Thanks to the generosity of a friend on social media, a video posted on YouTube over one year ago finally caught up with me. (Or, more properly, I finally caught up with it.) And that video got me thinking hard about how difficult it can be to change the way we work.
The video in question is The Backwards Brain Bicycle and it has a simple premise. People say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. In this video, we discover just how hard it is to unlearn how to ride a bike. By using a bike that was deliberately designed to operate in a strange way, the rider was forced to struggle between his newly acquired knowledge of the redesigned bike and his ingrained way of riding bikes. And the struggle was real.
But here’s the thing: No matter how difficult it is, we need to develop our ability to unlearn in order to develop our ability to learn. While we may not ever have to ride a backwards bicycle, there are lots of things we confront daily that require us to look at things differently or think about things differently. There were things that were standard when I first began my legal career (e.g., hard copy treatises, pocket parts, IBM Selectric typewriters, dictaphones, etc.) that are now extinct or irrelevant. As a result, I have had to unlearn my old ways so I could master new tools and techniques to get my job done.
Even if you were not practicing law in the dark ages when I first started working, I am certain you have had a similar experience of seeing old ways of doing things slip away, to be replaced by new ways that you have to learn quickly.
Margie Warrell calls this “learning agility” and says that it is now “the name of the game”:
To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.
Learning agility is the name of the game. Where the rules are changing fast, your ability to be agile in letting go of old rules and learning new ones is increasingly important. Learning agility is the key to unlocking your change proficiency and succeeding in an uncertain, unpredictable and constantly evolving environment, both personally and professionally.
As you head out for a well-deserved long weekend, consider what you are being asked to learn and then think about what you will have to unlearn to make that learning possible. You cannot do one without the other.
If you don’t believe me, then believe Yoda: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”