background image

(Un)learning for regenerative futures

author image

By Minou Schillings

· 7 min read

"The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” 

Alvin Toffler

To realize a radically different, regenerative, and just future, we need to provide a space for our wildest imaginations to flourish. As long as we cling to old narratives of a dying world, we'll remain trapped in a cycle, unable to achieve the profound change needed to truly heal our planet. Thus, we must embark on a journey of (un)learning, shedding the stories, mindsets, and beliefs that no longer serve us.

Changing stories, minds, and worlds

We used to think that the Earth was flat. Throughout history, humanity has collectively clung to beliefs that shaped our understanding and influenced decisions, behaviours, and systems. We thought that women couldn't travel on trains without their uterus falling out, We prosecuted “witches,” thought cigarettes cured asthma, and drilled holes into people's heads to release evil spirits. These stories permeated society, shaping our reality. However, just as these beliefs were debunked over time, we must challenge and transform the narratives that currently govern our world.

With this in mind, I'd like to extend an invitation for you to join me on a journey to the year 2050. We're about to embark on a remarkable adventure into a completely transformed world. Just 25 years ago, the unimaginable occurred, catalyzing a rapid and profound shift. People came together, businesses wholeheartedly adopted regenerative practices, and governments prioritized eco-consciousness over self-interest, opting for long-term sustainability over short-sighted gains and embracing radical kindness over turning a blind eye to justice. Now, I have a simple request for you: take just two minutes to close your eyes and envision yourself stepping into this new reality.


What did you see? Smell? Feel? Hear?

What was there? What wasn’t?

Who was there? Who wasn’t?

Shifting horizons

What widely-held belief do you believe should be obsolete by 2050? In my vision, I hope that by 2050, we will mock the notion that perpetual financial growth is indispensable for the sustenance of businesses and economies. Additionally, there are several narratives I would gladly (un)learn and move beyond, including patriarchy, hyper-individualism, the consumerist narrative, linear supply chains, traditional marketing approaches, superficial adherence to ESG criteria, prioritizing ego over eco concerns, and the colonial exploitation of both places and futures. The list goes on.

But imagine stepping into the year 2050, where citizens, businesses, and governments have embraced regenerative principles, prioritizing long-term sustainability and radical kindness. In this vision, outdated beliefs like constant financial growth as essential for survival are relics of the past. Instead, patriarchy, hyper-individualism, and other harmful narratives have been left behind, paving the way for a thriving, interconnected world. The PwC 26th Global Impact Report points out that nearly “40% of CEOs think their company will no longer be economically viable a decade from now if it continues on its current path.” The legendary commentator Edward de Bono would have commented “if you never change your mind, why have one.”

The opportunity to (un)learn

(Un)learning is akin to clearing away the debris that obstructs our path, clearing away limiting stories, thoughts, and assumptions. It involves consciously identifying and discarding beliefs that hinder progress, making space for new ideas aligned with a thriving future and freedom. By embracing (un)learning, we cultivate the curiosity and openness necessary to navigate a rapidly changing world, unlocking our collective potential for transformation.

(Un)learning - from “what” to “what else”

Employing 20th-century business-as-usual logic to drive a 21st-century business is akin to pouring gasoline into a bicycle—it's futile! You'll only create a mess and fill your bicycle shed with an unpleasant odour. The demands of the 21st century call for fresh perspectives, innovative skills, and modern leadership qualities. It's incumbent upon us to shed outdated paradigms, rid ourselves of mental clutter, and make room for the narratives and aspirations of tomorrow. Unlearning involves consciously identifying and discarding beliefs, assumptions, habits, and narratives that no longer serve our goals. It's about replacing antiquated thoughts, methods, and concepts with new ones that align with a prosperous future. Just as learning requires exploration, (un)learning hinges on asking the right questions, on reframing the ones we ask.

As we (un)learn outdated paradigms, we pose questions that challenge the status quo and spark innovation. By shifting our focus from 'What Is' to 'What If,' we explore bold possibilities and reimagine the future: 

Where should the CSR department plant the forest?

How can we embrace Mother Earth as our guiding compass for decision-making?

In what ways can we design for scalability?

Is scalability compatible with a just and regenerative future?

How can we transition all company cars to EVs?

How can we revamp commuting to benefit both employees and the environment?

How can we increase our financial quarterly results?

To what degree can we grow our business ethically and sustainably?

From "what is" to "what if"

Unlearning serves as a tool to dissipate the fog obstructing our visions of a radically different future. By deliberately unravelling and shedding the narratives that no longer serve us, we create space for collective imagination to craft new stories. These narratives lay the foundation for emerging mindsets, systems, and behaviours. Exploring "what if" invites us to envision how the future might appear when we release the limiting constraints of today's reality. Often, we discover that realizing these future visions is not an impossibility but a testament to our imagination's potential.

"The inability to imagine a world in which things are different is evidence only of a poor imagination, not of the impossibility of change."

Rutger Bregman

Consider this: if we could put a human being on the moon, surely we can manifest regenerative societies and lifestyles in harmony with nature. This way of living is 384,400 times closer to our essence than traversing the lunar surface.

Let's (un)learn growth. What if businesses aimed to discover their impact sweet spot, intentionally designing for closure after fulfilling their purpose? What if we prioritized growth models that align with our values and contribute positively to society and the environment?

Now, let's (un)learn traditional value chains. What if trading conditions were structured to redistribute benefits fairly among all stakeholders? What if we transitioned from linear value chains to interconnected, distributed value networks that foster resilience and inclusivity?

Let's (un)learn conventional pricing strategies. What if we could calculate true prices that account for broader impacts on nature and future generations, moving beyond narrow economic considerations? What if innovative pricing systems addressed privilege imbalances and promoted equity in access to goods and services?

Let's (un)learn the approach to do-goodism. What if we shifted from merely alleviating symptoms of societal sickness to addressing root causes and transforming underlying structures? What if we identified and dismantled neo-colonial patterns within philanthropy and humanitarian efforts? What if we cultivated a mindset of humility and collaboration, removing ego from our intentions to do good?

Let's also (un)learn the culture of commercialization. What if we refrained from commodifying essential human rights such as healthcare, education, and clean water, recognizing their inherent value beyond profit? What if we ceased turning everything into an industry?

Lastly, let's (un)learn traditional marketing tactics. What if we shifted away from using scarcity as a marketing ploy and instead promoted abundance and shared resources? What if marketing professionals leveraged their skills to mobilize communities and foster collective action for positive change? What if we crafted narratives that reflected diverse perspectives, challenged dominant worldviews, and amplified marginalized voices? What if we told better stories?

From “what if” to “how might we”

Grounded in these transformative questions, individuals and organizations develop the capacity to shift horizons. By nurturing a culture of inquiry and collaboration, we unlock the pathway to collective wisdom and empower ourselves to co-create a thriving future. Embracing uncertainty, we shift from a mindset of knowing to one of continuous (un)learning, recognizing that humility and collaboration are essential ingredients for paradigm shifts.


For too long, it's been typical for businesses, organizations, and government officials to operate under the assumption that they have all the answers to navigate our ever-more intricate world. But we must acknowledge our uncertainty and recognize that many of our entrenched knowledge, narratives, and convictions are no longer relevant. The world urgently requires leaders who possess humility, willing to admit when things aren't working and unsure of what lies ahead. Let's embrace a mindset of continual (un)learning and collaborate in shaping the future together.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Minou Schillings is a regenerative future facilitator. She is on a mission to unburden the world of business-as-usual brain garbage and unleash the power of imagination for regeneration. She helps business leaders to embrace the regenerative worldview and become future fit.

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)