Adapt or Get Left Behind: Relearning in the New World of Work (NWOW)
In our so-called “New World of Work,” where rapid change is inevitable, adapting to every new reality has become the essential survival tactic. The value of change leaders has shifted from their ability to learn, to their ability to learn and unlearn constantly. In this sense, we at Harbinger believe learning to be a constant journey rather than a single sit-down lesson. To spot the difference between training and learning, you can refer to this blog on differentiating the two.
Whether you’re an official leader or a leader without a title, the principles of relearning apply to everyone. People need to want to accept change, and there needs to be a conscious effort to do so; but naturally, the process comes with a lot of trial and error.
The Cycle of Unlearning and Relearning
While the old-school response to change has been to apply a specific methodology or implement one-size-fits-all training courses, the new reality we face is not so simple or linear. Any amount of change requires acquiring new habits, which also means letting go of old ones. A single training course won’t be able to undo years of managing tasks in a specific way. So, how do we unlearn these habits to adapt to our changing environments? We can start by looking at where we developed these habits in the first place.
The beginning part of the cycle of unlearning and relearning is…learning something in the first place. Learning can be both great and dangerous; while we may be gaining new knowledge and practical skills, we may also be picking up habits that are based on partial knowledge or limited information. As we grow accustomed to beliefs we’ve learned or are taught, we gradually see them as truths; we become resistant to the idea that our beliefs could be anything but correct. Recognizing that what we learn is not always a hard truth, but rather a cultivated belief, is a necessary step in letting go of these beliefs. Once we can do that, unlearning and relearning becomes simple.
The Major Roadblock: Yourself
The biggest impediment you will face in the process of relearning is yourself—or rather, your ego. The ego can be a difficult thing to tame, especially if it means acknowledging faults or accepting better work methods than your own. The ego is what brings us to accept beliefs as truths; it’s what makes us stubborn and unwilling to budge from our comfortable, established routine. But flexibility is key today, and the ego must sometimes be checked.
Reflecting on the origins of our beliefs is a great starting point for deconstructing them. If you’re able to pinpoint where certain “truths” come from, it’s a lot easier to remember a time when they didn’t exist to you. If you lived without them before, you can live without them again.
Now that two important points have been established—understanding the ego and knowing the difference between fact and belief—the last step is to combine the two into an understanding of how our ego can influence our thoughts. How can we be better aware of our partiality to certain “truths”? Humility is a wonderful quality which allows us to ask ourselves questions and take the time to reflect on the past. If we can accept that we are not always right and our methods are not always the best, we leave room to swap old habits for new ones.
It's important to note that relearning can be frustrating when we just can’t get used to the new system updates on our computers, or whatever else it might be. The problem isn’t with you alone, and it isn’t an inability to learn; it’s a struggle to unlearn. In her article on the topic of unlearning and relearning, Forbes columnist Dr. Margie Warrell likens the process of relearning to painting a wall. Only around 30% of the work is repainting, while around 70% percent of the work is stripping off the old paint. The hardest and most arduous task is unlearning. Effort must be consciously put into the task in order to achieve results. Nobody subconsciously accepts that they could be in the wrong—they have to consciously think about getting over their own ego and setting aside their beliefs; once that’s done, they can see from an objective point-of-view and might realize that relearning is in their best interest after all.
How the NWOW Has Affected Change Leaders
The time of overbearing employers and silently compliant employees is over. With the NWOW has come a surge in employees voicing their opinions and demanding certain benefits, such as the ability to work from home. Leaders need to get on board with this type of change if they want to enable high performers and form good connections with their team. Times have changed and we now understand more about people, specifically human nature. Team members cannot be expected to unlearn and relearn by being ordered or trained to do so. In reality, people cannot truly be managed; they can only be guided and enabled to learn through appropriate change leadership.
A key tip to note is that there are two types of self-awareness: awareness of how others affect you, and awareness of how you affect others. The latter of the two is the one most often forgotten. As change leaders, it’s crucial to have the ability to empathize and understand how our actions affect our teams, and not just how they affect us. By looking at our teams not as a single body but as a group of intelligent individuals with their own responsibilities, we can find better ways to lead change in ways that suit each person respectively.
What Can We Do?
In the end, there is no magic formula for adapting to change on an organizational or individual level. The only sound advice we can give you is to try; and if you fail, pivot, and try again. The cycle of unlearning and relearning is a gradual process that takes time to sink in—no thirty-minute training can help you there. As long as you’re conscious of and open to the change that needs to happen, all you need to do is apply yourself a little and you’ll be sure to reach your change goals.