up a lot.

4.  Start recasting – the difficult task of repeating Step 2 multiple times, correcting as you go, learning more each time.

5.  Refining – Try singing it without the song, and realise there are still holes in your knowledge.

6.  Mastery – Listen to the song again, filling in your knowledge holes. Repeat Steps 4 & 5 until you can sing the song perfectly on your own.

This simplistic process of mastery is the same for recasting the mould.

One doesn’t recast a mould by scraping the surface.  To really do something new is to have the fortitude to constantly veer away from the known (your wrong lyrics) to forge a new way. Similarly, to throw off the shackles of a systemised process is difficult, even in today’s exciting new environment.

This ideal holds together the seemingly opposing principles of innovation (breaking from convention, repetition and routine) and mastery (dogged commitment to becoming extraordinary at a single pursuit). In fact, it shows that innovation and mastery are profoundly related. Ian McDermott, Dean of Innovation & Learning for the Purposeful Planning Institute, says "Anyone wanting to attain mastery or be innovative will need to commit to a journey of experiential learning; to develop and learn new things but also let go of and unlearn old habits." 

Mastery and Achievement archetypes & what it means for brands

Now, if Wabi Sabi, as Sarah pointed out in her article on our 2nd emerging contemporary Australian ideal: Wabi Sabi, is about the Creator archetype, then Recasting the Mould speaks to the mastery archetypes. These are mainly the Rebel, the Hero, and the Magician. These archetypes are unmistakably bound together by risk-taking, perseverance and accomplishment. Each of these characters embrace change, take action and exert power on some level. The Rebel questions the status quo, the Hero inspires and the Magician helps us believe.

As for what Recasting the Mould means to brands, it comes down to being able to either implement radical innovations that change the rules of the game or the realities of the marketplace, or sell an idea of transformation to a broader public. There are several ways to handle this, and narratives that brands can create to tap into this, but we’d love to have a good ole téte-a-téte with you for that.