John Pourdehnad, John P. Maiorana, Bruce M. Warren, Maureen P. Wright -- Unlearning/Learning Organizations

Unlearning/Learning Organizations

John Pourdehnad1*, John P. Maiorana2, Bruce M. Warren2 and Maureen P. Wright2

1Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, 220 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-,

2Organizational Dynamic Program ,University of Pennsylvania, 483 McNeil, 3718 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA, 19104

*Correspondence can be directed to this author, as the primary contact.


Most learning by adults and organizations involves replacement by something new in the mind previously thought to be known; that is, unlearning. In other words, unlearning must frequently precede or at least go on simultaneously with learning. Nevertheless, the literature on organizational learning has virtually ignored unlearning process until recently when few authors have given it some attention. Research in the field of organizational learning and knowledge management shows that

  • Learning and adaptation takes place much more easily within the prevailing view of the world than outside of it.
  • The tendency to preserve that view of the world is very strong.
  • The change to new paradigm not only requires an ultimate act of learning but also of unlearning.

Our assumptions about the nature of reality can impose the most severe restrictions on our ability to learn. Unlearning these assumptions requires raising them to consciousness and this can occur only when we confront the dilemmas that they create. Therefore, raising our worldview to consciousness is among the most important things we can do to enhance our learning and unlearning. The contention of this paper is to demonstrate that it is possible to design a system that not only facilitates learning and unlearning within the prevailing world view but it can generate questions about the adequacy of the assumptions that make up that concept of reality.

Keywords: Organizational Unlearning/Learning; Systems Thinking; Knowledge Management