Unlearning is the New Learning
By Elizabeth Muthama.
As we grow, we normally learn from typically everything that makes up our surrounding. From our parents, siblings, teachers, and peers. We learn how to read and write, tie up shoelaces, keep our rooms neat, how to react to different situations in the world, how to save and much more. The knowledge and views around us to the greatest extent shapes the kind of people we become. We get the knowledge that laces our conversations, the armory we walk into debates and arguments with. At some point, these ideas cease to be things we picked up from different people and places and become personal truths- our knowledge resource. I like to say that human knowledge is an alloy. An amalgamation of ideas picked from different books, people, and places.
We learn good things, healthy things, life things, financial things, political things. Sometimes these things are incomplete at best and misled at worst. Nevertheless, upon these learnings, we build our knowledge foundation. Worthy or not we continue to build our knowledge structure, brick after brick. So we argue and listen. We read and watch and learn and learn.
In perhaps one of the most unlikely circumstances I have gathered that learning is not all there is to progressing as an individual. Three months ago after staying in a room with a low glass ceiling, I had the opportunity to hit the play button and start a fresh chapter in my life as a copywriter and community manager at brand2d. I had worked really hard and waited for the moment and was exhilarated when it came to fruition.
My first step into this fresh world was loaded with excitement and confidence. The confidence outweighing any other emotion. Why? Because I’ve been a writer literally my entire life. A great writer…debatable…, but a writer absolutely. Written words have been the only way I have known to build bridges across rivers and make ropes to climb over walls. They have offered me the comfort I believe I could not have and cannot find anywhere else. And here I was with a new job that needed me to be good with words, so what could have gone wrong? I don’t know what your guess is but mine was- ‘absolutely nothing!’. I had some experience in my pockets and the hunger of a Kenyan graduate who has found a way out of the unemployment maze.
“I have the biggest part of the equation figured out, so this shouldn’t be so hard” I repeatedly told myself.
I was so high on confidence in my creative writing skills and didn’t know unprecedented waves would send me tumbling down. I wasn’t prepared for most of the surprises and bends down the road.
Writing thirty words to get a customer interested in a product and convert that interest to purchase is different from writing 1,500 words for a creative fiction blog. But the stubborn me insisted that I had it all figured out and that soon my old knowledge in perhaps some fairy dust fashion would turnout to be useful.
In the commotion of holding tight to old knowledge and the rude awakening of the world of digital marketing I learned the value of unlearning. It was a humbling moment of admission that the knowledge I had at hand was from a different world and that I had to let go off some practices to leave room for fresh methods fit for my present world. It wasn’t easy but in the quietness of that humility I loosened the grip on my old knowledge and created room for fresh learnings.
And no, “unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model”, Mark Bonchek. David A. Gundersen in an article once said that “a man who refuses to unlearn has not yet learned one of life’s most basic evident realities- we are often wrong. And just like a garden can’t thrive without regular uprooting no human being can learn well without regularly unlearning”.
One more take away from my experience was that, unlearning is not for the proud. It’s a process that promises to humble you can trust it to bring out greater things in you. It requires one to step out of familiar mental models that may be obsolete and no longer serve and choosing a different model; an updated one that works best in the new space and a new time- a process ego will disagree with and defiantly oppose.
The view that companies are places people learn has been popular for the longest time. But that will be hard and perhaps even impossible if unlearning is not deliberate and doesn’t come first.
I still have a long stretch to cover but I can confidently say that watching out for old practices and being willing to let them go and embrace new things has made the run much smoother.
I invite you to probe the practices you hold so dear. Those that inform the decisions you make on a daily basis and find those that no longer serve you and push them down the list to make room for fresh ones. After all, ours is a fast paced world where disruption is perpetually imminent.