This post is largely visual and is drawn from an insight I had with a client last week when trying to explain ‘Unlearning’.

I’m very much interested in your feedback as I think this is a useful conceptual and visual model. It is not Yin/Yang or Tao but shares a number of their principles while exhibiting a number of differences.

The concept is sort of simple.

Imagine a ball is one half Learn the other half Unlearn.

For learning to take place you replace the unlearning – with each being of equal force/quantity.

The notion is the effort to change is driven by the fact that not only do you need to adopt new learning but you need to displace old learning of an equal mental/ emotional weight.

This is the cornerstone of the model, as displayed on the left.

You may think it is easy to reject this with a model based on your ability to learn new skills but consider that many of these new skills will be ones you had not previously thought you could adopt:

You are usurping the belief that you Can’t with the belief that you Can.

Until the Can’t is fully displaced there is no way that you Can.

Have I lost you yet?

I hope not.

Another example;

You will be in two minds about this post. Either you think I’m right or I’m wrong.

I can’t be a bit wrong – because that still means I’m wrong.

So until you can feel that no part of it is wrong then you can’t feel that the whole thing is right.

You must completely displace all of your ‘wrong’ sentiment with something of equal force that it is ‘right’. The process is incomplete until you entirely replace one with the other.

As a further illustration, consider completely new learning.

At first this stumped me. Until I realised Knowledge replaces Ignorance. Further if you choose to ignore ‘knowledge’ you must therefore be choosing ‘ignorance’ (not choosing to Learn).

I was taught by my first coach – What you resist resists.

I think in many ways this model is a versatile articulation of that principle and shows clearly why change resists and why life can feel so out of balance – particularly when you are going through significant change.

Note also: with this model the healthy or desired option is always on top.

I have written a much longer paper/exploration on this, which I am willing to share with anyone who is interested. Please contact me if you wish to review this and provide feedback. I explore sequences, nesting and evolutionary learning based on this simple model. I have used the term ‘ULO’ (Unlearn Learn Orb) to describe the model.

Many thanks, Richard

8 Replies to “Learn-Un-Learn”

  1. Dear Richard,
    Two sentences strike me.Knowledge replaces ignorance and what you resist resists.It is very true. when we resit to learn anything, it creates negative effect with greater magnitude and when we open to learn, we start learning, so it is our cognition that prevents us and creates obstacle in our learning. Openness and willingness are the key to overcome cognition.
    knowledge replaces ignorance but what prevents knowledge? It is again our inertia.Therefore, inertia is the greatest hindrance to our progress and growth. It does not allow our mind to work. Mind is like parachute, it works when it opens.

    1. Dear Ajay, I love your parting sentence – the mind is like a parachute – it only works when open. that will stay with me for life. Yes inertia is an obstacle for so much in our lives. thank you again for your reflection and contribution. Warmest regards. Richard

  2. Hi Richard,Simply put,You’re right.
    If you’ve been in top level sports teams, this can be an interesting concept to introduce, especially the unlearning that often needs to happen.
    Go the ALL WHITES team eh!!

    1. thanks Karen, yes the sports environment has certainly crossed my mind with this post, perhaps we could make sports balls with learn unlearn emblazoned across them. I hope you’re not risking life and limb over there with your support for the All whites!! Of course you can imagine here in Wellington with support for the Phoenix it is even more extreme. nice to hear from you again. Best Richard

  3. Very interesting Richard.
    However i think that this would be better illustrated if you demonstrate some “unbalanced” approaches. eg what would it look like if you didn’t have enough ‘learn’ to replace the ‘unlearn’
    Further, what are the consequences of too much ‘learn’…does it get top heavy? Is this a good thing? Should we always be going for circular/top heavy approaches?
    Just my $0.02

    1. Welcome Mark, it’s great to have your feedback. I have explore the matter you raise – in terms of not enough learn. the model is infinitely divisible and part of it’s strength is unraveling what you can learn/unlearn and where you are just ‘stuck’. i agree entirely the top heavy comment in fact one thing I see often is people who use there intellect to defend them and hence stall there progress. I don’t see this so much as having learnt to much as still having to learn the right things. Ironically this model came out of my own ‘new learning’ that my coaching was too complex for my client so i looked to learn a new way to articulate it. It’s great to have your $0.02, always welcome. Warm regards

  4. Richard,

    Thanks for your work and thought in this area. I’ll offer these $0.02.

    I’ve been in education for many years and have seen the ah-ha moment when individuals let go of old ideas or ignorance. The driving force for the transition is the interjection of something new and perhaps unsettling. I believe the German word for this is gestalt.

    In your statement, “You are usurping the belief that you Can’t with the belief that you Can,” there seems to be a fundamental assumption about belief.

    Belief is an either/or thing. Do you agree?

    I will say that an all or nothing approach is a bit unsettling. Perhaps I have’n’t unlearned yet.


    Leadership Freak,

    Dan Rockwell

    1. Hey Dan, thanks so much for your valued contribution. I think with Mark and your comment it highlights a ‘trick’ that isn’t conveyed in 400 words. I want the model to deliberately ‘drive’ people to finding out where there is complete commitment and where there isn’t. For example i live Christian values but don’t consider my self a Christian so the question for me isn’t Christian or not but identifying what part of the ‘Christian ethic” is me and which part is not (or is not present). In some ways – it’s agree to disagree but lets be clear about what we ‘disagree or agree’ about – for ourselves and for others. Any better? great feedback from everyone am shaping this further. Thank you


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