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What Did You Unlearn Today?
A regional private college frequently runs radio ads featuring stories of their graduates and their accomplishments and likes to close with the provocative question: “What did you learn today?”

Naturally most people go to school, attend conferences and read all kinds of information so that they can learn more and better themselves professionally which has become necessary in today’s rapidly changing, information-oriented world. But we think it's equally important question to think about another question: What did you unlearn today?
At first most people are caught off guard when asked to think about what they might unlearn. After all, most forward thinking and ambitious professionals are eager to scoop up the latest ideas and techniques that will help them hone their skills to keep up, if not get ahead, of their competition. The idea that anyone needs to jettison or unlearn something they already know seems to be off the radar screen. The built in assumption seems to be to bulk up, not slim down.

What does it mean to unlearn something? After a brief pause, people start to get it. “It means you might have to break some old habits,” offers one. Another adds: “To unlearn means to reassess what you think is true and be willing to change your beliefs if you’re assumptions turn out to be wrong.” Yes, that’s it!

Suddenly people start reflecting and wondering what they might need to unlearn. Just like in 1530 when the now famous astronomer Copernicus published De Revolutionibus postulating the radical notion that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around. Back then this startling discovery required lot’s of unlearning not only for the scientific community but the church and eventually the general population as well.

Perhaps most of us will not have to unlearn any beliefs with such far-reaching implications. However, through unlearning many managers and leaders have discovered that some of their assumptions or pre-conceived notions were unfounded which often initially shakes their own personal universe. Maybe it was their assumptions of what makes a good manager or what it takes to really motivate others or what their organization must do to compete successfully in today’s global economy.

Challenging people to think about their assumptions and pre-conceived notions and what they may need to unlearn is only a start. The next step is enabling people to revise their thinking and reconstitute their views with sound principles and facts that will help the see their world more clearly and accurately.

So what do you need to unlearn today?
 

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