Can you Unlearn?

Unlearning, is a buzzword today.

Yet what exactly is unlearning, and how can anyone put old or unproductive ideas behind?

The demand for unlearning has never been higher given the speed of business today, rapid destruction and creation of value through digital disruption, and the future employability concerns brought about by robotics and artificial intelligence.

Every executive needs to learn and adapt to the times, and that means learning to unlearn.

Your ability to make old or less useful ideas less readily available while, at the same time, making new or more useful ideas more readily available.

Some might be tempted to define unlearning in a literal sense, meaning we actually erase an old idea.

What a great idea! Wouldn’t it be an amazing life skill if we could just erase a bad habit or outdated knowledge?

Since we cannot yet do so, then the best alternative is to build new knowledge or habits on top of the old.

There’s a catch – Your learning experiences must be so effective at building new knowledge and habits that the old simply fades into the background.

Rewrite on top of old knowledge and habits, and allow the old to fade away (i.e., become less readily available), then you can say that executives have unlearned.

So how do you make your learning experiences so effective that old and undesirable ideas fade into the background?

Optimise the learning conditions

Three ways a busy executive can optimise learning conditions and make themselves better lifelong learners.

  • First, manage the energy available to your brain
  • The human body uses tremendous amounts of energy every time we focus our conscious attention on something.
  • Learning something new is hard work.

Therefore, the critical first step is to firmly commit to getting enough sleep, exercising more and eating high-quality and nutritious food. We cannot have a high-performance learning experience if we do not have a high-performance mind and body.

  • Second, get serious about digital discipline. The research is clear. On an average, you check your mobile device every few minutes. When you constantly flip between our mobile device, email, and learning, then we are in a state of continuous partial attention. Continuous partial attention essentially means you have the mental capability of an eight-year old. Busy executives cannot master something new and cause old ideas to fade into the background, with that level of mental performance.
  • Finally, apply your new ideas or tools as quickly as possible. Learning by experience, and explicitly reflecting on what to improve, is generally a more impactful way to learn. New ideas will be more likely to stick if we immediately use them.

These three tips—optimise your mental power, disciplined use of digital devices, and apply new ideas to gain experience—can help any busy executive unlearn and become a better lifelong learner.

Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise

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