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The library of essays of Proakatemia

To learn, one must unlearn.

Kirjoittanut: Teemu Istolainen - tiimistä Avanteam.

Esseen tyyppi: Yksilöessee / 2 esseepistettä.

Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results
O'Reilly, Barry
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 3 minuuttia.

Unlearning is defined as discarding something learned, especially bad habits or outdated behaviors and mindsets. The author Barry O’Reilly in his book “Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results.” goes through the concept of unlearning and how to utilize it. I am personally interested in the psychology of learning, so this book caught my eye as soon as I saw the cover.

Why Unlearn?

The author shares an example case of effective unlearning, Serena Williams’ comeback after two bad seasons to once again being one of the best tennis players in the world. In 2012, Serena Williams was 31 years old, while the average age for women Grand Slam tournament was merely 24 years old. Not winning a Grand Slam event in two years and after a first ever loss in the first round of French Open, something had to change. She made the drastic decision and chose relatively unknown Greek-French tennis coach, Patrick Mouratoglou as her new coach. Mouratoglou not only trained Serena in tennis, but also in mentality and mindset. His unconventional style of coaching, sparking new perspectives, new thinking and new behaviors took Serena back among the elite of tennis players. Quoting Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

The Cycle of Unlearning

The process of unlearning is quite simple, yet difficult to utilize.

  1. Unlearn – Unlearning poses the toughest challenge in the cycle, since it requires you to accept that your beliefs, mindsets, or behaviors are limiting your potential and performance. The biggest erroneous belief is that doing what brought you success before will bring you success in the future.
  2. Relearn – As you unlearn current limiting schemas, you can absorb new information, mindsets, and perspectives. This part may be considerably difficult since it may require you to leave your inherent beliefs behind.
  3. Breakthrough – “Break on through to the other side” the Doors sang in the 1960s. Breakthrough is the result of unlearning and relearning. It’s the information and insights that were gained during the first two steps of the cycle.

Figure 1: The cycle of unlearning, (O’Reilly, 2019)

Shift your mindset

The secret in shifting your mindset is not thinking differently; it’s acting differently. When you act differently, you start to see the world differently which will then impact your mindset as a result. The author has advised many Fortune 500 business leaders to apply unlearning in their business leading. A great example case is when he met with the leadership team of a well-known mobile phone service provider. They told him that their strategies, product offering, and service provision was the “best ever”. He then proceeded to give 5 executives a prepaid credit card, loaded with $200 each, and a task to go out and buy a phone and see if they could get connected to the network within two hours. Guess how many of them succeeded? One. Four of them could not get signed up for the service they had designed and were responsible for. Showing them the customers experience was a powerful way for them to unlearn the beliefs they had about their “best ever” system and enabled their breakthroughs to happen.

Figure 2: The cycle of new thinking and behavior, (O’Reilly, 2019)

The Cycle of Unlearning can be a powerful tool to utilize in any organization. Quoting C.S. Lewis, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” The book made me wonder how many high-level executives have stuck in their ways, hence damaging the business. How can your team apply unlearning in Proakatemia?



O’Reilly, B. (2019). Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results. New York. McGraw-Hill Education.

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