The Allegory of UnLearning

Most of the times when organizations or teams are going through transformations – there is a lot push back from the management. I have many times experienced such scenarios where the leaders, managers or stake holders having some sort of hard time of being able to move their minds towards agile mindset or business agility. They were having trouble unlearning the things that they have been doing for 10 years, 15 years or even sometimes more than that. A lot of that back learning was getting in the way and confiscating the adaptability to agile mindset.

Well, it is not only the case in the places I am talking about. We have been doing this all way along in every organization or enterprise. It is given for the fact that the idea of holding onto what you know and how you identify yourself, on a personal level or a team level or an enterprise level, where you identify something and not something needs to adapt but you won’t let it happen. This sometimes proves detrimental and so teams and companies crash too.

Not unlearning the back learning, puts the thorny path ahead to attain agility. Back learning is very useful and should help in knowing the game of the company or team. It is just not to be used for manipulating the systems, take away the bad ones and take credits for the good ones etc. Perhaps, the best use of that back learning is to identify the new learning, knowing the changes required and scope for adaptability.
We encounter personnel who know the every game of the company or a team very well and stand strong in inducing the practices from their back learning. How do we deal with them? The first thing that needs to be done is uncover or help them uncover what is bothering them to identify themselves. Lot of times the reason is, the paralysis that they need to become agile overnight. So helping them to identify what is holding them to move forward is the first thing. Sometimes, they don’t understand the concepts and think doing agile is all what is required. They need someone to talk to them, explain the core principles and concepts, about what exactly being agile means, give them the experiences about doing something new by unlearning somethings and the advantages, as outcomes.

The team willing to learn or a learning team will need to unlearn first. There are two types of unlearning. One is where no habit is owned and the other is habitual. For instance, if you are a space scientist and are given a book about rocket science, it is not going to be difficult for you to unlearn the things you already know and inject the new learning. On the other side, if you are asked to unlearn how to ride a bike or put on your seat belt, it is going to very hard. This is because you have been doing that so long, that you have been creating a path in your brain all the while to do something in one way that has to change and that is really very difficult because it is an individuality that becomes a second nature in order to do other things that you are not habituated with.

In the example of rocket science, I would go to sleep within 10 mins, because most the things in there are already those I know and so that is not important to me. Learning to bike and buckle the seat belts are those very first steps I learnt as a child. And trying to unlearn is very difficult. So that becomes eventually important to help them know what’s in it so important for them.Why should they care to unlearn? What drives the change? It is, as most powerfully and simply as agile foresees is, to create and make it possible, to allow the team to experiment, own the results, learn from them and meet their own standards of excellence. But achievable ONLY when done well.

During the Agricultural and Industrial Periods, people learned, and the knowledge they had was sufficient to live and work for many years.  With the drastic and continuing changes in technology and everywhere, it is a desert walk to survive unless we adapt to changes. And this is only possible by learning, unlearning and relearning.

This literacy brings in a new ability in us called ‘Agility’. We have to learn new concepts, acquire knowledge and master new competencies at a very high speed.

So, for me, The illiterates today are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

THE MORE YOU
KNOW,
THE MORE YOU REALIZE YOU DON’T

2 thoughts on “The Allegory of UnLearning

  1. This article is absolutely spot on to describe the struggles faced in organizations. As described in the article about how to ride a bike and the struggle to unlearn about its legacy approach, each organization may have gone through similar phase at some point. But it is not impossible to transform to agile ways if the teams are willing to change accommodate cultural change in the organization, which is the most challenging. In simple terms, avoid chain of command approach and remove that mindset from personnel. I understand it is not possible in certain organizations but yet you can restrict that chain of command operating model to certain tasks.

  2. Well taken! Just getting to lose this command & control ‘isms’ and getting with the team and people to adopt the ways of working wouldn’t even be the only responsibility for the leadership community. Neither Committing and Prioritizing the delivery is the only thing. They need to know what it takes to achieve these goals. Thanks!

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