This post is largely visual and is drawn from an insight I had with a client last week when trying to explain ‘Unlearning’.

I’m very much interested in your feedback as I think this is a useful conceptual and visual model. It is not Yin/Yang or Tao but shares a number of their principles while exhibiting a number of differences.

The concept is sort of simple.

Imagine a ball is one half Learn the other half Unlearn.

For learning to take place you replace the unlearning – with each being of equal force/quantity.

The notion is the effort to change is driven by the fact that not only do you need to adopt new learning but you need to displace old learning of an equal mental/ emotional weight.

This is the cornerstone of the model, as displayed on the left.

You may think it is easy to reject this with a model based on your ability to learn new skills but consider that many of these new skills will be ones you had not previously thought you could adopt:

You are usurping the belief that you Can’t with the belief that you Can.

Until the Can’t is fully displaced there is no way that you Can.

Have I lost you yet?

I hope not.

Another example;

You will be in two minds about this post. Either you think I’m right or I’m wrong.

I can’t be a bit wrong – because that still means I’m wrong.

So until you can feel that no part of it is wrong then you can’t feel that the whole thing is right.

You must completely displace all of your ‘wrong’ sentiment with something of equal force that it is ‘right’. The process is incomplete until you entirely replace one with the other.

As a further illustration, consider completely new learning.

At first this stumped me. Until I realised Knowledge replaces Ignorance. Further if you choose to ignore ‘knowledge’ you must therefore be choosing ‘ignorance’ (not choosing to Learn).

I was taught by my first coach – What you resist resists.

I think in many ways this model is a versatile articulation of that principle and shows clearly why change resists and why life can feel so out of balance – particularly when you are going through significant change.

Note also: with this model the healthy or desired option is always on top.

I have written a much longer paper/exploration on this, which I am willing to share with anyone who is interested. Please contact me if you wish to review this and provide feedback. I explore sequences, nesting and evolutionary learning based on this simple model. I have used the term ‘ULO’ (Unlearn Learn Orb) to describe the model.

Many thanks, Richard

Remov ng the I

I - would not do this!!
A discipline which has been great about blogging has been removing the “I” from my posts. Not the word I, but “I statements”; statements about me.

This blog is about my thoughts, not ‘about me’.

I have often cut material from posts because it was detail about me and was not critical to the message.

Cutting out “I” made the posts stronger and more relevant to the recipient.

Whether I have done this or done that is never the point.

Readers can reasonably assume that I have done, tried or observed everything that I write about. Beating my chest about how well, or otherwise, I did is not of value in creating learning or engaging dialogue with my readership.

It’s OK to be confident but not arrogant. The distinction is an important one.

I hope these posts show confidence and courage not arrogance and neediness.

Yet in the organisational domain, and many social settings “I” is a huge component (and the first sign to have me looking for another conversation). Often the introduction is of no relevance to the topic and under some other guise:

    I was thinking about this when on my flight to Zurich the other day… (I fly internationally you know)

    When I was with ‘important person’ last week… (Understand that by inference I am an important person too)

    Yes service is terrible, the guys at the Audi garage couldn’t even call me back…(Did you know I have an Audi?)

    What did you do for the holiday weekend? (Just wait until I tell you about mine…)

I’m sure you get the drift.

It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to promote yourself. Often what you achieve is to demote others. They perceive you as full of self importance or ignoring of their comment. And especially entertaining to observe in small groups is the “mines bigger than yours” extension of these conversations – “Oh yes my flight to ‘terribly important place’ was delayed too…”

So think about your “I statements”.

Hold them back.

Try leaving the world to decide for itself whether or not you are nice, important, well travelled, well-heeled, clever, well connected etc.

I predict your success at removing “I statements” will lead to (for starters):

  • More constructive conversations
  • People being more willing to share with you
  • Your personal trust and respect increasing
  • You seeing more goodness and greatness in others

I’ll be off now.

Always the optimist

At times being an optimist can be a costly exercise. Is optimism a high risk / high reward lifestyle compared to playing safe? Or does playing safe carry greater risks with fewer rewards? Unfortunately the way many organisations are structured rewards the latter rather than the former.

Surely optimism is the only way we can truly hope to move forward. If we cannot imagine a brighter future surely we can’t attain one? And if we are not in pursuit of a brighter future, then?

The alternative to promoting a brighter future: To not see a future, or to promote a worse one? By my book that leads to followers who will either be inert or doomsayers, and an outcome I don’t wish to be part of.

Must Leaders actively promote a better future? I contend this is one of the most valued, but unrecognized, parts of the role.

Leaders must be optimists and must share the optimism with their followers.

In researching this post I came across strategic philosopher Max More who kindly gave me permission to reference one of his essays from 1991.

I have redrafted his list of characteristics of a ‘Dynamic optimist’ as follows (download Max More’s actual list here)


  • Selective Positive Focus
  • Refraining from Complaining
  • A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
    [pullquote]Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist.

