Yesterday, I wrote this post entitled "Why Businesses Must Unlearn." Shortly thereafter a thoughtful reader posed this question:
"I like this idea of an organization doing some top-down "unlearning" of bad habits. But what new habits do they develop and put in place — how do you get a seasoned exec that's devoted to a way of thinking to accept another view?"
It is an excellent question. In short, the questioner is asking: How does a person unlearn?
The first step — and I'll admit this the most difficult — is to get the person to admit their ignorance. (Remember, "we don't know what we don't know.") One way of doing this is encourage the person to take the quiz prescribed in this post entitled "Have Some Intellectual Humility." A second strategy is to invite them to start what Nassim Taleb calls an "anti-library."
The second step is to get the person to at least acknowledge that there is a different way to do things. For a potential exercise, I would invite a person to "Study Carneades" and learn to debate both (or all) sides of an issue.
Three, as an adjunct to this exercise, ask the person to envision a future scenario that might require the person or the organization they are leading to change either their position or the direction of the organization. It has been proven that merely contemplating a different scenario (other than the one the person thinks most likely to occur) can help people and organizations adapt faster in the face of a fundamental change to underlying conditions. Two strategies I recommend in this arena are encouraging people to ask new questions and training them to see different points of view.
Four, tell stories. Personally, I am a big fan of telling stories and frequently, when addressing corporations, associations or government and non-profit organizations on unlearning and change management, I'll pepper my keynote speeches and consulting sessions with the antidotes. I recently had this post which served as a warning to the scientific community and, last month, I put together this short four-minute video telling the story of executives at Bethlehem Steel. (If you really want to scare the person into unlearning try this post entitled "Unlearn or Die." If, however, your selected audience is attune to sports try these sports-related unlearning stories: Unlearn Barriers; Why Not Granny Style; Unlearn Your Putting Game; and "Practice Your Unlearning Game."
The latter four strategies work well for most people, but if the person can't submit his or her ego to the unlearning concept; I would suggest this post entitled "Beware of Growing Icebergs." It outlines why everyone should be open to unlearning.
I hope this post helps and for organizations that are interested in unlearning I now offer full and half-days seminars on the topic. Interested parties can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-267-1212.)