A sceptical look at the use of the concept of 'unlearning' in organisational analysis
Tsang and Zhara have recently published a review of organisational unlearning as it has been introduced and used in the management literature. They conclude that organisational unlearning is an important topic that deserves more empirical research. We argue that further empirical research is unnecessary and the topic of unlearning is best forgotten. First, we point out that Klein found the origin of the concept in experimental psychology where he argued that it was not a real empirical process but an experimental artefact. Second, we show that work which claims to provide empirical evidence of unlearning does not do so. Third, we argue that Tsang and Zahra's extension of the definition of organizational unlearning to include the intentional discard of practice is likely to confuse the field. Contrary to Tsang and Zahra, we assert that there are many empirical accounts published in which the discard of practice occurs consequent upon learning and in which unlearning has not been shown to occur. In contrast to those who continue to advocate further research into unlearning and those who believe managers should 'manage unlearning' to encourage learning, we believe it is time to forget organizational unlearning.