Successful unlearning – key to reposition a brand

I just came back from a swimming lesson to learn a new stroke and it got me thinking about how often learning, or implementing something new, requires you to ‘unlearn’ what you already know or do well.  I faced the same thing when trying to sing pop songs with a mic after years of classical choral training (don’t expect the first album any time soon!).

It’s the same for organisations trying to reposition or drive change.  I remember an old boss of mine giving me and the rest of his management team an article from HBR on the concept of unlearning.  Because that’s exactly the challenge we were facing at the time – personally and through our teams.  What had made the company successful was now holding us back from change – most of our success stories, awards won and skills hired for, were focused on the things we needed to reposition away from.  It required us to change not just our thinking but our identity.

As you know I’m a big fan of focusing your value proposition and to reposition a company’s brand identity, this is critical.  You are, in effect, hooking your proposition on one aspect of what you do – usually the one you’re best at or is most differentiating – but always with an eye on where you’re going, not just where you’ve come from.  Part of that process has to be deciding what you’re not going to focus on or talk about any more – and helping colleagues understand why it’s important not to try and encompass every single ‘exception’ your company may offer for loyal customers.  The key, as this article outlines, is making unlearning a habit. Because what we know is of course very valuable, but can also sometimes be the very thing that holds us back from the success we crave.