Magazine article Workforce

Let Go of Bad Habits

Magazine article Workforce

Let Go of Bad Habits

Article excerpt

I was one of those pathologically shy kids who never spoke in class and was terrified by show and tell. (I always showed.) Even saying "here" during roll call was enough to make me want to drop out of school altogether. Fortunately, by avoiding drama and never volunteering to be the captain -of anything, I was able to escape the slow death known as public speaking.

That is, until the 8th grade, when a sadistic teacher thought it would be great fun for students to give oral presentations. In the midst of my demonstration on how to make lemonade from scratch, my knobby 13-year-old hands started to shake so violently that I accidentally knocked the bowl of fresh lemon juice off the demonstration table onto the floor, drenching the front of my new plaid jumper in the process. Quickly bending over to retrieve the bowl, I then whacked my head on the edge of the table. All I can remember from that point on is wondering whether or not the government's witness protection program accepted teenagers.

While the entire fiasco probably lasted less than a minute, the mental reruns tormented me throughout puberty. Lesson learned: I was simply too inept to be an effective public speaker. Over the last few years, I've ditched the plaid jumper and worked to overcome my fear of public speaking. Ironically, the biggest challenge has not been learning how to speak in public, but forgetting how I once felt about it.

The key to moving on is to forget.

You see, forgetting is an important part of the learning process that most people, well, forget about. Instead, we hoard knowledge like nervous little rodents squirreling away nuts before a snowstorm. Stuffed with information that's no longer relevant, we become immobilized in the face of new challenges. We rely on what we know to be true, instead of trying something different. But just because something worked or didn't work before doesn't mean it will work or not work in exactly the same way again. To innovate, change and grow, we need to spend as much time forgetting as we do learning. We need to get rid of outdated information and create room for new ideas to take root.

The ability to forget is especially important for corporate HR professionals. To become business leaders in a constantly changing, knowledge-based economy, HR professionals have to learn to let go. As management guru Tom Peters says, "You can't live without an eraser." In his book, The Circle of Innovation (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1997), Peters explains that although organizational learning is a hot topic, organizational forgetting is even more important. "Not to focus on forgetting is a mistake . …

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