19 Sep 2017, 09:35 — 5 min read
Throughout your life, till this moment, you have learned. Learned the skills to survive and also weave a path towards your goals. And yet you may still be wondering, what is the final goal?
Achieving goals throughout your life is beyond the realms of learning. It is unlearning in the garb of learning.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup to the brim and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the cup overflowing until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Unlearning is this emptying of your cup. It is the acquiring of new skills while replacing the old.
In the fast lane of your professional as well as personal lives, your success depends not on how quickly you learn but on how quickly you unlearn. It is more difficult and uncomfortable than learning because we have to let go of knowledge that has served us so well.
It is no longer known as learning ability. It is learning agility.
As futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Unlearning is all about moving away or letting go. It is acquiring of something new. It could be better than before. It is only possible when you are ready to transform your fixed mindset to one geared for growth. Let’s take an example of a person who strips the old paint on a wall for a newer one. He prepares a surface. Stripping the paint is 70% of the work while repainting is only 30%. Yes, we may have been successful so far. Now is the time to take this to a new level as the journey ahead demands a new set of skills and competencies.
What happens when you have changed jobs?
You have learnt a certain way of life in your previous organisation. You gradually start unpeeling the mindset and procedures of that organisation. Your continuous comparison would prove to be a hindrance in embracing the new environment. It will block getting a clear sense of the new job. By continually mulling over what you did and how you did it in the previous organisation will make you miss learning opportunities at your new work place. On the other hand, the previous experience becomes handy in perpetuating your growth in the new place. You systematically learn, unlearn and relearn your way to prepare for what’s next.
Unlearning doesn’t imply to toss out all your accumulated knowledge or even nullify or negate the previous know-how. Rather, it asks that you remain open to different ways of getting things done. It just requires the lessons from the previous learning to be carried forward and to be ready for the new.
Unlearning is to begin at the beginning. In order to learn something new, even if it has a remote similarity to what you have done earlier. Learn what makes it different. We all repeat the success formula that worked in the past, even when the application of the same is not required in the present.
The present way to succeed is to move away from the ordinary fixed mindsets. Unlearning means acquiring a growth mindset and following a new trajectory. Even the newness will require unflinching unlearning time and again. You need to adapt to a newer way whenever you have to go undergo change. This is important both personally and professionally.
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By Deepak Jain