According to Peter Drucker, the most important skill in the 21st century is the skill of learning new things. It has long been the habit of top management of big fat corporations to forget how fast things change in our modern world. Every time a new, radical perspective of doing business comes around they react slowest. The corporations they head comes off worse for it.

Peter Drucker ought to have included the very singular importance of learning to unlearn old things and outdated management techniques.

The manager who desires to excel must have an incredibly fluid mind, quick to grasp new dimensions of doing business and fast to discard obsolete information. The manager who insists on going by old trends when new ones are being given far greater attention stands to loose.

The willfully strong Mr Ford had built up his successful Ford car business but at an important time it was necessary for him to switch designs of his model T car he refused to acknowledge the fact that car shapes and designs were becoming sleeker. He fell too much in love with the old situation and resisted change. He paid for it in lost sales and reduced market share.

Severally, I encounter managers who find it difficult to acknowledge the fact that a business practice they found handy a year ago is no longer effective. They desperately want to hold on to the old order while the fast ones move on. This particular factor in Business Management is always encountered in technology-related issues.

Looking at a scenario in the animal world which illustrates this learning factor;

A mouse is faced with two glass compartments containing a piece of fish each. The first glass compartment is open while the second piece of fish is screened off by the glass. The mouse attempts to pick the second piece of fish but is unsuccessful even after several attempts. He reverts attention to the first piece of fish and bingo! He is able to touch at and grabs it.

If another piece of fish is used in replacing the first one it makes a move for it but surprisingly meets a glass wall. Meanwhile the barrier on the second piece of fish had been unsuspectingly removed. Our friend, the mouse most likely will conclude that now both fishes are unreachable and makes do with the one he has eaten whereas he could have enjoyed another piece of fish if he had the knowledge that what he knew before about the second fish no longer applies.

That is what the inability of managers to unlearn causes their companies. They lose further profits and give up market share. The best bet for a business manager is to study all new methods and practices as they come and to constantly be in pole position to take on the potential good ones. Most importantly a manager has to acquire the knack to discard and unlearn techniques, information that no longer matter and quickly adapt to new and better techniques.

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Don Pagli

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