The most difficult part about learning is unlearning - Henley Business School Finland

The most difficult part about learning is unlearning

In this blog, Juho Toivola shares his learnings and take aways from the Managing Processes and Systems workshop as part of his Henley Executive MBA studies.

I recently attended the Managing Processes and Systems (MPS) workshop as part of my Henley Executive MBA (EMBA) studies. I felt well prepared having done the course pre-work in advance, and I had also written roughly 2000 words of the course-related assignment. I was ready to learn!

My expectation was that I was going to learn new models and frameworks that would enable me to understand business processes more broadly and discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. The reality, however, turned out to be much more about unlearning. Sounds complicated? Let me explain.

I had already used some of the models taught in this module, like the Input-Process-Output (IPO) model and the Performance Objectives Matrix, filling them with examples from my company as part of the course pre-work. I felt on top of things. But during the workshop, I quickly realised that my view of things had been rather superficial and narrow, focusing only on the most evident and visible aspects of the business processes.

The real discovery of the process dynamics was only possible after taking a more precise and detailed look at the various processes in our company. To be able to do this, I had to take some distance from the high-level reasoning that comes natural to me and learn to observe and describe things more meticulously.

My previous approach for process analysis and design has been โ€œquick and dirtyโ€. During the workshop, I was challenged to take a more disciplined and detailed approach. So, in essence, I had to โ€œunlearnโ€ my simplified and big picture way of looking at things, and โ€œrelearnโ€ a more structured and methodical way of working.

Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative approach or paradigm. Something thatโ€™s a better fit for the purpose. Of course, you can also learn incrementally, building new knowledge and skills on top of the existing ones, but sometimes you have to make a more holistic โ€œparadigm shiftโ€ in order to gain a new level of proficiency.

Why is unlearning so hard, then? Itโ€™s painful to let go of something we have a strong routine for and replace it with a new way of thinking and working that takes a lot of practice to master. It can also be difficult to admit oneself that a previous way of working or thinking has not been a 100% fit for the purpose.

Most adults have cumulated a lot of knowledge and mental models they are using to understand and interpret new information. Our thinking is always biased, so learning a piece of information also makes our thinking biased in a new way. Therefore, itโ€™s so important to think critically and be challenged about your angle of looking at things.

I was happy to discover that during the MPS module the lecturer was eager to help us improving our thinking and reasoning. We were challenged to ask questions and share our views, which in turned lead to great discussions and thought-provoking follow-up questions.

Based on this experience, Iโ€™m setting a new goal for my Henley EMBA studies: to become better at unlearning things. Those who can unlearn and relearn will be champions in the future, because the ability to learn and adapt is the only permanent source of competitive advantage.

You can follow my EMBA journey through weekly updates with the hashtag #JuhoGoesEMBA on LinkedIn.

If you would like to learn more about the Henley EMBA:

Please fill in the fields below to download the brochure.
  • GDPR policy

    The personal information you supply on this form will be used to help us respond to your request, for quality assurance and for data analytics purposes. Your personal data will not be sold to any organisation, and will not be shared with any organisations outside the university apart from those that help us to provide this service or unless required by law. The information that has been provided in this form will be treated in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (2016) and all applicable data protection laws. Please refer to our privacy policy for more information. If, at some stage, you wish to be removed from our database, please advise us by emailing to
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Juho Toivola

Juho Toivola is Henley's Executive MBA student and brand ambassador. He's an organisational psychologist leading two Finnish companies, Asselmointi and Digital Minds. As a proud father of three small children, Juho lives an active life in the happy town of Lempรครคlรค, Finland. He will be sharing his MBA journey from 2021 to 2023. #JuhoGoesEMBA

Related content

Disneyโ€™s new chair: glass slipper or glass cliff?

  • 24 Jan 2022
Disney has appointed Susan Arnold as its new Chair, the first woman to hold the position in the company's 98-year history. She has been a board member for 14 years and is incredibly qualified for the position. The appointment is a meaningful step for women in business but it also falls into a familiar pattern researchers have identified as the 'glass cliff'.

Executive MBA โ€“ Global taster session

  •   7.6.2022 โ€“ 13:00 to 14:30
  • Online ๐ŸŒ
Join us for an Executive MBA taster session with Professor Dr Bernd Vogel and engage with core leadership concepts, challenge your perceptions on leadership as well as provide insights on leading with organisational energy.
Henley Executive MBA - Henley Business School Finland

Webinar: Executive MBA information meeting

  •   8.2.2022 โ€“ 08:30 to 10:00
  • Online ๐ŸŒ
The Henley Executive MBA โ€“ Global (EMBA) uniquely delivers proven leadership teaching with international insight. The programme will empower you to become an exceptional leader who thinks and acts with clarity, confidence and conviction. Personal and professional development are woven into the fabric of our EMBA degree.