Unlearning our way into the future

 In Tech Tuesday

Learning by unlearning

Unlearning is something new to me. I understand forgetting – I’m always forgetting things. I forget birthdays, I forget to pay bills – I forget to put the toilet seat down. But deliberately choosing to not use learned experiences as a way of managing and experimenting change is a totally foreign concept to me.

But once I looked into the concept it began and continues to make a lot of sense.

Learning something new is quite hard. Most of us spend our formative years and early twenties accumulating a body of knowledge which we expect to use for the rest of our working lives. Then the majority of our twenties is spent keeping our skills current. Even this isn’t enough though as many managers are starting to think that in today’s rapidly changing work environment that the useful shelf life for our hard won knowledge is around eight years and, consequentially, that by the time you’re thirty you’re considered to be in terminal decline and no longer worth the premium price.

This view of the world has the problem backwards. It’s not learning that is hard; it’s unlearning that we struggle with. Picking up new skills that fit with what we already know about the world is not particularly difficult. New skills that don’t fit into our view of the world – skills that don’t fit with the assumptions and expectations that we’ve accumulated over our lifetime – are a different matter.

Sometimes learning something new requires us to first unlearn something old. We are all expectation machines, and any fact or technique that aligns with our expectations is easy to learn as it reinforces them. Anything that goes against our expectations is more problematic. Learning a new technique might require us to set aside our assumptions about what is the right thing to do. If we can’t set aside these assumptions – if we can’t first unlearn – then we can’t learn.

So – here’s something many kids learn very early in their life. Humans can’t fly! I learnt that falling out of a tree. But what if we could fly with a little bit of help?

Today this guy was brought to my attention by a fellow staff member. Colin Furze is a former plumber turned YouTube inventor who is no stranger to the concept of unlearning, especially when it comes to fashioning record-breaking inventions from the comfort of his own shed.

A flamethrower scooter, a pulse-jet go kart, and the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest pram are just a few of the inspired inventions that have won Colin over 2 million subscribers online.

Ford UK has an innovation program called Unlearn which they say and they provided funding to Colin to develop a hoverbike.  To design this hoverbike – Colin had to unlearn all the proof that men can’t fly. What a creation, it’s an unhinged flying bike/human blender but unbelievably it gets off the ground and actually flies.



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