Today, I am in Las Vegas to deliver a keynote speech to the Chief Learning Officer’s summit. The title of my presentation is “Unlearning 101: Why Unlearning is the Key to Your Future.” The talk can best be summarized with the following analogy:
Imagine reaching the summit of a mountain peak. You are proud of your accomplishment because it feels as though you are literally on the top of the world. Unfortunately, after you catch your breathe and the clouds from the summit clear away, off in the distance you see a mountain peak of even greater height. You immediately know that you must scale that mountain next. One problem is that reaching the new summit will require new skills and new knowledge. In short, it will demand that you undergo a “steep learning curve.”
The more immediate problem, however, is that you must first climb back down into the valley before you can begin ascending the higher mountain. This step—which I call the steep unlearning curve—can actually be more difficult because it often requires you to jettison ideas, assumptions, habits and beliefs which were essential in climbing the first summit but are no longer sufficient for the future demands of the higher summit.
As we race into the future, I am confident that most of us will be able to handle the challenges of climbing ever steeper learning curves, I’m concerned that it is the subtle unlearning curves which will trip up most people and organizations and keep them from reaching their fullest–and highest–potential.