6 Characteristics You Must Cultivate To Unlearn

unlearning

Many leaders rely too heavily on past achievements, practices, and ways of thinking to drive positive results today, but they often need to unlearn those behaviors before they can take a step forward; this is the essence of innovation.

Last week I watched Singularity University’s Experts on Air which featured, advisor and author, Barry O’Reilly on Why Great Leader’s Must Unlearn To Succeed in Today’s Exponential World.

This is a very important topic because just as important as it is to develop and practice a learn-it-all mindset, you must develop the skill to unlearn what you’ve learned.

With that said, one key slide from the chat was about the characteristics you need to cultivate most to develop your ability to unlearn. He mentioned 5:

  1. Curiosity. Being open-minded, having a learn-it-all mindset; not a know-it-all mindset. For example, how fast are you learning, or more importantly unlearning what it takes to launch software products?
  2. Courage. This one is about ego, recognize and accept that you don’t know everything.
  3. Commitment. How bad do you really want to become better at anything?
  4. Comfort with being uncomfortable. How often do you stretch yourself by putting yourself in situations that are out of your comfort zone?
  5. Create safety to succeed. How safe is it to make mistakes in your organization?

To this list I would add awareness, to become conscious of when an idea is no longer useful; because you have know what you know but also what you don’t know and what you don’t know that you don’t know.

Remember, what got you here won’t get you there. Or the knowledge that got you here is not enough to get you there. Good leaders are learners; they know they must continuously learn. Great leaders know when to unlearn.

“Learning is not the main inhibitor to unlocking higher performance for people. It’s actually their inability to unlearn their existing behaviour and thinking that is holding them back from achieving the results that they’re looking for.” — @barryoreilly

The ability to learn and unlearn is a lifetime skill; because growth isn’t just a matter of learning but of unlearning old limits.


Most people and organizations can’t transform themselves because they can’t let go of outdated beliefs. Therefore, our ability to lead the future is a function of our ability to update our beliefs of the past.