Photo credit (above): CollegeDegrees360 | Flickr
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
So you’ve graduated after spending the last three to four years of your life absorbing an inane amount of knowledge.
Congratulations! The job search went well and here you are at your first-ever job, ready to practise all the things that you learnt in class. First task on the job? Learn to unlearn.
Yes, it’s essentially time to forget everything you know and start afresh.
It’s not that what you learnt was wrong. In fact, it will be extremely useful to you at many points in your career. But it can also hold you back.
Relying on what we are sure of and what we have learnt can be comforting against the multitude of uncertainties in life.
It’s the comfort zone that we fall back on when we need assurance. Instead of embracing change or new things, it is simply much easier to just focus on what you know and go from there.
When uncertainty is certain
However, the workplace is often uncertain and constantly changing, requiring the ability to adapt in order to be successful.
A key leadership characteristic often cited is learning agility – being open to alternate ways of thinking, and the ability to learn continuously.
There will always be new ways of doing things, and revisions to prior understandings of the world. That means there is a need to be able to keep up with learning new things.
Old habits may be hard to let go, and we can become entrenched in old ways of thinking that may restrict one’s agility for learning.
Unlearning what one knows does not mean that your prior knowledge is wrong, but merely that it may be unsuitable for the present situation.
It requires an amount of humility to be able to recognise this, and to be open towards learning new things that would be able to aid you.
Many of the jobs and competencies needed in today’s workplace did not exist five years ago, meaning that all who were successful in them had to unlearn and relearn at some point in their careers.
Being willing and able to unlearn leads to one being more open towards new ideas, perspectives and knowledge. Even if your prior knowledge and skills were able to lead you to success in your present, the success of your future is vastly different.
So, take a step back and begin again – you never know what else there is out there.
Millie is always learning, unlearning and relearning leadership values from the animal kingdom. For Terrific Thursday Tails articles by her, visit www.leaderonomics.com. To engage with Millie, email email@example.com
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 6 December 2014