“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” (Martin Luther King).
Intelligence must prevail over knowledge. It is never too late to learn or you are never too old to learn, must remain a dictum of life.
That I have done. There I have been. That I know. Have seen, been there. These remarks are made by managers and supervisors, day in and day out, while they are talking, guiding or instructing their team members. A complete refusal with disdain, to learn anything new, is their stance. This attitude shuts the door to broadening the horizon.
There are studies and estimations that state most of us forget 35-40 percent of what we learned at school, college, and universities. We forget because of knowledge’s inherent incapacity of being unusable in the present. Coping with new technology, products and services is a growing challenge; add to this the development of newer processes and systems of doing the same thing, but differently, with resultant greater productivity and efficiency.
Niguel Cumberland, a prolific writer and internationally recognised coach has attempted to paraphrase Alfin Tofler’s words to describe this predicament of internal refusal of accepting new knowledge, “It is easy to feel illiterate in the twenty-first century with the constant pressure to learn, unlearn and relearn”.
Ask any colleague whose claim to fame is “experience of x-decades” what is tougher learning or unlearning? A baffled expression on their faces should serve as no surprise. Because experience is the bitterest foe of any new and fresh knowledge. Experience becomes the mind’s wall of China, allowing neither anything new to pass through nor permitting the jettisoning of old, outdated, irrelevant knowledge. Only a mind that is empty is a vessel that will accept all fresh flows of ideas, without resistance. Because through premeditated action, we keep expunging, the irrelevant and so new knowledge, of which no previous information is stored, on any given subject, finds acceptance readily, whenever, it is delivered to the mind. But against this, if the mind is brimming with knowledge (as much out-dated it may be) will give no room or space for fresh ideas to seep in.
In situations, where pre-conceived notions have been permanently cemented, there will be resistance from the solid rocks of past, (now un-useable knowledge) to any new information. This is where little or more knowledge tends to become dangerous. To bid adieu and farewell to old, worn-out, outdated thoughts is a painful journey for all managers. It makes most of them feel redundant and hence of not much use to the organisation. The failure to dismantle of what we think now, leads to lack of available space in the mind. In my view, which I am certain will be shared by all, who see themselves as ‘seniors and experienced’, it is far easier to learn; the toughest task, is to unlearn.
In the battle field of knowledge acquisition, unlearning is the fiercest enemy for learning anything anew. The successful will be those who will determine to their selves to defeat existing information and knowledge and deliberately make, unlearning, the successful opponent.
The adamant refusal to accept the challenges of change, which uncontrollably and inevitably, is happening all the time cannot be restrained, stopped or significantly altered. But it is the deeply anchored obstinacy to relent to the thought that new and fresh ideas are the necessary stimuli for all creative action.
Our preset notions and related expectations are also tough impediments to surmount on the journey of unlearning and re-learning. Failure to tide over expectations based on outdated thinking, must spur the mind towards accepting challenges; create the necessary understanding that failure is the single most formidable impetus to acknowledge, the need for fresh, newer, thoughts and ideas. An enlightened manager would rush to bury preconceived ideas and create, within himself ample space for fresh streams of thinking.
Expect such action only when an individual or organisation recognises its “state of ignorance.” It is the acceptance of ignorance that will likely impel germination of thought, that knowledge possessed needs regular overhauling, modifications and alteration.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” (TS Eliot). Saying that we live in an information age, does not mean that equivalent wisdom also comes in as a natural accompaniment. Nay, it doesn’t. Wisdom, only when information/knowledge is applied, is had. We create smoke screens of past knowledge and then complain in the present, that we cannot see. Mankind lives in hope, eternally, that lingering wisdom must someday out strip accumulated knowledge. The only means of strengthening knowledge is to make the mind give up what is to be unlearnt and then create enough room for all new ideas and not be imprisoned to a select form of learning.
Not, unlearning and re-learning, is a voluntary misfortune. Be and make unwavering commitment to remain a student all your life. Because that with success and accomplishment causes a feeling that we know everything there is to know.
Today, the entire world, especially the business universe has to contend with the "theory of disruption”, which essentially means that every industry at some point or the other will get “disrupted” or “face disruption” by new trends and innovation.
It is only if the HR of any organisation are focused thinkers and hence are prepared in a manner to hoist to its fullest significance the need to unlearn and relearn new technologies to deal with effectiveness, the disruptive tendencies. Any Institution that refuses to change and sticks with obstinacy to its outdated thinking, will find it difficult to bring changes, to survive, “The Challenge”.
Let “experienced managers” pledge that from hence they shall “listen” to younger colleagues, who willingly embrace “disruption”; and are adept to re-tooling and re-learning.
The writer is a freelance columnist