Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Unlearning: How to put old habits in the past

Every once in a while companies decide that the process we’re currently using is no good and must be changed. Most of the workforce jumps on board with no complaints, but many of us are held back by one giant obstacle - old habits.

Just as learning new workplace skills help us to adapt, ‘unlearning’ old skills may be just as important. Unlearning helps us get past the idea that “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

The ability to unlearn old workplace practices has a direct impact on productivity, especially during times of change, according to Dr. Karen Becker, business technology researcher from Queensland, Australia.

“‘Unlearning’ is the process of recognizing prior knowledge, but discarding it to make room for new information, and would be useful when applied to any major change affecting an organization,” according to Becker.

Her research found that in order to make new processes effective, older processes must be let go. Though old habits may be deeply ingrained, they’re not always the best ways to get things done.

To foster unlearning you must raise awareness of upcoming changes far in advance of the change to allow for disturbances, provide support, and teach managers and supervisors how to deal with those resistant to change, according to Becker.

"Often this isn't done, and management training is all about managing the business, whereas it needs to have at least some focus on managing people and their individual reactions to change. I always say the soft stuff is the hard reality - how you deal with people in times of change can affect how your business performs," said Becker.

Providing employees with assistance to unlearn past procedures can ease the transfer to new ways. Recognizing learning hurdles before change happens will increase productivity by minimizing the road blocks that come along with change.

A recent article from the New York Times, “Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?,” examines a similar approach to unlearning that focuses on learning new habits to squash the old.

Brain researchers have discovered that consciously developing new habits creates new brain cells helping us to develop new and innovative tracks of thought. Learning new habits can enable creativity, building roadways in our brains to bypass old roads and habits.

For more of a scientific, in-depth look at the way we learn and let go of old habits, read the full article. The author explains ways to “stretch” your brain every once in a while to help you adapt when new problems arise.

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