The Unlearning challenge
A friend showed me recently a very interesting video of a man that modified his bike so that when you turned the handle bar to the left, the wheel went to the right and when you turned it to the right, the wheel went to the left. https://youtu.be/MFzDaBzBlL0
It seems like a quite minor modification, and you would think that you just need to focus a bit more and give it a few try-outs before learning how to ride this modified bike. Well… I don’t want to spoil this experiment (I encourage you to look at the video, it is quite amazing), but this turned out to be far more complicated than it sounds.
This really made me think about how our habits become so natural for us that we sometimes just cannot think of a different way to do things or look at things from a different angle.
Yes, if we try hard enough and are motivated, we can continuously improve our skills and enhance our competences (e.g. ride a race bike, go uphill, ride more and more km each week...) but when a major paradigm shift is needed, trying to learn new things on top of what we previously knew is just not enough anymore.
When disruption is needed, we must unlearn before starting to learn again!
To go back to our experiment, we have to unlearn to ride a bike, go back to when we were little kids and with that same approach learn from scratch to ride it “inverted” (by the way, the guy that did the experiment involved his 6 years old child, who unsurprisingly was in fact much faster to unlearn and relearn…).
I find this really fascinating and very applicable to leadership as well.
How many times do we, as leaders, really struggle to embrace new leadership behaviours that we rationally know could be more effective and bring better results, just because we try to upgrade our existing leadership style by adding new “bricks” to it instead of radically rethinking it?
Let’s just look at how different companies not used to extensively use smart work have been managing it in these months.
Some companies have basically just taken online the face-to-face meetings and made more extensive use of emails and phone/video conferencing tools, but still required people to be “on-call” nine-to-five and report to their managers.
Some other companies have taken the opportunity to radically redesign the way people interact with each other, the way responsibilities are shared, the way leaders play their role as facilitators and coaches for their teams instead of micro-managers and controllers, the way trust is becoming the foundation of all relationships…
In one word, they are unlearning the “old” way to run a company in order to learn a new, more effective way, instead of just adding a bit of flavour of flexibility and delegation to the previous model.
This brings me to my question for us all: What do we need to unlearn to become the leaders we aspire to be?
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