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Learn, Unlearn & Relearn: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

When the wheels started falling off the ‘business as usual’ bandwagon in March, I was apprehensive about what lay ahead. 

Talk of taking our entire lives online triggered internal resistance. I’m a Type-A person. I love being around people.  So while Zoom is a useful tool, the idea of conducting all my work on it didn’t light me up. 

Needless to say, over the last few months I’ve had to exit my technological comfort bubble, unlearn ‘old ways’ of doing things and relearn some new ones. Last week I did my first virtual keynote to hundreds of people on the other side of the world. All without leaving home. The experience reinforced my belief that thriving in today’s accelerated world requires adopting a learner’s mindset – embracing the natural discomfort that comes from letting go the old and mastering the new.    

The concept of unlearning and relearning has never been more relevant. As the futurist Alvin Toffler wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  

So if you’re wondering what you might need to unlearn right now, consider these approaches.  

Challenge your mental maps.

“What got you here won’t get you there.” This book title by Marshall Goldsmith speaks to the deep need to continually upgrade the assumptions underpinning the mental maps in our heads. Sure, highly scripted memos from the CEO’s office may once have been effective ways of communicating, doesn’t mean they still are. Nowadays, leaders who hide behind over-curated over-sanitized communications, edited and re-edited by risk averse handlers, are considered inauthentic whereas those willing to do a Facebook livestream are lauded.  

Only be continually challenging your own best thinking – inviting others to play devil’s advocate on your assumptions and interrogate your thinking- can you do the requisite unlearning and relearning to make smarter decisions as you navigate unchartered ground ahead.

Assumptions kill possibilities. Do you need to…

·       Unlearn how you manage, motivate and lead people remotely?

·       Unlearn how you approach growth opportunities?

·       Unlearn how you communicate to employees or about your brand? 

·       Unlearn your target market is, what they want and value?

·       Unlearn the skills you think are sufficient to take you to the next level

Ask more questions; trade cleverness for curiosity. 

We came into the world brimming with curiosity and open to learning. Yet for many, rigid educational systems that rewarded test scores over creativity sucked the joy out of learning. More’s the pity. Because in today’s world, learning isn’t an exercise we finish in school. It’s an imperative for flourishing in life. It’s how we improve ourselves, expand future possibilities and improve the status quo. 

Our learning is capped to the extent of our questions. Most of us live with answers to questions we’ve never thought, or bothered, to ask. So as you consider the problems around, start asking more questions.  How do we know this is the best approach? Since we’re all wired with confirmation bias, we must proactively seek out information to contradict our assumptions. 

Be humble. If think you’re rather smart, even more so.

Ever met someone who was too full of their own brilliance? Of course, you have. They abound.  Yet IQ is not the strongest predictor of success. Likewise, the best solutions can only be found when we are brave enough to admit we don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and humble enough to listen to others whose perspectives could broaden our own.  

As Bill Marriott shared with me in the video below, recounting conversations with both President G.W. Bush and President Eisenhower as a boy on their family ranch, leadership requires humility. “If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, pretty soon you’ll be the only guy in the room.”

So if you like to think you’d qualify for Mensa, be extra vigilant. Those who think they’re the smartest in the room risk walking through life with blinkers, unaware their own blind spots and closed off to ideas that would improve their own.  

As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great wrote, “The most important lessons lay not in what I needed to learn, but in what I first needed to unlearn.” 

Practice ‘De Vuja’ and consult your ‘future self’

Think of a challenge or opportunity you’re currently facing and imagine you are looking at it for the very first time. Or step into the shoes of Doc from Back to the Future and imagine its 2050 and you’re looking back thirty years at the situation you are in today. How do you see it differently?

In 1899, Charles Duel, Director of the US patents office, said, “Everything that can be invented already has been invented.”  Yes, it’s easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of that comment now but ten, much less thirty, years from now we will look back on this time and see with greater clarity how we had been stuck in obsolete paradigms that constricted our own approaches. 

Embrace the discomfort of change

Let’s face it, change, even change for the better, is rarely comfortable.  

‘It’s how things are done around here’ is a lousy reason for sticking to outdated approaches. Yet given the choice to press cut+paste or move clumsily through the steps of the learning curve – from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence – well… copy+paste holds appeal. It’s just that much less mentally and emotionally taxing. At least in the short term anyway.  

Just as I’ve had to get out of my technological comfort zone delivering virtual keynotes and workshops, I’m guessing you’ve had to do the same. Unlearning some of those familiar ways of old so you can relearn better ones. 

Sticking to familiar ways can spare psychological discomfort but it puts you at risk of losing your place in a world marching, charging, rapidly forward. 

What do you need to unlearn and relearn? 

I’ve no idea. However I am certain that those who’ll seize the opportunities of this turbulent time will not be using yesterday’s rules, rubrics or reasoning.  

Am I pining to be back on planes and in rooms with lots of people? You bet! Until then, I’m opening my mind to embrace the new and uncomfortable, along with all the learning of this time.

Unlearning and relearning is not means to an end. It’s an end in itself. As such, the key to unlearning doesn’t lie in the teacher. It lies in the student. In you. In your openness to being challenged – to letting go what you think you know so you can relearn what you need to know.

Written by Margie Warrell

Source Forbes

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