Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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Unlearning is the Super Skill of the Future

As we approach the 21st century, corporations can no longer assume that their previous business models and methods of organising will build or sustain their sources of competitive advantage. Increasingly, companies are using designs, such as continuous transformation, virtual teams and cellular organisations to define how they will revamp their strategies and ways of doing business for the next century. (David and Robert,1999)
The exact things that help companies to grow today, can impede growth tomorrow. To grow better, it is vital to develop the skill of dropping operating procedures, which are currently rooted in the mind. It is called unlearning to learn. Learning to unlearn is a long process, which consumes a lot of time. It is vital to bring in a new process while the current process is moving. Hence, unlearning makes your mind open for new ways of doing things and challenge the current processes. Apple Company introduced Apple Smartphones when iPod was thriving. With the introduction of the smartphone, iPod sales dropped dramatically but sales of smartphones skyrocketed.
If businesses demand a rapid transform and to stay relevant, the solution is unlearning. Outdated ways of thinking and doing need to be constantly discarded to make space for methods that lead to innovation and growth. At its core, unlearning is the art of stopping patterns. It is not about forgetting things but shifting the paradigm or current thinking and doing pattern. It requires to identify practices, rituals or behaviours that would not be as valuable to organisations in the future as they were in the past. The underlying problem is not about learning, it is about unlearning. In every aspect of business, from strategy to marketing, organisation and leadership, we operate with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete. To embrace the new logic of value creation, it is imperative to unlearn the things learnt previously. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model to choose a different one, which is in hyper performance.
Unlearning is learning
When unlearning, a space is created in the mind to learn new things. Unlearning is not about forgetting. It is about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. If organisations and people start sticking to patterns or to the current body of knowledge, it is difficult to unlearn things and finally no new learning will take place. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model (out of the box) to choose a different one. If the mind is open to unlearn, it tends to learn things automatically. Hence, unlearning is a necessary condition for learning new things.
The role of unlearning is vital in today’s workplace. Employees need to unlearn to move forward alongside their company and work more effectively (Susan Dumas, 2019). Long-term employees often have a hard time unlearning especially if they have been doing something the same way for a long time. It is not impossible to promote unlearning as long as there is openness towards it. Instead of demanding compliance, a manager should foster a sense of willingness to unlearn and learn something new.
No unlearning = No learning = No change
Unlearning is the art of discarding something that we learned earlier. To know what to unlearn, you need to be self-aware about your thoughts, beliefs and your habits. Today’s workforce needs to embrace continuous unlearning to move forward. Employees must continue to unlearn, learn and relearn to stay relevant in today’s modern, digital workforce. Change is continual, and to stay current and not dive into the world of the obsolete, unlearning is a vital component of the 21st century employees.
The most overlooked aspect of learning is the process of unlearning. Everyone has acquired knowledge that built their mountain of ideas which could be still viable or outdated. To unlearn and move forward, employees must be willing to work through the process. Our world is in constant flux, and the most successful companies will be the ones that unlearn, learn, relearn and evolve with it. No unlearning creates no room in your mind for learning and you finally end up with no change. In short, understanding the process of unlearning can make your organisation more agile, more competitive and more progressive than ever before.
Art of unlearning
Unlearning is unpleasant for most people. Unlearning occurs through a process of “extinction” or the removal of reinforcements. Extinction refers to the process of no longer providing the reinforcement that has been maintaining a behaviour. Unlearning could also be described as stripping the existing paint of a wall, so that new paint sticks. As you know stripping involves 70% of the job and repainting takes 30%.
Rate of unlearning is higher at a crisis where current pattern or process is impossible to practise (e.g. Tsunami, Covid- 19 etc.). Strong habits of people are exposed to challenge during a period of crisis, which result in unlearning things faster to grab new ways of doing things for survival.
There are different ways you might unlearn something considering new information. The first is a straightforward refutation of the old idea. If you thought that Abraham Lincoln was the first American president and then read in a book, it was George Washington, you might revise your view as long as you rely on the sources. In all these cases, you must first let go of something you thought you understood to make way for a new understanding. The things we think we know are often unknown. The ideas, philosophies and truths that guide our lives may be convenient approximations, but often the most accurate picture is far stranger. There are few ways of unlearning what you thought that you already knew.
• Seek added knowledge
One way to begin unlearning is to seek additive knowledge in familiar areas and then use that new knowledge to start pulling up and modifying old knowledge. One should start with a belief that seemed reasonable about self, and then dig deeper to encounter careful arguments that showed why those beliefs were probably false. From that point of tension, one could start reworking on some of old beliefs. This approach can work, but it is hard and requires a lot more patience for theory and academic learning.
• Travelling to discover the world
Another approach is to seek other people’s experiences of the world. Travel, in this way, can be a potent form of unlearning. Other people may not give you the theory for understanding the world, but the more diverse their experiences are from yours, the more likely they are situated in a different position in the space of life possibilities and how their lives differ from your expectations can itself give you information about your own thinking. Unlearning on false beliefs by experiencing the universe is the best way of relearning, which leads to a clear paradigm shift of your own thinking patterns.
Traveling helps you change the location as well. One of the easiest ways to unlearn something is to move away from the location where you learned it. New surroundings can help you notice new things. This is a bit of psychological manipulation. You are basically tricking your brain into unlearning by engaging in a new surrounding, so, you can unlearn one idea and learn another. It is another subtle way of helping you break a habit.
• Exploring and experiments in life
A third approach to unlearning is to be more varied and bolder in your experiments in life. Pure randomness can have a destructive quality to it. However, if you avoid obvious risks, many directions in life can be explored more thoroughly than most people do. Learning is important because, it shapes you as a person. It fills you with knowledge. It boosts your confidence. It gives you happiness. When you keep learning and knowing things, it makes you richer by thoughts. Everyone has complaints about their past or a mistake they had made. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. What is important is that you should learn from your mistakes. People respond better to the unlearning process if they not only buy into it, but if they have specific goals. Socially and emotionally, people work better this way as long as they are given two to three key goals. The most effective unlearning process provides clear and challenging goals without infringing on the learner’s sense of ownership of the goals.
Takeaway: Knowledge Entrepreneurs
What knowledge economy needs today are fewer knowledge experts and more knowledge entrepreneurs. The difference is clear: Knowledge Experts are satisfied with information, but it could be difficult for them to branch out and begin to learn in a new way. Knowledge Entrepreneurs thrive in challenges and chaos, driven by an unquenchable quest for learning, growth, collaboration and value creation. To solve the demands of a changing world, we need to go beyond to take ideas from drawing boards to the real world. This can only be done with the courage, conviction and commitment that come with being an entrepreneur.

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