Many of us will have heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (spoiler alert, you can), but when it comes to the world of work, I’m as interested in unlearning as I am in learning.


Let’s take dogs as an example. Most people will train their dogs using simple rewards, so you may have taught your dog to “sit” using either food treats or toys. At some point they’ve learnt the command and so you no longer need the reward. For many dogs this means that in a 10-15 year lifespan they were consistently rewarded for 2-3 weeks, but they keep the learning forever. This learning is very powerful, especially when you consider that some of the times when the command may be used the dog may be acting against their own interests to a degree (for example when they are being instructed to sit, or stay, rather than investigate that delicious pile of fox poo, or that very intriguing cat).


Now let’s consider humans. What have we learnt because it was previous rewarded, but is now an action or behaviour which no longer serves our interests?


This is a question we ask a lot, here are some of our favourite (and most common) examples:


  • Micromanagement – at one point in the development of your business it made sense for you to know everything and be across everything. As your business grows that may stop being true, but it can be hard to let go of the behaviour.


  • Presenteeism – It is likely that you grew your business by working a LOT. You may well still have to work a lot. However, as your business develops and becomes more complex more and more of your job should be about reflection and thinking. These are activities which aren’t always best performed at your desk (or equivalent). If you can’t unlearn presenteeism you may fall into the trap of only having space for the most important parts of your job in the “gaps”, for example whilst driving.


  • Not valuing your time – often at the start of the business part of our “investment” is the time and energy we put in. That is only an investment if there is a return on it – which means you need to start valuing your time appropriately to take account of your “investment”, your learning and your experience.



Ever tried to train a dog to stop sitting? It isn’t as easy as you think. But, if you are going to do it, the easiest way is to use the same trigger (command) and associate it with a new behaviour.


So… what do you need to add into your repertoire of tricks in order to unlearn some unhelpful actions?

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