Future Friday: The key to learning is unlearning

I had a conversation with Alex Hagan, a futurist out of Australia, and we were discussing learning. I asked Alex which futurists he pays attention to and he said that he doesn’t really read many futurists. Rather he prefers to read and learn from parallel or even non-related industries. We agreed that learning from marketing and technology is important to HR. Soon after we finished our conversation I came across an article where the author, Alistair Anderson talked about the work of Dion Chang around learning.

Average skills redundant by age 40

According to Anderson, Chang makes the point that for the average office worker their skills are redundant by the time they reach the age forty. This puts a stress on their employer to make sure they remain productive by “upskilling” these workers. Companies can also churn these workers with redundant skills and hire newer workers who are trained in more recent technology or methods. I personally think this can be an expensive process and certainly does not lent itself to engendering employee loyalty or engagement. Chang suggests that companies need to be hiring people who are problem solvers, regardless of their degree path, and then “upskill” them (aka: train them) periodically as technology changes.) However, just learning new skills is not the only thing necessary.


Chang also suggests it is important to have people that can unlearn old ways as quickly as they can learn new ways. Companies have to look for people with this flexibility in progressing with new technology and new methodologies. Anderson provided us with some examples of things we may need to unlearn. These include:

The traditional office space. Offices need to be designed to accommodate the modern employee’s needs and not the need of the floor plan designer. Spaces for creativity, collaboration and solitude need to be designed. We need to acknowledge the neuroscience of design and the importance of fresh air in human creativity.

We need to unlearn that sleeping at work is a bad thing. Research has shown that a 20 minute nap in the middle or the day increases an employee’s’ cognitive capacity or alertness by 50% and productivity by 36%. Zappos, Google and Nike have all incorporated nap areas into their office structure.

My point with this is that a key ability we need to look for and foster in our current and future workforce is adaptability. Technology and customer demands are going to require a flexible workforce capable of thinking on their feet. Part of this flexibility is the ability to unlearn what was known before and rapidly switching to a new way of doing something.

Unlearning in HR

I think HR is one critical area that needs to unlearn a great deal. HR needs to be more adaptive and flexible and not so traditional. It is the only way to be successful in the future.

What do you think? What are some of the things that HR should rethink? We are already seeing a rethinking of performance reviews. What else needs to be included?


Originally published on Omega HR Solutions Blog.




The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: