Stop saying this self-defeating phrase - THINKERS Notebook

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Stop saying this self-defeating phrase

Earlier this week, my wife and I were preparing lunch in the kitchen.

I was doing something -- I can't even remember specifically what it was -- and my wife, as she is so brilliant at doing, immediately saw a way that I could do it more efficiently. 

My reply to her suggestion did not go over well.

"I know," I said. "But I've always done it this way."

She paused.

"If you worked for me, I'd be ripping you right now. I hate it when people use that excuse."


She was right, of course. (Damn if that's not almost always the case!)

I share her disdain for that lazy, defeatist line of thinking, or at least I claim to ... yet here I was, in the heat of the moment, instinctively using it to defend some years-old process that I'd never even thought to improve. 

No, this is not a newsletter about the hidden benefits of marriage. (I shudder to think how blissfully inefficient my kitchen habits would be if left to my own devices.)

This is a newsletter about learning. 

And unlearning.

And relearning.

Because as we hurtle down the tracks of technological change at an ever-increasing rate of speed, our ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn is what will determine our ability to survive in an ever-changing world.

Clinging to ideas like "But I've always done it this way" will prove to be self-defeating, perhaps even self-devastating. 

As futurist Alvin Toffler famously said: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."  

  • Whether it's unlearning how the internet works now and relearning a web built on the blockchain ...
  • Or unlearning how transportation works now and relearning a transportation system built on autonomous vehicles ...
  • Or unlearning how business works now and relearning how AI and machine learning will affect everything ...

Change is here, and its rate of speed is accelerating.

But there is a fallacy in believing that we are in a race to learn specific new ideas or skills to keep up. 

We do need to learn new ideas and skills, of course ... but then we need to prepared, in increasingly short order, to unlearn those ideas and skills and relearn new ones to keep up.

It may not always feel like it right now in a world with a seemingly manageable rate of change. But we need to prepare ourselves for what's coming. 

Nothing will prepare us quite like become better unlearners and relearners.

And we can start by tossing ideas like "But I've always done it that way" in the mental waste bin.

Here are three articles about learning, unlearning, and relearning that will help you take a few small steps toward preparing mentally for the exciting, scary, transformational decades ahead.  

Combat confirmation bias with curiosity and questions

"Our learning is capped to the extent of our questions. Most of us live with answers to questions we’ve never thought, or bothered, to ask. So as you consider the problems around, start asking more questions. How do we know this is the best approach? Since we’re all wired with confirmation bias, we must proactively seek out information to contradict our assumptions."

Read: Learn, Unlearn & Relearn: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Dr. Margie Warrell)

Out with the old, in with the new

"Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one."

Read: Why the Problem with Learning Is Unlearning (Harvard Business Review)

Unlearning is uncomfortable

"On many occasions, unlearning is uncomfortable also because it means you’re leaving home. You are breaking apart from a group. You are questioning but others are not. You see life from a new perspective but others carry on with their old ways. Suddenly, you are alone, and, what’s worse, you might have become the enemy of those around you. They are not going through the uncomfortable path of unlearning, but they feel threatened by your uncomfortable new views. The personal attack on yourself? As soon as you start discussing it with them, they will feel it as a personal attack on themselves too.

But the only way is forward. After you start asking the right questions, there is no going back. So how can you come out on the other side without losing yourself in the process?"

Read: How to Unlearn Anything (SkillUp)

Quote of the week

"We must unlearn the constellation to see the stars.”  

-- Jack Gilbert from the poem “Tear it down”