Learning How to Unlearn
If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that we’re really attached to what we know—or think we know. Adding to this is the sheer breadth of information available to us these days means that we’re all working off personalized information streams. There’s no common denominator anymore it seems.
That’s especially foreboding when we’re presented with new information. I’m a huge proponent of lifelong learning. I think it’s one of the most important things we can do for ourselves personally and professionally. My fear is that as a society, we’re conflating information consumption—more often than not, information that confirms our biases—with actual learning. That is folly.
To truly learn, we have to be willing to unlearn. If all we do is seek to confirm what we already think or know, there’s no room for growth. If we want to commit to learning, we should be constantly questioning what we know, seeking challenging information and comparing it with our preconceptions of certain things.
Learning should be a constant process of clearing the furniture out of the room in our minds and then rearranging it based on the new pieces we acquire. That’s what I had to do when I decided to commit myself to authentic negotiating. There was no shortage of information that would validate the conventional techniques and tactics I’d learned, and it would have been far easier to dig my heels in on those concepts.
But, the obvious upside of authentic negotiating and authenticity in general was too much for me to ignore. I asked myself, “If you were just learning how to negotiate today, what would you tell yourself to do?” I’d cleared out the room, and authenticity became the centerpiece. We should approach all learning and growth this way but, why don’t we?
The Dunning-Kruger effect.
This is a phenomenon that once you hear it, you’ll notice it everywhere. In short, it states that many of us don’t know enough about a topic to realize how much we don’t know. Right away you can see how this immediately takes real learning off the table. If you’re satisfied with your expertise (or lack thereof) on a given subject, any new information will seem farcical and indulgent.
The Paradox of Expertise.
The site psychologytoday.com makes a good distinction between learners and knowers. At some point, perhaps for most of your life, you were a learner, maybe even a great one. Eventually that shifts and you become a knower. And this is where we run into the paradox. The better we are at learning, the more we’re able to know, and so the faster we become knowers. Learning then has to be a constantly iterative process, one that never ends. The best way to avoid the paradox is to simply never allow yourself to become a knower.
We live in a hyper-specialized world. Whether it’s a specific area of law or a unique coding language, our experience and training effectively make us instruments of our chosen professions. So, we’re drawn to information that’s specific to what we do, and only engage with learning that can enhance our strengths. Personally, I find some of my best ideas and greatest inspiration when I allow my mind to wander, allow myself to be intellectually curious, and see what I can learn from other disciplines. Sometimes we have to unlearn the very basis of who we think we are to get past our own instrumentalization and become more well-rounded people.
Unlearning is a necessary part of the learning process. We shouldn’t recoil at the suggestion of changing our minds, but rather we should be excited by the prospect of refining our understanding of anything and everything. The human capacity to learn is something to be celebrated, but more and more I fear we’re letting it wither on the vine. If you’re ready to unlearn the ways you’ve ordered your life and let authenticity transform your life the way it’s transformed mine, let’s make an appointment
Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.
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