Unlearn Book Summary - Unlearn Book explained in key points

Unlearn summary

Barry O’Reilly

Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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What is Unlearn about?

Unlearn (2019) proposes a radical concept. To achieve ongoing results in the workplace, you need to abandon the methods that brought you success in the past. These methods often don’t account for changes in the environment, making them ineffective and redundant. Instead, by following the Cycle of Unlearning, you can adopt a system that will consistently deliver innovative outcomes.

About the Author

Barry O’Reilly is an author and business advisor. He works with leaders to empower teams to follow new business models that lead to deeper insight and higher performance. He is the co-author of Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale, which was named a must-read for leaders by the Harvard Business Review.

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    The Cycle of Unlearning is a system you can use to change your mind-set when your performance fails.

    In 2010, Serena Williams was the world’s top-ranking female tennis player. But then, injury and poor health forced her to sit out the first half of the 2011 season, and her performance for the rest of the year was patchy. The following year, Williams lost to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano at the French Open. She’d hit rock bottom.

    But Williams was determined not to give up. She made radical changes to her training regimen, including appointing a new coach. By the end of the 2015 season, she held all four Grand Slam titles. Under the unconventional guidance of her new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams unlearned how to become a tennis champion. Her gamble had paid off.

    The key message in this blink is: The Cycle of Unlearning is a system you can use to change your mind-set when your performance fails.

    Williams’s journey from defeat to triumph is inspiring for anyone with ambitious goals. But it also carries an important lesson for business leaders. Fresh off her first-place position, Williams returned to the court in 2011 by playing the way she always had. But she was no longer getting the results she wanted. This undermined her confidence, making her performance even worse. If your workplace performance has deteriorated, like Williams’s did in 2011, you need to change tactics. And that means unlearning.

    The Cycle of Unlearning isn’t a training program or course – it’s a three-phase cycle that helps you let go of knowledge that no longer serves you, even if it’s brought you success in the past. This doesn’t mean dismissing wisdom you’ve gained from previous experiences. It means recognizing what’s outdated and seeking out fresh ideas and strategies.

    Unlearning takes courage since you must venture into your discomfort zone by testing out new strategies. This feels risky, but it’s essential if you want continued success because we live in a time of rapid change. Knowledge is no longer something that can be passed from generation to generation, as it was for centuries. Now, it has a short expiration date, and we must learn to refresh our stock when we need to.

    If you’re skeptical about letting go of strategies that have brought you success in the past, think about the companies that have stood the test of time – like Google and Apple. These companies have leaders who are willing to push themselves into uncharted waters, experiment to gain new knowledge, and pursue opportunities that inspire growth. If you’d like to join their ranks, you first need to understand what’s holding you back, which we’ll discuss in the next blink. 

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    Who should read Unlearn

    • Leaders whose success has stagnated
    • Managers needing to inspire innovative thinking
    • CEOs of companies on the brink of failure

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