Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results – Barry O’Reilly Book Summary

Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results – Barry O’Reilly | Free Book Summary

Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results – Barry O’Reilly

It’s a new day.

The paradox of success

There comes a time in every person’s life when the methods and thinking that brought you success in the past won’t continue to bring you success in the future. 

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Your past successful strategies can bring you down. The key is to notice the signals and adapt before it’s too late.

Why We Need to Unlearn

  • Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions”.
  • The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
  • Behaviour grows better before it grows worse.
  • The easy way out usually leads back in.
  • The cure can be worse than the disease.
  • Faster is slower.
  • Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
  • Small changes can produce big results, but the areas of the highest leverage are often the least obvious.
  • Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.
  • There is no blame.
Free book, podcast summaries

How to unlearn

Each time we need to adapt and innovate, we go through distinct steps: Unlearn, Relearn and Breakthrough.

Unlearn: Unlearning starts with acknowledging that what you’re doing now isn’t working. You need to let go of past viewpoints or behaviours and then take action.

Relearn: As you unlearn, you can take in new data and perspectives. You must be willing to be open to information that goes against your beliefs. You may need to learn how to learn again. You must create an environment for relearning.

Breakthrough: It is the result of unlearning and relearning.

Conditions for unlearning

  • Identify a challenge your want to address. The best place to start is where you are now.
  • Define success as if you would view it from hindsight. What behaviours would you, your team, or customers be exhibiting to confirm that you have succeeded?
  • Seek courage over comfort. Moving out of your comfort zone requires courage and a willingness to be vulnerable.
  • Commit to, start, and scale the cycle of unlearning. Commit to moving through the Cycle of Unlearning continually.

Conditions for relearning

  • Create options for small steps: List as many options as possible. Pick one that will most likely move you forward. Then celebrate, regardless of the result.
  • Find the right behaviour that aligns with your level of motivation and ability.
  • Start even smaller than you think.

Necessary conditions for breakthrough

  • Reflect
  • Feed forward learnings to the next experiment.
  • Align impact and increase psychological safety.
  • Increase your speed of unlearning.

Unlearning management

  • Leadership should provide context for what is to be achieved, and why it matters, and then create a system of work that enables people to identify with those outcomes.
  • Leadership should provide clarity.
  • Control is reached by designing feedback loops, not by telling people what to do.

Unlearning with customers

Companies have two customers: the people they sell to and their employees.

Direct, raw, unfiltered feedback from customers is much better than reports from within the company.

When customers reach out and know they’re heard and that their feedback will improve the product, they become more loyal.

Unlearning with people and organisations

Organizations and the people in them must be continuously stimulated to succeed in the long run.

An organization is transformed through the continuous individual transformation of both its leaders and workers. 

As a leader, you are responsible for enabling organizational learning by reducing learning anxiety across your organization.

Give people the opportunity to practice new behaviors deliberately.

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