Article written by Girish K C

To drive change in any organization, the key decision makers need to really know how the organization is functioning today. This may appear to be a given, because almost everybody think they know how the organization currently operates. However, most of this knowledge is unspoken; it exists only as perceived attitudes and assumptions that are established within the mindsets of people. This is so much so that it is impossible to imagine the organization in any other way.

To reinforce this, I would like to take an example from our daily lives; riding a bicycle. Many people know how to ride a bicycle, and for a few it’s like second nature. And those who haven’t ever ridden a bicycle ‘think’ they know how a bicycle works.

With this background, imagine a situation where a person is riding a bicycle and cruising straight on a level path. If the cyclist is suddenly asked to steer left, what is the first thing that person would do? The most obvious answers are “I’d pull the left handlebar towards myself” or “I’ll push the right handlebar away from me”. If that was done, one would be surprised to know that the opposite will happen – the bike will steer right, or worst case, the cyclist might even fall off the bike! In reality, to turn left, we initially need to push the left handlebar towards the right. That means even though we turned left; we would have instinctively first pushed the left handle bar to the right.

This is not as much about the laws of physics, than of our engrained false notions. As I’d been riding bicycles all my life, I too found the theory unbelievable when I first read about it. In fact, I had to Google quite a number of blogs to try to understand the underlying principles. As clarified in one blog, only after I turned the bike handles using rope strings did I come to believe the theory, and realized that I had unlearned something. (The science of steering the bike can be understood in the link here).

This is a simple example of what ‘unlearning’ is all about. Many of us who thought we ‘knew’, have learnt something ‘new’. This is more to highlight the fact that there are so many such implied pieces of knowledge we have grown up with, it will be actually a big challenge to unlearn those when we are looking to change drastically.

Especially in large corporations where changes to IT, process and business strategy are being considered, it is very hard to get the corporate mind to unlearn the lessons that have made them successful in the past, but no longer will work in the future.