LMS365 was grateful to host leading futurist, author, and speaker, Jack Uldrich, for a talk where he shared his insights and innovative wisdom on how companies can future-proof their businesses through the art and practice of unlearning. In this article, we have gathered some of the most influential tips from Jack’s years in the field, as well as from his recent publication, Business as Unusual.
Jack Uldrich is clear in stating that though he can’t predict the future, he can help businesses and individuals better prepare to meet it head-on. As a futurist, Jack supports organizations in developing the critical foresight and beneficial patterns that are necessary for finding—and more effectively, creating—a successful future.
One of his most influential and rather unconventional principles of teaching is the practice of unlearning. Jack explains that in a rapidly changing and shifting world such as ours, unlearning what we know, or even think we know, will be instrumental in creating and welcoming the innovations of the future.
The Business as Unusual author describes unlearning as “freeing yourself from the obsolete knowledge and assumptions” to best thrive in an era that is changing faster than we can often conceptualize. For example, unlearning the old ways of administering training in-person with physical handbooks, to unlock the new innovations of virtual instructor-led training with automated document sharing.
After hearing of Jack’s dedicated work in unlearning and business foresight development, LMS365 welcomed him to present to our organization how we could incorporate a few of these futurist attitudes into our partnerships with organizations focused on the future of learning in the flow of work.
Our team at LMS365 was eager to adopt such foresight, and as best we could, ready ourselves by better understanding our place and our role in creating the future of business. In this article, we review a few insightful tips that Jack Uldrich provided our LMS365 team that we are excited to implement and share with other companies interested in beginning their journey of unlearning.
One thing Jack emphasized in his presentation and his book is the incredible rate of change we are experiencing in the world. He expressed that this change is happening at an exponential pace, meaning the information we receive, create, and are tasked to manage is beyond what many of us can conceive.
Knowing this to be true, Jack recommends that we all prepare for things to continue to shift and change before our eyes, meaning that the way we learn and apply informational content will also see similar patterns. Just think of how quickly 2020 took businesses from hosting in-person courses with physical handouts to creating virtual workshops with digital, blended media forms. More change is to come, both in learning and in working.
Fig. 1 Exponential growth graph. Adapted from “Business as Unusual,” by J. Uldrich, 2020, River Grove Books, p. 11. 2020 by Jack Uldrich
One question we posed to Jack was, “how could organizations ready themselves for a world that’s changing faster than we can often predict”? His response: build for the opportunities of tomorrow, not for the urgencies of today.
This means building teams, roles, and systems that aren’t just made to support the needs of today, but also the possible threats and expansions of tomorrow. An example of this can be seen in cyber and information security strategies. It has been shown that the presence of both predictive-AI tools and attentive, well-trained employees are what create safe and effective company security. AI technology can help us stay ready for what is to come, while informed employees can become a modern defense against any threats that pop up daily. Investing in both future-focused and present-minded training and technology is key for building a business fit for the unexpected.
It is often said that the exciting things in life happen right outside of your comfort zone, and when it comes to adopting a futuristic approach to business, this very much stands. Jack encourages businesses to get comfortable acting and guiding teams outside of their comfort zone, as this is where expansion happens. This is seen in the uncomfortable territories, products, services, and spaces that often fall outside of the company vision or 5-year plan.
Growing more comfortable with the uncomfortable can take the form of in innovative knowledge sharing applications that don’t have an iron-clad ROI expectation or offering employees eight hours a week of focused learning time rather than packing their schedule with strategy meetings. Ultimately, getting comfortable with being outside of your comfort zone is about welcoming the change that is inevitable and fostering change that is often unusual.
Jack the information that—due to emerging satellite technology that will offer increased access to the internet worldwide—it’s slated that 3.5 billion people will join the global workforce in the coming years. This means that companies will be able to access talent from new places and in new ways, without being limited by geography.
Jack postulates that this influx of new ideas, skills, and perspectives will be paramount for businesses looking to stay fit for the future, as diversity in opinions and knowledge will only benefit teams in unexpected—and often unpredictable—times. And when it comes to learning, having a trusted, expandable, and customizable learning system that can allow individuals to focus on their own unique needs and development will be critical for harnessing and supporting this influx of global talent.
As mentioned in the previous point, a younger generation will soon join the workforce, and this is one of the largest opportunities for established companies to get a fresh surge of new perspectives and ideas into their workspace. Jack explained to our team that, at the rate the business world is changing, many of the children of today will be working jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. Not to mention the rapid change in workplace expectations from generations entering the workplace now—like seeking more remote work capabilities and freedom to shape their workday as they see fit.
That means that those in positions of power now probably don’t have the foresight to even see what the youth are going to create and build because they lack a fresh perspective. Therefore, Jack recommends hiring innovative, independent, and inquisitive individuals who question the status quo and use them as “reverse mentors” to teach older generations how they can see the world in new ways. This can be easily orchestrated by incorporating a democratized style of learning where subject-matter experts can easily share insights with their colleagues. Just like one of those optical illusions where there are many conclusions to be drawn from one image, all you need is a change of perspective to find a new conclusion or see a new opportunity.
Fig. 2 https://www.moillusions.com/word-optical-illusion/
Another key point that Jack emphasizes is the importance of training employees to welcome change with open arms. This can be orchestrated in many ways, but Jack gave examples of a CEO that awards employees with a “Heroic Failure” award that goes to any idea that was well conceived by the company but didn’t end up working out in the end run. This teaches employees that it’s okay, and even encouraged, to swing big even if the outcome isn’t what was expected.
Encouraging your workforce to be comfortable “playing it unsafe” and bringing innovation to their everyday work is what will help create a bustling, experimentative culture that is more likely to land on the “next best thing” than get stuck in last year’s mission statement. Jack recommends incorporating training that is focused more on change management—both linear and exponential—as well as learning outcomes that aren’t always tied to the final sale. Allowing employees to explore in their training, learning, and working environment creates a strong structure for a future-focused organization.
Jack shared with our LMS365 team that many modern businesses would often rather fail conventionally than succeed unconventionally. It might be surprising to hear, but when you look at how organizations spend copious time, energy, and money on strategic planning for a future that is less than stable, you’ll notice that the real fear is of failing; something Jack says is almost inevitable in such an unpredictable landscape.
That is why he encourages businesses to adopt the mindset that failure is the key to unlocking success and that more than strategic planning, strategic experimentation is paramount for future-proofing your business. This means training your workforce in skills outside of their primary work, offering learning opportunities that bolster innovation over preservation, and encouraging more open knowledge sharing than top-down, failure-adverse communication.
The most impactful advice that Jack expressed in his presentation was to dedicate ourselves to the art and practice of unlearning. As described at the beginning of this article, unlearning is just as important as learning, and can often be more imperative when looking at the sheer amount of new information we are bombarded with every day.
Learning to unlearn means that organizations focus on what their employees might need to “forget” to see more clearly the opportunities the exponentially changing future could present. This unlearning also makes space for further growth and expansion through more curiosity-driven, need-focused learning that can better support individual development. Jack recommends even going as far as to appoint a Chief Unlearning Officer in your organization to challenge common assumptions, think the unthinkable, and encourage employees to question the formerly unquestionable. It is through the act of unlearning that organizations can make more space to adopt new skills, talents, and practices that will help them future-proof their business.
It was a great honor and inspirational experience to have Jack Uldrich share his unlearning insights with our LMS365 team. It’s our greatest hope that you can also learn from his foresight-full work to start your own journey of future-proofing your organization through learning and unlearning.