The flow and pace of change around us is mind boggling and some would say turbulent. It's like sipping out of the firehose–one of my favorite metaphors. We can only drink so much and so fast, otherwise we drown.
Here's how I have decided to deal with the relentless spray of information and new stuff. First I accepted that "change" and chaos were the natural state of things. And my greater awareness of "change" makes it easier for me to adapt. If you can't beat em join em!
Chaos is a friend of mine. Bob Dylan
Any resistance to change is like fighting gravity. Useless, painful, frustrating, and ultimately distracting from the work we want to do and where our lives could go.
Surrendering to change provides you with so much more information, options, and ideas. I am telling you we are sipping from a firehose and yet what is flying by our senses is amazing, scary, and fantastic.
The curious thing is that with these exponential changes, so much of what we currently know is just wrong. So many of our assumptions are wrong. As we move forward, not only is it going to be a question of learning it is also going to be a question of unlearning. John Seely Brown
Almost everywhere I go, every meeting I am in, this subject of change is discussed. Change that is forcing people to learn new ways of thinking and doing things. Part of adapting to change is the ability to "unlearn" things. I believe unlearning is as critical a survival and success skill as learning. Unlearning is literally and figuratively deleting "files", forgetting the past, abandoning assumptions, then learning again, by starting over.
I first heard this verb more than three decades ago when Marc Nathanson, one of the pioneers of the modern cable tv business, said he wanted to hire me because I had less to unlearn. He told me he was worried about that experienced cable tv professionals, people who knew cable tv, would bring their frames of reference–in other words a load of Samsonite that was not relevant. He said, "We don't have time for people to unlearn things." He predicted nearly all of the changes in that industry and knew that the future was not going to be like the past. So knowing nothing about cable tv made me eminently qualified! :)
In a forest of change we add bits of knowledge, like decorating a Christmas tree. You collect and show off bright and shiny ornaments. Each year you add more and you feel better about your tree. Unlearning is understanding that the tree is obsolete and the ornaments are irrelvant.
Unlearning is breaking off your rear view mirror and focusing on the new landscape in front of you and seeing it for the first time.
When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before. Henry David Thoreau
There have been some jokes about an etch-a-sketch brain. But this is where it is useful!
Unlearning changed my perspective on my own prospects in life. There is so much I do not have to unlearn! 🙂 Seriously, this view of change gives me the energy, permission and confidence to cross sectors, platforms and worlds more fluidly. If I spent less time and energy trying to fight the flow of the firehose and more time riding it, then life is so much more productive and fun!
Past used to be prologue.
Strategic planning has to become zero based processes. Meaning starting from scratch–with a blank slate. Can't take the last 5 years results and tweak them. The market, the consumer, the competition, the global context, the needs and wants have evolved and are evolving. Again more than you know. Engaging new sources of knowledge, information, and feedback that shape a clearer view of reality. It is crazy what we don't know that others know.
This Tedtalk is a head rush. Obeng contends that "all of the rules" were changed without our knowledge and that's why nothing works any more. He makes a compelling case.
His brief discussion about laminar vs turbulent flow is fantastic.
Laminar is when the water moves in parallel sheets through the tube, but once it reaches a certain speed the water goes crazy and the flow is chaotic, swirling, and unpredictable. Obeng asserts that we have not noticed the change from laminar to turbulent flow. How could we? We are in denial. We are stuck in our ways of trying to make the world conform to our needs and tolerances. We like certainty. It is a warm and fuzzy place, but boy is it naive.
The people I meet who are succeeding in all fields have adopted unlearning as a way of life. How will you make money in the financial markets? How will diseases be cured? How will we transform education? How will we level the playing fields of poverty? There is no way it will resemble the past or even be a distant cousin.
Lean into the change. Saddle the turbulence. Embrace the chaos. Continue to sip, but enjoy the flow. Unlearn to learn.
Thanks for reading. John
6 thoughts on “Your Unlearning Curve”
I really enjoyed this post. In today’s world and business world unlearning is such an important skill. People who hold onto the past, and wish things back the way they were are the same people struggling today.
I am glad early in my career I learned to unlearn.
Well said. You and I were both fortunate to learn to unlearn early. Unlearning also reuses valuable “hard-drive” space! Thanks for reading. John
Wow – what agreat Ted Talk! I need to go away and think about it for a while, but really, a great talk – thanks for posting it.
I am a huge TED talk fan, and this is one of the best. Thanks for reading.
I would like to request permission to use the image of the little girl drinking water through a firehose in a presentation that I am preparing for a masters class – strictly academic use.
You may. Thanks for reading. John