It’s well-known that Amazon pushes new code about every 11 minutes. Companies spend about half the time on the Fortune 500 list in comparison to a few decades ago. Moore’s Law stipulates that microchips double in capacity about every two years. New products, services, and even new companies can now be launched instantly for close to zero cost.
The world is changing more rapidly today than at any time in human history. But what does this mean? Why is it important? As executives, leaders, and innovators, why should we care that the marketplace is moving so quickly?
The short answer is simple – survival. Communications, finance, careers, work, money, family, and cultures are adopting new innovations and methodologies at an unprecedented rate. To keep our practices current, we must learn and unlearn. We need to be acquiring new knowledge to adapt to constantly changing circumstances so that we can survive and thrive. But we must also shed those outdated, outmoded, and irrelevant practices at an equal clip.
Our culture has placed a premium on knowledge, especially when it’s relevant to taking care of our concerns or leading organisations. But how do we know when our current knowledge is outdated and no longer useful?
If we’re not able to adapt to new online banking technologies, then we won’t be able to effectively manage our finances. If we’re unaware of the threats facing our children and family, then the family suffers. If our skills are no longer valued by the market, our careers break down.
Not knowing how to invest our time, energy, money, and lost opportunities in a global marketplace that revolves around computer-based tools seriously threatens our ability to take care of ourselves. Understanding and accepting this can mean the difference between life and death.
Being able to adapt to constantly changing situations requires learning and acquiring new knowledge. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or learning. What happens when the world changes – a new technology is introduced such as a smartphone, the internet, or productivity applications – is we need to learn new skills to exploit the new possibilities produced from them.
The opposite of learning is “unlearning”. Unlearning is to discard something you’ve learned, especially when it’s a bad habit, or false or outdated information. When the world moves as quickly as it does today, humans not only need to learn new technologies and practices, but also critically examine which knowledge is relevant and useful and discard, or simply forget, outdated and outmoded thinking.
A constant practice of unlearning enables us to challenge underlying assumptions and identify the origins of our beliefs adopted from our education, environment, and upbringing. This leads directly to growth and the replacement of outdated knowledge with new knowledge, behaviours, habits, and skills.
We’ll assert here that competitive knowledge accumulation, coupled with an unlearning practice, leads to critical thinking. In our social-media-soaked world, where information and communication are constant and ubiquitous, critical thinking has deteriorated. But if we want our business, educational, political, and community leaders to guide us into a more prosperous future, critical thinking is compulsory.
As new knowledge and skills are being acquired, and new practices are being deployed, then the old knowledge can be let go. A way to think about letting go is through quitting.
Quitting is a conscious practice of no longer engaging. Humans are creatures of habit, and we love our routines. Letting go of practices that have been cultivated over years (or even decades) might take time. We’ve all heard that old habits die hard.
After we have accepted that our work practices are outdated, we can get to work on identifying new practices and begin to acquire that knowledge. Unlearning requires us to let go of old thinking, but this isn’t possible without replacing that knowledge.
This discovery process, if engaged properly, could uncover both pleasant and unpleasant realities. For instance, you might determine that to live a good life you’ll need to move, switch jobs, or even transition into a new industry. To some, this can be a daunting process. But through this deep probing, you’ll quickly discover that you might not know everything you need to know and some of your thinking might be outdated. Growth will then be possible.
Engaging in a reflection practice with a professional, or with yourself, will open up a space to ask necessary questions. The answers to such questions, such as “what do I believe and why?”, “who am I?”, “how do I know what I know?”, and “where did I acquire these beliefs and knowledge?” will enable a probing exploration.
Working within a group of peers, colleagues, or fellow professionals can also help to develop perspective and hold a mirror up to current beliefs and knowledge. This is not a journey to take alone. An openness and curiosity about what you’ll learn certainly doesn’t hurt either!
The benefits to taking this path are many, not the least of which is a more authentic existence and a richer life experience. Unlearning through a conscious practice unleashes creativity to design new products, services, offers, and business models – critical to the lifeblood of any organisation, economy, or industry. It enables new problem-solving skills, increases curiosity, and bolsters confidence.
Unlearning offers a myriad of benefits that we’ve only touched upon here. Engaging in unlearning allows individuals, teams, and organisations to transform and become more resilient and adaptable. It’s simply how humans have evolved for thousands of years and it’s how humans still evolve today.