How do we unlearn? LO9863

Prasad Kaipa (
Mon, 09 Sep 1996 23:28:37 -0700

How do we unlearn?

You could say that to learn how to swim, you should get into the
water. To learn how to play piano, you should take lessons and listen
to music and practice on the piano. But to unlearn, there is no one
way. Of course, it requires a strong intention to begin with and then
we have to let go of the intention itself.

I know of a gentleman who wants to stop smoking. He knows every trick
in the book about hypnotherapy, cold turkey method, nicotine patches,
chewing gum technique---you name it he knows about it. Actually he
stopped smoking several times in the past two three years. How does he
unlearn his habit?

He should first have a strong intentionality to stop smoking. Then he
probably should try any method that he is attracted to. Once he starts
practicing, he should stop worrying about smoking and not smoking but
concentrate on just doing what he promised himself to do---that is to
practice. Concentrating on the process without worrying about the
results is easy to say and very difficult to do. But once he can
concentration on his action but not the intended result, there may be
some unanticipated surprise. On the other hand, he may never stop
smoking too. But if he gives up his practice and moves onto another
method, he loses it.

Only way to transcend your mental models is through your current
mental models. Running away from it, rejecting it will only strengthen
its hold on you. While it looks paradoxical, unlearning is something
worth looking at to bring about breakthrough innovation and paradigm
shifts in organizations.

Let me give you another example.

I read a book called 'Maiden Voyage' in which Tania, an
eighteen-year-old dropout going nowhere, was offered a challenge by
her father. He bought a boat and challenged her to go sailing in it
for two years on her own and support herself during that time. If she
earned enough money during those two years to support herself, she
could keep the boat.

Tania was so excited about getting away from her parents and having
fun that she didn=B9t view as a chore the many lessons she had to take
on navigation and survival techniques. Her negative ways began to
change. Once she began her voyage her survival was dependent on how
well she could navigate. Very quickly she picked up what she needed
to learn, and she spent the next two and half years and 27,000 miles
sailing around the world, discovering herself.

Until the challenge, Tania was locked in a rigid mental box with a
pessimistic and non-participatory outlook and an uncertain future.
The challenge helped her to unlearn her old thinking and develop an
entirely new context for learning.

Third example:
I had an airplane pilot in one of my workshops who was learning to fly
a glider. He told me, as a pilot it was much more difficult for him
to learn to fly a glider, than for his wife to learn, who was not a
pilot. He kept looking for controls that were not there. He spent
much of his early lessons trying to relate and compare the two types
of aircraft. Meanwhile, his wife, the complete novice made
significant progress from day one.

What we already know gets in the way of what we want to learn. When we
unlearn, we generate anew rather than reformulate the same old stuff.
Creativity and innovation bubble up during the process of unlearning.
This is not mere modification or restructuring of old material; once
we remove our blinders, the world becomes quite different, with new
possibilities and innovative approaches to situations that previously
seemed stale or difficult. If we wish to blossom, we should remember
that a seed will only germinate if it ceases to be a seed.

I love to hear your comments and stories on unlearning!

Prasad Kaipa (408) 866-8511
Mithya Institute for Learning & (408) 866-8926 (Fax)
Knowledge Architecture
4832 Pinemont Drive
Campbell, CA 95008-5714

Welcome to Mithya Institute Web page:
Topic of focus for the fall of 1996 on website: Unlearning


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