What Do You Need to Unlearn?

I read Jerry Weinberg’s Advice to New Graduates and thought I would ask this question about unlearning.

I had to unlearn many things when I started to work. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The myth of the one-person project. I had to depend on other people to finish work I started. Unlike school, I never had a one-person project.
  • The myth that organizations are well-oiled machines. Ha! Organizations (and management) are populated by people. People are messy. They have emotions which affects their work. I do, too!
  • The myth that deadlines are immovable. In school, deadlines are immovable. At work however, “deadlines” often depend on the context. Deadlines move in and out for a wide variety of reasons.
  • The myth that someone else actually understood the product we were developing better than I did. No, they were often just as puzzled, but in other areas.

I unlearned other myths, but those were the biggies.

That’s when I realized I needed to learn to learn, every single day of my life. I had to be flexible enough to see when it was time to learn something new. And, I had to be flexible enough to learn how to retain what I had learned.

Some of my learning didn’t change. The book learning: how electronic systems worked, how math worked, that stuff didn’t change. The expression of that stuff? I learned a bunch of new programming languages. I’ve learned other languages since: markup and markdown “languages,” how to speak and write so people can understand and hear me, how to speak with management. I’m still learning and practicing that human writing and speaking.

For me, learning is a form of resilience.

You know about people who don’t seem to like “change.” More often, they don’t like being changed (Peter Senge’s quote). And, still, they might not be fond of change for change’s sake.

I don’t know about you. I often find that when I learn new things I have to “unlearn” other things. What I thought was immutable is not.

That means I practice small changes all the time. I’m always unlearning something and learning something new. For me, change is not just the addition of new things. It’s also subtraction of other things.

Here’s a personal example. My teachers taught me to write by researching, outlining, writing in passive voice, editing endlessly and finally releasing the work. I still do some research, but often it’s just-in-time research. I might outline just so I don’t forget. I edit much less, and often to fix typos and clarify what I wrote. I release often.

I unlearned a formal way of writing that doesn’t work for me. I learned (over a period of years) how to write in a way that does work for me.

I had one big change to make it all happen: to differentiate writing into all its pieces, including the writing-down piece. Once I realized writing was all kinds of pieces, I could unlearn some of them (such as endless editing) and learn more about what worked for me.

Dear adaptable readers, that is the question of the week: What do you need to unlearn?

2 thoughts on “What Do You Need to Unlearn?

  1. Jim Grey

    I’ve had to unlearn two related myths: that I had to do it all myself (not ask for help) and that my work had to be perfect. What a relief. Bring on more unlearning.

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