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The future is not in learning...


The future is in how fast you are at unlearning. Dave's PDF on the Lifecycle of Rules got me thinking more about this. Yes, we're under pressure to learn more and to learn quickly, but the future goes to those who can unlearn faster than the rest, because you can't always learn something new until you first let go of something else. And learning to let go of rules is one of the first things we (and our managers) have to learn to be quicker at.

Sometimes that means letting go of something that served you well for a long time. And that's the toughest thing.

Bert's an amazingly good Go player (a 3-dan for those who care), and he's been telling me for a long time that those who progress the most in that game are those who are most willing to leave behind the strategies and tactics they've come to rely on at each previous level... that it's a constant cycle of learning and unlearning.
The Parelli natural horsemanship program I'm studying makes you start from square one, even if you've been working with horses for 20 years. You have to spend your first couple months of riding actually sitting on the horses back, with nothing but a halter and lead rope (no bridle), letting the horse go wherever he wants. Those 40 hours are what it takes to get someone to UNlearn the habits most of us were taught to use with a horse including pulling on the reins to stop, and more importantly--to unlearn the need to be in control.

But nowhere is this need to unlearn more important than in today's work world. We all know how hard it can be to let go of old rules, but now we have to be willing to cut them off more quickly than ever. Think of all the things you might have to unlearn, even in the course of a year:

* Unlearn what your target market is (because it just changed).

* Unlearn the way you advertise and market (because your market just got a lot smarter).

* Unlearn the way you approach your brand (because it's no longer within your control).

* Unlearn the way you teach (because learners need to unlearn and learn simultaneously)

* Unlearn the way you treat your employees (because before you know it, that "meets expectations" review might come back to haunt you on a blog ; )

* Unlearn the technology you use (self-explanatory... we're all living this one)

* Unlearn the methodology you use

* Unlearn the designs you use

* Unlearn the words you use to describe your business

And on it goes.

John Seely Brown (I'm a big fan) has a lot to say about this here.

Forget learning to learn... learn to unlearn. Ask yourself:

"What is not serving me that I need to unlearn...?"

Posted by Kathy on February 9, 2005 | Permalink


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» Importance of unlearning from Prasanna's Blog
This is a real nice post to read similar to kathy's books [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 9, 2005 11:00:39 PM

» Learning to Unlearn from Just Looking
Kathy Sierra over at Creating passionate Users, has a post entitled The future is not in learning.... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 10, 2005 12:26:08 AM

» Changing the rules from Authentic Voice
Why does Corporate Drone still drone on? In part because we can't or won't unlearn old rules. Kathy Sierra and commenters at Creating Passionate Users have been making great points about the rigidity of rules and the need to unlearn [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 10, 2005 7:37:38 AM

» Real learning through unlearning from Kinetic Energy
As a professional, I'm suppose to solve unique business problems using my experience and analytical skills. However to be really honest, most of my problem solving is using well worn heuristics - rules of thumb and methods that have served me well in... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 11, 2005 4:30:53 AM

» unlearning from gapingvoid
From Kathy Sierra: The future is not in learning...The future is in how fast you are at unlearning. Dave's PDF on the Lifecycle of Rules got me thinking more about this. Yes, we're under pressure to learn more and... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 13, 2005 9:57:35 AM

» Choosing what not to do and what to unlearn from David's blog
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Tracked on Mar 13, 2005 5:31:02 AM


I like you're message. But I think you're selling it a bit short. To me, it is a timeless principle, that was as relevant a century ago as in 2005. It's a constant battle to spot one's self-imposed boundaries, and see industry-think for what it is. Thanks for the great reminder. I enjoy stopping by your blog daily.

Posted by: Justin | Feb 9, 2005 7:13:17 PM

I must say like this idea of unlearning.

I would however feel very uncomfortable unlearning something if I don't have something to replace it with. Rules don't necessarily have be replaced but knowledge/insight should be replaced with other, dare I say better, knowledge/insight.

ps. Looks like I'm in good hands learning GO from Bert.

