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  • Writer's pictureMeirav Peleg Landau

Internal Innovation: The Unlearning Journey

Updated: Apr 14

MPL Innovation work

Organizations strive to drive internal innovation forward. If you're looking to explore a fresh perspective on fostering internal innovation, this article is for you. While we previously discussed the "7 Steps to Success" in our article on internal innovation, today we take a deep dive into a new approach - one that embraces unlearning as a catalyst for internal innovation. As organizations strive to embrace innovation, there is an increasing recognition that the knowledge we already possess can sometimes hinder progress.

Unlearning serves as the foundation for internal innovation by dismantling outdated beliefs and fostering a culture that embraces new ideas and approaches.

Unlearning as a motivator to internal innovation

The Limitations of Existing Knowledge

Our existing knowledge, while valuable, can inadvertently become a roadblock to innovation and can impede progress.

Our minds have a natural bias towards information that aligns with our existing beliefs and experiences, preventing us from embracing alternative perspectives and groundbreaking ideas. Additionally, our inclination to stick to what is familiar and comfortable can discourage us from exploring new territories and concepts. Assumptions that once guided successful strategies can become outdated as industries evolve, and relying on these assumptions without questioning their validity leads to missed opportunities and stagnation. Moreover, change can be disruptive and uncomfortable, prompting resistance from individuals and organizations, and holding onto familiar knowledge patterns can impede the exploration of new possibilities. Recognizing these limitations is crucial to fostering a culture of unlearning, where we proactively challenge our assumptions and create space for fresh ideas and perspectives to thrive.

The Power of Unlearning

Unlearning is the deliberate process of letting go of outdated or unproductive knowledge, beliefs, and habits, creating a space for fresh perspectives, new ideas, and innovative approaches. Here's why unlearning is vital for internal innovation:

First, unlearning allows us to adopt a flexible mindset, enabling us to adapt quickly to emerging trends and changing circumstances. By shedding rigid thinking patterns, we become more open to new possibilities and ready to seize innovative opportunities. Second, unlearning encourages curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. It promotes a willingness to question assumptions, challenge the status quo, and explore uncharted territories, leading to breakthrough ideas and creative solutions. Third, unlearning fosters organizational agility by creating an environment where experimentation and calculated risk-taking are embraced. It helps teams adapt swiftly to evolving market dynamics and respond proactively to emerging challenges. Lastly, by unlearning outdated knowledge and embracing new perspectives, organizations can unlock their innovative potential. Fresh insights and diverse viewpoints can inspire creative problem-solving, leading to disruptive innovations that propel the organization forward.

Strategies for Effective Unlearning

To utilize the power of unlearning, organizations can employ the following strategies:

Encourage continuous learning - foster a culture of lifelong learning within the organization. Encourage employees to pursue new knowledge, engage in cross-functional collaborations, and seek external perspectives to challenge existing assumptions.

Embrace reflective practices - create opportunities for reflection and self-assessment. Encourage individuals and teams to critically examine their beliefs, processes, and approaches, identifying areas where unlearning is necessary for growth and innovation.

Promote psychological safety - cultivate an environment where individuals feel safe to question established norms and challenge prevailing wisdom. Encourage constructive debates and provide platforms for open dialogue, enabling the exchange of diverse viewpoints.

Emphasize learning from failures - shift the organizational mindset around failure. Encourage individuals to view failures as valuable learning experiences rather than sources of shame. Extracting lessons from failures promotes a culture of continuous improvement and unlearning.

Practical Exercises for Unlearning

Here are a few exercises that can assist organizations in embracing the unlearning process:

Comparative thinking - refers to the practice of comparing or drawing parallels between different industries or fields to gain insights and inspiration. In the context you provided, it suggests encouraging managers to explore industries or fields that are unrelated to their own and seek knowledge and ideas that can be applied to the growth of your business.

Reverse brainstorming - approaching a problem or challenge from an opposite or reverse perspective. Unlike traditional brainstorming, where participants generate ideas to solve a problem, reverse brainstorming focuses on generating ideas that exacerbate or worsen the problem. Instead of finding solutions, reframe the problem statement to seek ways to make the problem worse or create obstacles. Encourage participants to brainstorm and come up with as many ideas as possible that align with the reversed problem statement. These ideas can be unconventional, absurd, or even counterintuitive.

Premortem analysis - a technique used in project management and decision-making to identify potential risks, problems, or failure points before they occur. The concept behind a premortem analysis is to imagine that a project or decision has already failed and then identify the possible reasons for that failure and identify potential areas for unlearning.

Encouraging internal innovation requires a transformative approach that can be centered around unlearning. By embracing the unlearning mindset, organizations can inspire employees to challenge conventional wisdom, embrace change, and generate groundbreaking ideas.


We are MPL Innovation, a boutique innovation consultancy.

Our mission is to empower our clients by propelling their corporate innovation initiatives to new heights.

With our specialized innovation consulting services, we assist organizations in surpassing their boundaries and unlocking unprecedented growth opportunities.

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