Learning How to Unlearn Conventional Knowledge to Foster Creativity

Learning How to Unlearn Conventional Knowledge to Foster Creativity

I recently read that the definition of common knowledge is information that is so widely accepted, no one questions it. This really made me think about how often I accept the proverbial status quo. As I consider it more closely, I see lots of areas that are ripe for unlearning, including my own field of practice in federal contracting.

If any of the above strikes a chord with you, I’d invite you to look deeper. Are we at the point where we’re no longer asking good questions from a Federal Acquisition and Procurement lens? I believe the concept of unlearning in this space is simply asking you to think differently when problem solving. Complacency is not our friend in this instance as the world around us is volatile and ever changing at a rapid pace.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered Tradewinds provides a “safe space” for unlearning to happen. Leaders across the Federal Government recognize innovation will continue to lag and bureaucracy will continue to be an issue unless we do something fundamentally different. Tradewinds has provided the space for the different to come play; a place where execution meets policy; where we can authentically bridge the gap between conventional contracting wisdom and true acquisition reform; where experiential learning transcends into true creativity.

Tradewinds intentionally focuses on experimentation and incremental, fast-paced growth in order to accelerate the learning — and UNlearning — process. This theme is relevant to building solutions and our internal business process. By design, Tradewinds puts every process — from needs statements to awards and project execution — under a microscope for evaluation. We do this with intention, excitement, and purpose. We’re constantly moving and adjusting based on our past successes so as to unlearn what doesn’t work and codify what does.

How are we are unlearning in Tradewinds? We start with the basics and simply ask “why?” when we’re faced with a “barrier alert.” We then need a little courage to offer a different approach, and most important, we just do it to see what happens. For those already engaging in Tradewinds, THANK YOU for partaking in a live science experiment and help us build frameworks, models, and processes that we hope will become a new foundation for the rest of the Department to look to.

For those of you who are still skeptical about unlearning entrenched practices, I’ll share one anecdote for you to consider. I worked with a colleague who initially struggled with how to operate in unencumbered, flexible, and novel environments. He had over 20 years of Army experience battered into his brain, which made him a very methodical and structured thinker. As we set out to create new acquisition frameworks, he struggled to know what rules to follow and what policies to apply. I told him to, “forget everything you know” because he was becoming an unproductive contributor in our creative thinking sessions. After that point, he had less trouble “unlearning” and embraced the new and different with glee. As a result, his efforts have led to the development of an unprecedented problem-solving, solutions-driven acquisition model for Defensive Cyber Operations, of which this game-changing acquisition model recently won the DoD’s Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene Award in the “innovation” category.

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