Becoming an UNlearner

One of the barriers to personal growth is the false assumption that what we learn is all that matters. But the truth is that learning is only half the journey. As Mark Batterson, author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, observes, “Half of learning is learning. The other half of learning is unlearning.” Learning helps you chart your course. Unlearning helps you raise the anchor. Learning reveals best practices. Unlearning removes the obstacles to implement them. Learning is the passport to relevance. Unlearning is the exit from the irrelevance highway.

Personal growth is not complete without a balance of learning and unlearning. But the most difficult of the two is unlearning. Here are three practices that will help you become an UNlearner:

1.  Conduct an Assumptions Audit – This will not be pleasant but can produce some powerful outcomes. Gather your team around you and brainstorm a list of your assumptions regarding why you do what you do. For example, if one of your assumptions is that people grow best in company-wide or church-wide training events, what outcomes can you point to that support your assumption? You might be surprised to know that Richard Boyatzis’s Theory of Self-Directed Learning, and the research that accompanies it, would suggest otherwise. Operating on false assumptions can happen for years, consume enormous amounts of money and manpower, and yet produce very little fruit. If we’re not careful, sustaining programs will become more important than creating real value or cultivating real life change.

2.  Recruit a New Inner Circle and Relate to a New Outer Circle – Your inner circle is your staff, leadership team, or key influencers. While you may not be able to get a “new” inner circle, you can expand it with new blood. This will help you replace worn out thinking with a fresh perspective. If your current inner circle has fresh ideas, then start listening to them. Unless you create a culture that welcomes feedback and the freedom to challenge your ideas, no team will be able to help you. At the same time, relate to a new outer circle. Your outer circle is made up of the people outside your organization (some from the same field or industry as yours and others from outside your industry). If you’re always going to the same well to drink, eventually you start to look like everybody else at the well.

3.  Choose Innovation over Incrementalism – One of the great leadership pitfalls is the temptation to incrementally tweak and adjust programs and strategies that are outdated or in decline. When the services we offer are dying a slow death, they don’t need small incremental changes. They need an innovative overhaul. And if they’re really dying, they need a swift burial. In case you haven’t noticed, funeral homes don’t conduct incremental burials. Unfortunately, many churches and organizations do. A deep commitment to innovation over incrementalism will help you more readily unlearn the thinking that led to decline in the first place.

Question:  What practices have helped you become an UNlearner?