Why unlearning matters—and how to start
Gaining knowledge and proficiency is often hard, and the applause is often proportional. (Tweet a photo of your certificate! Add to your “Skills” section on LinkedIn!)
But there’s another form of growth, one that is as difficult yet typically goes uncelebrated: unlearning. And it’s just as empowering, if not more.
What is unlearning?
While learning can be specific and finite (“I want to learn ______”), unlearning is an attitudinal shift. Unlearning requires revising your perspective holistically, dissolving thought patterns, habits, and default mental frameworks.
Unlearning isn’t erasing or denying history. It means releasing a belief that you held true, an idea that had kept you safe until now, a definition that had been part of your identity, a rule that had comfortably predictable outcomes for you.
This could be a cultural, explicit practice (“This is how we’ve always done it, so this is the best way”), or it could be a personal, subconscious mindset (“This is how it is, so this is how it must be”). It could be about a tool, like a paperclip, or a procedure.
And while learning something can take four minutes on YouTube or four years at a university or four decades in a career, unlearning can take just as wide a range of time.
Unlearning also requires regular practice.
Five questions to begin unlearning anything:
Why is it this way?
What have I assumed?
What could this be?
What have I stopped noticing?
Why unlearning matters
Unlearning means opening yourself to unforeseeable possibilities.
This matters, because when success and failure become a little less predictable, they teach more.
And innovation can begin again.
It’s that simple, but it’s difficult.
What will you unlearn first?