Until my mid 20s, I believed that it’s better to stay quiet if I don’t feel 100% expert on a topic or that thing I was working on was not perfect. I kept comparing my work to that of others, and as a result, I was feeling inadequate. I had also a tendency to assume that most people know what I know, and therefore I give no added value. That was preventing me showing to the world what I’m working on, however imperfect it was, and getting a feedback to do better.
But nobody jumped straight into doing the brightest stunts and the biggest deals. Justin Bieber or Mr. Beast started by uploading very amateurish videos onto the YouTube, just for fun. But they made themselves seen.
Apple was founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in a garage in 1976. Their first significant deal was with a local computer store called The Byte Shop – selling 50 Apple I computers at $500 each, marking the company’s first bulk order. Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, started by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. Their first deal was selling Japanese running shoes out of the trunk of Knight’s car at track meets.
Look at them now.
So once I realised that and went back to how all those big guns started, I unlearned believing that everything must be perfect from the start. Instead, I now focus on my own progress and growth, comparing myself only to who I was yesterday, rather than looking at external benchmarks (ok, I’m not going to lie, it’s still work in progress).
What’s true today, may not be true tomorrow.
Whether you like it or not, things change. You can’t hold on to your old beliefs without verifying them when confronted with a dissonant information. Technological progress reshapes our environment exponentially faster. And as we grow, we start wanting very different things and sometimes our paths diverge (resulting in breakups and divorces). Change is the only constant and we’d be a fool believing that it doesn’t affect us.
In order to grow, we learn. But in order to stay relevant, we must often unlearn things that no longer serve us in our personal and professional lives. Learning to unlearn is a process that requires an open mind, humility, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. And that’s something not many of us are willing to do, since we operate on shortcuts – habits learned and repeated over and over again without giving much thought to them. Then, sunk cost fallacy is an incredibly powerful phenomenon. We tend to stick with something solely because we’ve already invested time or resources into it, even when it no longer serves us. And if it wasn’t enough, we’re also wired for confirmation bias. We seek out and accept information that confirms our preexisting beliefs, because our brain avoids information overload.
But all those behaviours are detrimental to our growth, so if we want to stop feeling stuck, we must run reality checks regularly.
I think breaking patterns is like that first leap into icy waters – it feels frightening at first. But just as with that initial shock of cold, once you take that leap, you may actually enjoy it (and from a biological point of view, here cold induces endorphins – hormones of happiness). When you challenge the familiar and step out of your comfort zone – you’ll start opening yourself to new opportunities. It’s in those moments of uncertainty that you discover your potential.
What are the steps to unlearning?
The first step in unlearning is acceptance. You acknowledge that the models, systems, and processes that once worked for you are now ineffective. Recognising this sooner allows you for faster progress. Unlearning means admitting that what you knew no longer works and signals the need for fresh learning to move forward.
The second step involves seeking sources for relearning. Unlearning requires opportunities for acquiring new knowledge. Staying curious helps, as it opens you for new perspectives.
The final step is being open to new experiences and knowledge. Immersing yourselves in the new is necessary to eliminate old ways of thinking and doing.
Why companies stop innovating
In his book “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge discusses the concept of a “learning organisation.” Such an organisation recognises that continuous individual and collective learning at all levels is the key to growth. In a world marked by rapid change, only those organisations that can adapt swiftly and maintain high productivity levels will thrive. To keep pace with the ever-accelerating march of technological progress, the ability to learn and unlearn outdated practices becomes paramount for survival.
Over time, societal conditioning, formal education, and work experience often lead us into a pattern of operating on autopilot. We develop routines and mindsets that become deeply ingrained through habitual practice, often without critically evaluating whether our beliefs still remain valid. This phenomenon isn’t limited to people alone; it extends to businesses and organisations as well. They too can become trapped in the repetition of practices that brought them success to a certain extent, but may no longer serve them well in a fast changing world.
Once hugely successful companies like Kodak, Blockbuster or Nokia fell victim of short-sightedness. Kodak was a dominant player in the film and photography industry for most of the 20th century. However, it became overly reliant on film sales and didn’t fully embrace the digital revolution. Despite having developed some of the early digital camera technology, Kodak continued to prioritise film-based products and processes. This refusal to unlearn the film-centric business model proved detrimental when digital photography began to take over. By the time Kodak decided to fully embrace digital, competitors like Canon and Nikon had already established a strong presence.
Same with the Blockbuster. For decades, for many Americans, Friday nights meant video rentals at Blockbuster. However, the company also refused to adapt to the shift to digital streaming and subscription services. The company’s reliance on brick-and-mortar stores and late entry into the online streaming market led to its downfall. Netflix, which embraced digital distribution early, ultimately overtook Blockbuster.
AI is accelerating change, whether you like it or not
Technological progress fuelled by AI is making everything harder to grasp and stay relevant. But it’s also giving us a chance for a better quality life and a more human work. Running around like a headless chicken and screaming that AI will take your job is not going to make your situation any better. The sooner you take advantage of new tech and use it, the better off you’ll be.
And since we all love numbers (as they give a sense of credibility) – here is some: a study by the World Economic Forum found that the skills required for many jobs are changing rapidly, and up to 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. On top of that, AI systems are already reaching human performance on a range of benchmarks.
In order not to become obsolete on the market, we must take advantage of emerging tech like AI to help us focus on tasks that are worth doing, and supercharge our efforts on those. Otherwise we risk being left behind.
Keeping up with change
In a rapidly changing world, people and organisations that excel at unlearning and relearning gain a competitive advantage and pave the way for fresh, groundbreaking concepts and solutions. It allows them to adapt faster and stay relevant. Unlearning can help us avoid skill set imbalances, reduce repetitive errors, and enable extensive growth. The processes and systems that brought us here cannot sustain us beyond today. So do yourself a favour and embracing the discomfort of change. Accepting that learning to unlearn and relearn is your best course of action (and maybe the only one that’s feasible).