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- Billionaire LinkedIn founder and Greylock investor Reid Hoffman believes that successful people need to hone the skill of “unlearning.”
- “Unlearning” is the act of recognizing that the factors responsible for a past success don’t necessarily guarantee new wins.
- The skill requires being humble.
In his journey to becoming one of Silicon Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs and investors, LinkedIn cofounder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman has seen the full scale of success, failure, and everything in between.
He’s both observed and mentored founders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg from their professional infancy into the heads of world-changing companies. He’s personally dabbled in managing, investing, teaching, and even political organizing.
His career has taught him there’s a danger all successful people face, he explained on a recent episode of his podcast “Masters of Scale.”
“People tend to take pleasure in their mastery of a given field,” he said. “They go, ‘I’ve learned this, and now this is what will differentiate me from other people for all time.'”
He continued: “One of the things that I tell people is that success imprints more strongly than failure. And it does so because as you’ve succeeded, it’s like, I’ve learned this tool. And so, this tool must be right. And so, I just keep applying it, and even as the train comes off the tracks, because part of what happens is, you know, markets change, competitors change, industries change. You change.”
Hoffman said that for serial entrepreneurs to be successful, they must become “unlearners.” It should be noted, too, that when Hoffman gives entrepreneurial advice, he knows that it can easily be adapted to the careers of non-founders, as long as they take an entrepreneurial approach built on the desire to experiment and grow – as he explained to us in an interview for Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did It.”
“And so, frequently, you have to go, ‘Okay, which of the old lessons have to be thrown out? And which things do I have to unlearn or learn anew?” Hoffman explained in his own podcast.
It’s about setting aside ego and not getting trapped in past wins.
“For example, if I tried to go start a new consumer internet company, and I tried to do that the way that I started LinkedIn, and just kind of said, ‘I’m gonna follow the early LinkedIn playbook,’ I’ll fail,” he said. “Mobile is different. Virality is different. LinkedIn and the ecosystem is different. The platforms that people are using, they’re all different. So you have to use a different set of techniques in order to do this. And that’s part of the learning and unlearning.”
You can listen to the full episode below: