The Saint Ignatius church in Rome was originally designed to include a cupola. For financial reasons, the feature was never built.
In moment, sparked by Divine intervention perhaps, Church officials hired Andrea Pozzo to paint a fake dome on the ceiling over the altar. Today, more than 300 years later, many visitors are shocked to find out the spectacular cupola above them is not real but an illusion.
Sometimes all it takes to unlearn a problem is the willingness to embrace a new perspective.
Interested in some other examples of turning problems into opportunities? Check out these older posts by self-described "Chief Unlearning Officer" Jack Uldrich:
"Do you have any other questions?" It is a common question. Usually, many of us answer "no." Sometimes this is because we really don't have any other questions but, other times, it is because we don't want to display our ignorance.
In my quest to unlearn, however, I have recently been turning around the question and by asking the questioner this question: "Are there other questions I should be asking?"
Not only it is disarming, it also displays an open mind as well as an awareness of things we don't know.
If you're lucky sometimes the questioner will respond with a new question you should be asking--and you'll either learn something new or unlearn something old.
Consider eating an ice cream cone or, perhaps, a pleasant dessert. Undoubtedly, such an experience would be pleasurable. What people often forget is that the opposite may also be true. In the case of not eating ice cream or dessert it is possible that you may also experience pleasure by being pleased with yourself for showing self-constraint.
As I have said before, these questions might seem of minor importance but they can have real implications -- as I discussed in this old post.
In this same spirit, I'd like to provide another example. Last night, I noticed that a spoon hadn't been properly rinsed and, after being washed and placed back in the drawer, it still had a tiny chunk of crusty food attached to it. In a dissatisfied tone, I pointed this out to my wife. She retorted that I had failed to notice that she had also just cleaned the entire kitchen.
In other words, I noticed a dirty spoon in an otherwise spotless kitchen whereas, from her perspective, the spotless kitchen had a dirty spoon.
The difference is significant. In my case, I focused on the small item first and ignored the bigger picture. My wife, on the other hand, was more focused on the big picture and had placed the small item (i.e. the spoon) in its more proper context.
I'm not implying that the ability to spot the difference is the key to a strong and healthy marriage but it can't hurt.
P.S. For the record, I am a thoroughly modern man and do my fair share of cleaning around the house.
I don't mean do you physically live in Detroit. Instead, I mean do you and your business live in an environment where you're surrounded by like-minded individuals. Living with -- and around -- people who think the same as you can be comforting but it can also be very dangerous. The fact that the "Big 3" automotive manufacturers all resided in Detroit contributed to their inability to spot emerging trends in the automotive market.
The question I now ask you is this: Might the same might be true of you? Are you living in the equivalent of a Detroit for your business or industry? If so, get out -- now. Alternatively, if that isn't an option and in order to expose yourself to new ideas, start traveling more or inviting more outsiders in.
Lately, I have been noticing an interesting trend: More people are paying attention to how physical movement affects learning. For example, the other day, the Wall Street Journal had a fascinating article about how handwriting can help improve idea composition and expression. Clive Thompson at Wired had a great piece on how drawing--and not writing--may be a better way to communicate and understand ideas, and one of my all-time favorite TED videos is this talk (Are Our Schools Killing Creativity?) by Ken Robinson who stresses (among other things) that dance is critical to creativity.
If we can all learn differently by writing, drawing and dancing, it stands to reason that these same acts might also help us unlearn. As someone who typically learns by reading and writes via a keyboard, I intend to experiment with these unlearning tools. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Seth Godin has a wonderful post today entitled Next. In it, he asks people to think of whatever work task they been assigned not as their "next" job but, instead, as their last. (In the sense that it will be the last time they ever do it.)
If a person approaches a task from this new perspective it will almost ensure that it isn't the last time they perform that job because the person will likely produce a much higher quality product because they didn't just "dial in" the assignment.
I encourage you try this approach next time you are assigned to write an article, make a presentation, train a new employee or meet with a potential customer.
Sometimes gaining a new perspective is just unlearning an old one.
“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”
Question: True or false: Hypnosis is useful in helping witnesses accurately recall the details of crimes?
False. Hypnosis helps people recall more information but not more accurate information. Yet, according to a scientific study, sixty-one percent of people still falsely hold this belief about the power of hypnosis. Sixty-five percent of people also believe that they can they sense when someone is staring at the back of their back and an even higher percentage (76%) believe that subliminal messages in advertisements can cause people to buy things. Like the hypnosis theory, these beliefs have also been scientifically proven to be untrue.
With apologies to the band, Journey and their 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believing’,” to effectively engage in unlearning it is, in fact, healthy to stop believin’. Please note that I’m not saying, nor am I advocating, that you rashly drop all of your beliefs—only that you temporarily stop believing.
Specifically, there are three things you should do to become more open to unlearning. First, you must learn to suspend your beliefs. To do this you need only admit the possibility—however remote or unlikely—that your belief may be misguided or wrong.
Second, once you have engaged in this thought exercise and allowed a thin crack of light to pierce your belief, actively seek out the opinions of those who believe differently than you. It has been said that the mark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain an idea without accepting it so, at this stage, simply seek out “unbelievers” and listen to their arguments. Do this without judging their beliefs.
Next, if they raise legitimate points, use those to further explore your own beliefs. Better yet, if they make observations which surprise to you—such as scientific studies highlighting how hypnosis doesn’t improve accurate recall; how people can’t tell if someone is staring at their head, or proof that the person (James Vicary) who originally claimed that subliminal ads in movies increased sales of Coca-Cola admitted his study was a fraud—turn those surprises into question marks and use those questions to further investigate why you believe what you do.
In the Paris riots of 1968 students spray painted signs on walls saying, “We demand the right to contradict ourselves.” It is easy to laugh at the statement and dismiss it as the epitome of sophomoric indiscretion. It is much harder to view it as a wise statement. Alas, it has been said that the “wiser one becomes, the more one is able to contradict one’s own ideas.”
The problem is that modern society has made self-contradiction a shameful act. It isn’t. What is shameful is inability to change one’s mind when presented with new and contradictory information. The ability to change one’s mind—even on long-held beliefs—is not a weakness, it is a strength.
Ironically, by submitting your beliefs to continuous and rigorous examination those beliefs you do choose to hold will likely come to rest on a more stable and solid foundation.
Homework assignment: Do you believe that humans only utilize 10 percent of their brain capacity or do you believe that listening to classical music will improve a young child’s intelligence? If so, suspend your belief and seek out people who believe differently than you. What were the results of your research?
Once we learn something it is hard to unlearn it. This is especially true if we learned it in our youth. To this end, ever since I began driving in the early 1980's, I was told to change the oil in my car every 3000 miles. While I haven't been a stickler about the rule, I have tried to follow it closely. Imagine my surprise then when I "unlearned" today that oil should be changed somewhere between 5,000 and 7,500 miles. (For precise details, I refer you to this article.)
Old habits die hard but if you want to save some money and do what's right for the environment, unlearn and start changing your oil less frequently. Of course, you could--as the photo above suggests--also accomplish both goals by driving less and biking more.