    For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. Max More[/pullquote]

  • A Sense of Abundance
  • Constructive Humor


  • Reason, not fear or desire
  • Seeking continual self-improvement
  • Experimental and fresh
  • Self-Confident.
  • Self-Worth
  • Personal integrity and responsibility.
  • Creating positive environments

I think this is a timeless and tremendously inspiring list and recommend placing it prominently in ‘your head’ or in your office. It also measures well against those leaders (in all walks of life) I most admire.

Its relevance for the current times is absolute. We need optimism desperately (is that oxymoronic?). True leaders must step up and lead the ‘dynamic optimists’ charge, with a keen eye for the others in their midst/teams.

Nothing in Max More’s list is kooky or too new-age, it is concrete and actionable. Anyone can do this, in any occupation or lifestyle.

The worst part is it’s harder than it looks.

In the mode of dynamic optimist it is however easier than what the alternative will create. I’m an optimist but now I’m going to be more actively so.

Are you willing to give it a whirl? My prediction is this will improve your future as a leader and as a human being.

I’m printing this out now, by the time this post is launched (one week hence) I’ll give you an update of the impact.

Note: I also urge you once more to visit Max More’s site for a great mind workout.

Debate or dialogue

I Win!!!!

I’ve been there; the victorious debating team bludgeoning the opposition to death.

Then I stopped. What was the point in being able to win an argument from either side?

Of course there are some obvious occupations in which this comes in handy: lawyers, politicians, debt collectors and parents come to mind!

Many people continue to get better at this sort of verbal warfare long after college, and many of those become leaders and senior managers because they can win any argument, beat anybody down and defend the indefensible.

I wish I was joking. I’m not. And I don’t mean to sound bitter, I’ve been guilty myself (some might say even now).

I say this, because I feel strongly, debating is the wrong process to achieve a constructive way forward.

It’s win – lose, defend your position (right or wrong), destroy the opposition (Though re-living it, what fun that was as a teenager!).

Listen next time you reason someone into oblivion. What did it achieve? How did it help or build anything?

What can we do instead?

My pet concept is a school debating programme called ‘The constructive dialogue’. Where each party presents their case, then each side has to find ways to agree with the other side . Instead of Retort it’s Re-think. This would really get right brains flying.

In the work setting:

Relax you don’t need to be right. In fact there are many benefits in not winning.

Listen without preparing an answer. You’ll seem wiser and the other person will notice you have listened.

Agree. It doesn’t hurt. This doesn’t mean you need to provide the solution.

The magic paradox. A legal journal recently proposed this – rephrase what you have just been told or seen expressed and close it with a statement where they agree with you – like: “I expect you feel that the company hasn’t paid enough attention to its community, is that right?” What is ‘magic’ is the shift in demeanour of those with the issue, the instant they hear you understand them and that they agree with what you have said. (Which doesn’t mean you agree with them).

Close your mouth (last resort).

Read any publication by Peter Senge

What suggestions do you have?

How prevalent is the ‘debating syndrome’ in your work environment?

Can you begin to deactivate it?

Doing the Right thing


When the left brain meets the right brain – especially when it is someone else’s right brain, it can be a meeting of difficult progress.

I have a right brain bias. I enjoy the company of both and fortunately did a left brain/right brain based degree.

Logic is great for a lot of things, but I believe the spirit of the organisation is a right brain thing. And if you’re out of spirit you are out of business.

For those not familiar –

[pullquote]Right brain: Random, Intuitive, Holistic, Synthesizing, Subjective, Looks at wholes

Left brain: Logical, Sequential, Rational, Analytical, Objective, Looks at parts[/pullquote]

The right brain may be described as clockwise, it takes us forward, whilst most of the left brain functions take us back over facts, data, history etc. and is described as counter-clockwise.

To strong left brainers, right brainers can seem somewhat unhinged!

Many right brainers are now amongst the big movers and shakers out there. Richard Branson, (the late) Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs, Seth Godin and author and trained architect Arundhati Roy amongst them. Women are more predisposed to right brain (some would say that’s why they are – right!).

I agree with those commentators that predict right brain as the way of the future.

If you are not starting to give your right brain a work-out then watch out.

• Facts won’t keep pace with change. Paralysis by analysis will happen at light speed relative to the past.

• Movements will not be logical and sometimes those that are meant to be logical are destructive (the financial crisis was fuelled by a process built on logic).

• An increasingly selective consumer will not be wowed by a selection of 1 or a ‘me too’. Henry Ford’s Model T wouldn’t see the light of day. Creativity and innovation will rule.

Get amongst it. Learn how to engage right brain.

Start here and follow the links (I recommend Gorilla Blindness) and do this test.

Think about how you build yours and others ability and how you let those with natural right brain inclinations shine in your organisation.

Do the Right thing.