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Play Ball!

The final installment of my Unlearning Project Management series was posted this morning on the Projects@Work Executive Briefing site. The posting also features links to the first five installments.

What did I unlearn in the process of writing this series? Two months ago, when I started writing this series, I was smoking about ten exquisite little cigars every day. Just after I finished the third installment, I stopped smoking. For unlearning, I highly recommend this strategy: First, start smoking. Smoke pretty steadily for five or six years, then decide to stop.

If your experience turns out to be like mine, your first sensation will be of losing your identity, because smoking, whatever the chemical addiction, is a deeply personal, identity-involved activity. The anticipation of identity loss feels sad, and that sadness alone can chase even the most dedicated reformer into the weeds.

Learning usually occurs pre-consciously. Unlearning is not so benign. A level of awareness gets involved in the unlearning that is rarely present when the original knowledge parks its jalopy. And, like not thinking of a rhino, unlearning manifests the presence of what we don't want to acquire what we do want.

Better, perhaps, to focus upon relearning than unlearning. Relearning reframes while unlearning resuscitates into explicit awareness what might have been barely tacit. Ouch!

I'm past four weeks without an exquisite little cigar, and my identity is healing over the scab. I expect some scars will remain. How did I learn about project managing? Cripes, who could remember? How did I unlearn what I'd learned? Painfully aware. Half-filled with promise. Afraid I'd fail. Concerned who I might become should I succeed. Stumbling into interesting territory.

We are unlearning something all the time. Amy's ten-year-old granddaughter has already acquired a raft of unproductive habits and beliefs. Much of her challenge in school is about letting go of what she naively acquired to make space for new, perhaps better, previously unimagined beliefs. Reading entailed letting go of her need to pretend she could already read. Same with math. She lost her composure sometimes, but who wouldn't? Trading mastery for indentured apprenticeship, certainty for no more than the possibility of return. It might be impossible to learn anything without unlearning something previously parked and in the way.

Life, work, heck, even project managing, seems more like Calvin Ball than any of the professional sports featuring a ball. In Calvin Ball, as you might remember from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin made up the rules as he went along, much to the eternal frustration of Calvin's playmate Hobbes. Whatever made Calvin a winner usually dictated the rules of play. Slip that perspective out one notch, replace Calvin's egoism with care for the project's community, and this 'the rule is whatever makes me the winner' doesn't seem so terrible. What game do we play? Perhaps it's whatever game makes us the winner.

Now get out there are Play Ball!

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