Posts Tagged ‘Unlearning’

Unlearning- Why your survival kit is incomplete without

Thursday, November 5th, 2020

Plot One

Scene one:

Hindi movie Sujata. A young man Adheer (Sunil Dutt) madly in love with untouchable Sujata (Nutan) singing to his lady love over the black analog phone the most touching song “jalte hain jiske liye..” in Talat Mahmood’s dreamy voice and S.D. Burman’s magical music. The year of release of the film- 1959

Scene two:

Hindi movie Mr. India. An exasperated editor Mr. Gaitunde (Anu Kapoor) is in the middle of an animated discussion with the crime reporter Seema (Sridevi) and, suddenly the phone rings loudly to check if that was a mental hospital. The phone on the editor’s desk was similar to that of the above scene. The year of release of the film- 1987.

(Timelapse: 28 years)


Plot Two

Scene one:

January 2020. Small HR cubical. The HR head sitting tight, enamored with her own power, and posing to listen attentively to one of her female staff who is pleading to be allowed to work from home as her husband is going on tour and mother in law has a broken hipbone. The HR verdict is clear after listening to the hapless lady “Okay, only for three days”.

Cut to:

The husband is rushing to the airport, has just picked up toast from the table before dashing to the waiting taxi, “See you, sweetheart, got to catch 6 am flight, have three clients meeting so I will call you when I reach the hotel in the evening. Take care of Mom….. bye!”.

Scene two:

April 2020.

The wife is sitting at her dining table. The laptop is open. The headphone is mounted and you can hear only her voice. She is working from home.

Cut to:

The husband is sitting in the bedroom. One corner has a table placed. The screen of the laptop in front of him has nine people in different boxes. The sales conference is going on.

He is attending a global conference from home.

(Timelapse: 100 days)

With the accelerating pace of technology, Unlearning is not a choice, its survival

Ray Kurzweil writes in his astonishing book “The Singularity is Near” about the technological changes as part of the evolutionary process. Kurzweil writes “To compare the rate of progress of the biological evolution of intelligence to that of technological evolution, consider that the most advanced mammals have added about one cubic inch of brain matter every hundred thousand years, whereas we are roughly doubling the computational capacity of computers every year. Of course, neither brain size nor computer capacity is the sole determinant of intelligence, but they do represent enabling factors”.

We must acknowledge that embracing the “New” can only happen when we are ready to shed the “Old”.

As decision-making activity of the human brain is increasingly getting shared with algorithm-based computing and analysis we must understand that learning the unknown can happen only by uninhibited and fearless adoption of technology by constantly doing the newer things.

We must ask ourselves all the time “is my knowledge is my stumbling block?”

It is also true that it is difficult to unlearn. It is always a challenging task to leave the comfort zone and admit that “I need to learn”, especially after we have reached someplace in our life and have stories to tell “see, that is how I achieved this”.

Let us try to figure out that if there is an art (or science) to unlearn?

1.    Drop that stupid “I know everything” syndrome to kickstart

“To know is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” Socrates

Identify that your ego is the door locked from inside which is stopping you realize that you actually don’t know many things than the things you know. Listen to yourself more attentively. If most of your conversations are starting with “I”, get alerted. If most of your stories are about you, get alerted. If you are repeating the experiences you share, get alerted. These are signs that you have stopped learning new things and you are being trapped with a certain combination of perceived reality that you think you have learned and you know them well.

Another technique to save yourself from your ego is asking five “I know this but do I know that?”. I borrowed this from the principle of asking five whys if you want to know an answer. Whenever you think you know everything about a subject, ask a question related to the same subject. An example, “Okay I know manufacturing hard disc drive is cheaper in China but do I know where do they get their raw material from?”.

“Okay, I know that the micro-chips are shipped from Thailand but do I know the ingredients to make micro-chips?”

“Okay, I know that the raw material for making microchips is silicon dioxide, which is mined from the earth as Silica sand or quartz but do I know where do they get their silica sand?”

I am sure after a while, you will realize that you need to learn more, and what you know is not complete.

2.    Stay curious like a child all your life and ask questions

“I have no special talent – I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein.

All of us know how curiosity has triggered revolutionary changes in the process of human evolution. Creativity is directly proportional to being curious which in turn related to problem-solving.



Highly respected authors Celeste Kidd and Benjamin Y. Hyden wrote a thoroughly researched article in PMC (US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health) titled “The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity” (Also available in the research journal “Neuron”).

The writers gave an interesting perspective about curiosity under the chapter “The function of curiosity”. They write “Although the information is intangible, it has real value to any organism with the capacity to make use of it. The benefits may accrue immediately or in the future; the delayed benefits require a learning system. Not surprisingly then, the most popular theory about the function of curiosity is to motivate learning.”

They further quote another interesting work of Kang and colleagues which says “Decision-makers were least curious when they had no clue about the answer and if they were extremely confident; they were most curious when they had some idea about the answer, but lacked confidence.”

It says it all. If you keep asking questions, you are always motivated to learn and, you are staying away from being overconfident the unlearning becomes easy and makes you ready to learn new things.

3.    Keep doing new things, stay excited all the time

I know a person who owns and runs a highly successful IT services company. A few years ago, I was surprised to see him playing saxophone at a packed party. I congratulated him and told him that I never knew this side of his personality. He said, “I have been learning to play for the past two years and this is the first time I am playing it to an audience”. My occasional meetings with him bring out an interesting aspect of his personality. He developed an interest in food and landed up investing in restaurants. He can name hundreds of wines and what is special in each of them. His interest in farming is his latest passion and he is experimenting with growing fruits and herbs on hills. So, what happened to his IT company? Well! Since I know him, his company has grown 300 times in revenues.

I wonder about his ongoing success. But that is not a secret. He is constantly doing new things. He is constantly learning new things. His excitement levels and his curiosity possibly has made him more focused. His adoption of new technology is at the beta stage and that makes him successful.

Larry Alton, CEO of Alton Enterprises; freelance journalist and columnist at numerous online publications wrote an article in Huffpost “A Look at the Incredible Benefits of Trying New Things”. He says the benefits of trying new things are, Overcome Fear, Get to Know Yourself Better, Stimulate Creativity & Makes You More Marketable.

4.    Mark your influencers

All of us are influenced by someone or something since our childhood. Our behavior generally is a mixture of influences and experiences. We are influenced by people, places, situations, and our own state of mind when these influences occur.

We absorb what is around us and unknowingly our reactions and assessments start reflecting the influencing agents.

The best way is to mark your influencers. Stay away from “Mr. Everything is Bad”, no point hanging out with “Madam what do others know?” The idea is to get rid of toxicity and get closer to new ideas, exploration, experimentation, and positivity.

Meet new people, travel to new places, do something which is fun but challenging, learn a new skill, read books and, stay mindful of the fact that you can choose your influencers.

If we want to stay relevant all our life, we just need to learn one thing.

To unlearn. (Piyush Srivastava)

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