Letting go of legacy practices

The first few times we succeed at anything we've tried to do for the first time, we regard it as an accomplishment. We've gained confidence in our new ability. We update our self concept of what we're good for and who we think we are. We realize we can face some different challenges with this new resource.

Once the thrill is gone, we begin to take this success for granted. We rely on it to be there when we need it and are not disappointed when it proves to be reliable. We assume it's good to go without a bunch of preparation or caution to pick a good time for it. We have formed a new habit. We've gone from "thinking about it to do it" to "doing it without thinking".

Without realizing it, we've opted to cling to this success routine as the right thing to do without question. We've become ingrained with a legacy practice. We have no choice in the matter. This is who we think we are. Our identity is contaminated with this success. We cannot stop being ourselves. We cannot back off, back down or admit we're wrong.

We've trapped in that pattern of "nothing fails like a proven success". The feedback that it's not working does not show up on our radar. The indications get quickly dismissed that we've been wrong all this time or our habit is too much of a good thing. We cannot conceive of doing it less or not at all.

Everyone of us who has been socialized by classroom educations carries a big inventory of legacy practices. Most of these habits sabotage any peer production of advanced levels of comprehension. These legacy practices work just fine with the superficial production of academic comprehension ("one right answer" and "doing what the textbook says is correct"). We feel justified by academic successes to "keep up the good work" and continue thinking we've got it right. We're trapped in single loop learning that cannot question our underlying assumptions or our epistemology for knowing how we know what we know. We're fixated on right answers, good grades, approval from authority figures, dependency on expert advice and pride in passive learning.

Making the switch to the peer production of advanced levels of comprehension involves letting go oft these legacy practices. The first step is to look for this pattern I've just explained. The following phase occurs most easily in a space that's safe from mockery, shame and rejection. It involves humbling realizations, confessions of fixations and admissions of error. That is nearly impossible when we're afraid, getting pressured or taking the heat for our habitual successes. However, when we can "see the error of our ways", we can let go of our trusted legacy practices and find new ways to handle current situations.


  1. Tom G'day :)

    This seems to be a perspective, a more sophisticated perspective:), on the concept of the unlearning curve.

    I work from this pov when approaching a change project. The unlearning curve is just so much steeper than the learning curve. The unlearning curve does not gratify us with the the zings of pleasure that are part of learning.And the unlearning curve has one end attached to a pylon that is embedded in a comfort zone - very scary to start scaling that curve.

    And groups which share the legacies have astonishing inertia even in the face of demonstrable benefits.

  2. G'day Adele
    I hadn't been aware, until you mentioned this, of "unlearning curves" as separate from the process of scaling a learning curve. Acquisition seems to be instinctively easier than letting go throughout the broad spectrum of human behaviors.

    I really like your imagery of the unlearning curve attached to a pylon in a comfort zone. You've captured some subtleties in the nature of the challenge of letting go.

  3. Tom wouldn't anyone else to be held responsible for my rickety metaphors - iz minh not Adele

  4. Whoops! Thanks for cleaning up my mis-identification of of you. Yet others might be thrilled to get mis-credited with your powerful metaphors, minh.