Unlearning Is the New Learning


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To Learn or to Unlearn – that’s the question

Take a moment right now to put everything on pause and visualize the person you were a decade ago. You didn’t have a smartphone because they didn’t exist. The BlackBerry was the one of the dominant form of business communications, but they had no cloud-based app ecosystem to support them. Twitter wasn’t hatched yet and Facebook was in its infancy. MySpace looked unstoppable. If you needed to go somewhere, you had to stand on a street corner and hope a cab would stop for you. While standing on that corner, you probably saw a Blockbuster DVD rental store across the street.

The point is that there are many ways that the cultural, technological, and financial landscapes have redefined since then. Would you act on investment advice from the person you were 10 years ago, or would you rather give you past self the benefit of your current knowledge?

The question is not academic. It represents a very real problem in management all over the globe today. Board members, C-Suites and executives of all stripes are attempting to apply the lessons they learned 10 years ago (or more!) in MBA school. The results have often been disastrous.

Business Model Innovation

You cannot take the latest technology and force it into old business models. Or you can – but your business will soon be obsolete. Along the same lines, it won’t work to take old technology and try to jam it into a new business model. The past can be instructive, but it can’t no longer function as a predictor of project feasibility. The most effective decision-makers in the new world of global volatility and trans-industry disruption are those who toss out old assumptions and iteratively test what actually works as operational parameters transform.

Mobility, digitization, distributed ledgers, data center access by the microsecond, and crowdsourcing have practically eliminated barriers to entry in many sectors. Disruptors can appear overnight from anywhere in the world to make technologies or entire industries obsolete. In this climate, business continuity starts with a risk mitigated portfolio of short-term, mid-term and long-term innovation projects. The short-term projects are where leaders are on their surest footing, making minor improvements and simple variations of existing market winners.

Fail to learn

It’s a very different story for mid- and long-term projects with their corresponding levels of uncertainty. To choose the best investments under those conditions, project teams need to test out new concepts with clear, verifiable hypotheses and using explorative leadership styles. Failing is part of learning, but the most successful innovators identify the signs of project failure early enough to redirect resources ASAP. The next step is another common breakpoint. Companies that succeed with innovation have the market agility and the tools in place to scale up rapidly as soon at the tests prove out an idea.

Confidence and persistence

Confidence and persistence, which are keys to getting the business running, are not be enough
to get it off the ground. Too many business leaders still believing that they can figure it all out by intuition (without adequate data) and adjust trajectory on the fly in response to the market. That is a formula for joining the BlackBerries, Blockbusters and the 70% of businesses operating today that will be gone within ten years.

Learn more about future-proofing your business with management model we’ve developed The Innovation Framework including Wheel of Innovation for assessing, measuring and governing innovation. We developed the leadership model UPACS (for smarter data-driven decision-making through uncertainty, paradoxes, ambiguity, complexity and speed) for modern leadership and we developed the ground breaking model for implementing innovation systems. Details are inside Innovation360’s latest release Sustainable Growth and Profits, Volume 5 of our Complete Guide to Business Innovation.

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