How Unlearning Lies at the Heart of Innovation

“In the future, the definition of illiteracy will not be the inability to read, it will be the inability to learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

Until recently, I’d been extremely confident of my shoe-tying ability. This knowledge was so ingrained, I never imagined there might be another way to approach this core life skill. Then, I watched Terry Moore explain how a competency I considered second nature could be improved. I have changed a life-long habit and in the process, trip over fewer untied laces when I’m out walking. See his short Ted Talk here:

Missed opportunities
Unlearning underlies the ability to approach problems creatively. At its heart, it requires that we welcome and encourage change. In clearing out the old, we make room for the new.

When we question assumptions, we begin the process of looking at things creatively. As the shoe-tying lesson shows, numerous opportunities exist to evaluate even those things we consider set in stone. When we challenge our perceptions and look at things in new ways, we may uncover significant opportunity.

“It is my contention that the pace of technological change is occurring so fast that not only it is essential people learn new skills, they must also dedicate an equal amount of time to unlearning old skills and old ways of seeing the world,” writes Jack Uldrich, global futurist, author and scholar.

Simple innovation
Is there a process or policy in your organization that you might look at in new ways? Recently, I observed a process change at my bank that seems simple but innovative.

Not so long ago when I went to an ATM machine, I’d find paper littering the ground. Some customers would simply discard their receipts after completing their transactions.

Now, in a welcome change, ATM users can have the transaction record sent directly to an email address. With paper eliminated from the process, customers experience greater security, the bank saves operating costs and the environment benefits from the consumption of fewer trees.

Have you found an opportunity for improvement in your organization by looking at a process or policy in a new way?


About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at
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