Real Learning Always Starts With Unlearning

Our capacity for learning is a part of being a human being. From birth, we are on a fast track of learning – movement, speech, understanding, and so forth. Unfortunately, many people equate “learning” with “schooling,” and when you’re done with school, you’re done with learning.

We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creating, and growing intellectually – and it doesn’t have an expiration date tied to an event, like graduation.

The practice of lifelong learning has never been more important to leaders than it is today. The necessity of expanding your knowledge through lifelong learning is critical to your success.

Take reading, for example. Many of the most successful people in today’s organizations read an average of 2-3 hours per day. No longer limited to books, reading is a lifelong learning activity that can be done online anywhere at anytime.

Learning is the minimum requirement for success as a leader. Because information and knowledge on everything is increasing every day, your knowledge must also increase to keep up.

Learning how to learn is more important than ever. Dedicate yourself to trying and learning new ideas, tasks, and skills. You don’t need to be aware of everything all the time but learning new skills faster and better – that in itself is a tough skill to master.

THE QUICK SUMMARY –Unlearn by Barry O’Reilly

The transformative system that shows leaders how to rethink their strategies, retool their capabilities, and revitalize their businesses for stronger, longer-lasting success.

There’s a learning curve to running any successful business. But once you begin to rely on past achievements or get stuck in outdated thinking and practices that no longer work, you need to take a step back―and unlearn. This innovative and actionable framework from executive coach Barry O’Reilly shows you how to break the cycle of behaviors that were effective in the past but are no longer relevant in the current business climate, and now limit or may even stand in the way of your success.

With this simple but powerful three-step system, you’ll discover how to:

  1. Unlearn the behaviors and mindsets that prevent you and your businesses from moving forward.
  2. Relearn new skills, strategies, and innovations that are transforming the world every day.
  3. Break through old habits and thinking by opening up to new ideas and perspectives to achieve extraordinary results.

Packed with relatable anecdotes and real-world examples, this unique resource walks you through every step of the unlearning process. You’ll discover new ways of thinking and leading in every industry. You’ll identify what you need to unlearn, what to stop, what to keep, and what to change. By intentionally and routinely applying the system of unlearning, you’ll be able to adapt your mindset, adopt new behaviors, acquire new skills, and explore new options that will totally transform your performance and the business you lead. This book will help you let go of the past, and encourage your teams and organization to do the same. When you think big but start small, choose courage over comfort, and become curious to tackle uncertainty, you can achieve new levels of success you never dreamed possible.

Good leaders know they need to continuously learn. But great leaders know when to unlearn the past to succeed in the future. This book shows you the way.


As futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Welcome to the 21st century. Living in our time requires different skills, one of the most important of which is unlearning activities, skills and formerly productive (or wise) activities such that new learning can take place.

One problem is that they’ve been focused on the wrong thing. The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning. In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing to organization to leadership. To embrace the new logic of value creation, we have to unlearn the old one.

Highly effective leaders are constantly searching for inspiration and for new ideas. But before any real breakthroughs can happen, we need to step away from old models, mindsets, and behaviors that are limiting our potential and current performance.

The system of unlearning is based on a three-step approach to individual and collective growth that I have dubbed the Cycle of Unlearning.

Adopting the Cycle of Unlearning doesn’t rely on being smart, or lucky, or desperate, or all of the above. It relies only on you – your courage and commitment to use it intentionally in your work and your life to achieve extraordinary results.

Step One: Unlearn

There are a variety of reasons why individuals get struck doing the same things over and over again; the main one is the erroneous belief that doing what brought you success today will bring you success tomorrow. Unfortunately, the systems, models, and methods that work today can actually limit your ability to change – and succeed – tomorrow.

Do you have the courage to recognize that what you are doing is not working, be willing to accept it, let go, and try something different?

Unlearning does not lead with words; it leads with actions. You must first embrace your purpose by clarifying your why and your what.

This first step in the Cycle of Unlearning requires courage, self-awareness, and humility to accept that your own beliefs, mindsets, or behaviors are limit your potential and current performance and that you must consciously move away from them.

Step Two: Relearn

As you unlearn your current limiting but ingrained methods, behaviors, and thinking, you can take in new data, information, and perspectives. And by considering all this new input, you naturally challenge your existing mental models of the world. By exploring difficult tasks, you will discover a tremendous amount about yourself.

There are three challenges to relearning effectively, and we create many of these challenges ourselves:

  1. You must be willing to adapt and be open to information that goes against your inherent beliefs.
  2. You may need to learn how to learn again.
  3. You must create an environment for relearning to happen outside your comfort zone.

Step Three: Breakthrough

Once you learn how to relearn and open yourself up to new information flows, networks, and systems from every possible source, you are poised to develop the kind of breakthrough thinking that has the potential to vault you into the lead.

As we break free of our existing mental models and methods, we learn to let go of the past to achieve extraordinary results. We realize that the world is constantly evolving, innovating, and progressing, so too must we. Our breakthroughs provide an opportunity to reflect on the lessons we have learned from relearning and provide a springboard for tacking bigger and ore audacious challenges.

This process can be as simple as asking yourself what went well, not so well, and what you would do differently if you were to try and unlearn the same challenge again.

Barry O’Reilly, Unlearn


Unlearning does not mean you will be forgetting old knowledge and ways; instead, it’s all about creating a new mental model or paradigm. New learning does not eliminate the old; it adds new skills and knowledge to what’s already in place.

Unlearning is an ongoing and continuous habit that must become a deliberate practice.

Author Barry O’Reilly has developed a series of “Unlearning Prompts” throughout his book. Using the following as examples, develop similar prompts that you can instill and practice on a regular basis:

  • When was the last time you truly unlearned how you ____________ (fill in the blank)?
  • What prompted it?
  • Did you recognize it, seek to uncover it, or be informed of it?
  • How can you make unlearning in this area more intentional?
  • What is the first small step you can take to get started?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 113-2, released February 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<




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