Posted by: Johannes de Jong | Feb 9, 2005 10:34:49 PM

The only problem with having something to replace your current knowledge is if you can't recognise it because of your frame of mind. It's almost as if opportunity C in Dave's PDF is invisible, as well as inaccessible, to you until you break down those rules. Still uncomfortable to be doing though, but it seems to be one of those risks that you are risking more by not taking, at least in a business sense.

Posted by: Ian Barber | Feb 10, 2005 3:46:23 AM

The key to motivating unlearning is, of course, to induce expectation failure. Enter jokes, and comedy more generally...

Posted by: Frank Ruscica | Feb 10, 2005 5:20:03 AM

Great post, but I also agree with Justin. This is similar to the Zen principle of "emptying one's cup". I'm not sure if I can post a hyperlink here to describe it. Let's try: http://www.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/emptycup.html

Posted by: Ben | Feb 11, 2005 1:48:37 AM

I'm trying to get in sync with the blog again :-), so forget the following if it's allready passè.

The unlearning issue is in my opinion quite tough. Doesn't a change of focus for a prolongued time make sure that something else, that doesn't get as much attention, is forgotten for sure?

Alternatively what I was fantasising of was something profile-based. Each person knows a combination of things that makes her/him unique, instead of actively unlearning, I'd like to use parts of this existing knowledge to my advantage when learning. Ideally, I would then for example order a book "HF Design Patterns for Gian Franco". It would explain the topics with the things I allready know. Where the things I allready know might or might not have anything to do with the actual topic. This would most conveniently be an e-something that grows by interaction and shows me the delights of a higher level when appropriate.

Posted by: Gian Franco Casula | Feb 11, 2005 9:16:56 AM

i personally think that the process of unlearnig is tough and not many organisations are willing to unlearn the old techniques,strategies or even policies that have helped them attained success,this limits an organisations creativity and prevents them to adopt innovative paths

Posted by: minal | Mar 10, 2005 6:25:43 AM

as i said earlier that mangers FAIL to unlearn old strategies that have helped them attained success,hence they dont venture into trying something new,johannes said that its difficult to unlearn unless one finds something better to replace it.looking at this statement from organisations point of view managers are often unwilling to unlearn because they fear unlearning might not guarntee them positive results even if they get something better (strategy)to replace it they would still hesitate to go for it?COMMENT PLEASE!!!WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO UNLEARN?

Posted by: Minal trivedi | Mar 10, 2005 6:38:56 AM

i can unlearn and quickly too ... i think we all can

but change is terrifying when you lack the consensus from the people who are around you and it affects them too. i lack the resources (financial), the enabling support is absent and i am tied to a 9-5 job that locks me in to a frame of mind. That (my) mind refuses to release me until i have the adequate resources to make that change.

so if i can unlearn and i do not possess the resources to change - how can i change? i need to be patient that defeats the very purpose of unlearning quickly.

Posted by: Thomas | Mar 30, 2005 7:37:29 AM

First comment, so at first the heartfelt: Great Blog! I'm reading the new stuff and am reading through from the past to the present.

On the topic of unlearning:
A question: How exactly do you unlearn something?

And a hunch: Unlearning may be easier if you learn more on the conceptual than on the fact level.
Example: I often have colleagues who learn to use software (e.g. Word) feature by feature. They remember each step, each location. If something changes (due to a new version), they are at least temporarily lost.
If on the other hand you mastered the art of "Thinking Digital" and have down the concepts of word processing and layout, the changes will still bug you, but you'll have a much easier time to adapt - and to incorporate new features into your mental model of the app. And you'll be able to learn new software more easily.

With the last two sentences, I realized this: It neither a matter of learning nor of unlearning - it is a matter of modifying your mental models (expand, simplify, split and join them).


Posted by: Jens | Jun 16, 2005 1:52:28 AM


G8 to find the article. Could you send me detail of any publication on this line to read. Even wesites of worth.



Posted by: KK | Sep 18, 2005 2:09:44 AM

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