The Power of Adaptability

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  – Modern translation of “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough”, by Robert Burns.

The difference between success and failure is often related directly to an individual’s or organization’s ability to adapt.  Just ask Studebaker. Or the Wooly Mammoth.  However, while most will agree on the importance of adaptability, it is often a skill that challenges, confounds, and frightens people.

Many of us like to consider ourselves in command of our individual journeys.  We understand the ways of the world, and have found our unique ways to flourish. But when unforeseen shifts in the economy, culture, or our personal lives surface, we may feel helpless and wonder if we will ever be able to get back in control.  Adaptability isn’t just about changing with the times; it is about excelling in times of change.

In the book, Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market―And How to Successfully Transform Them, by Richard N. Foster and Sarah Kaplan, the authors discuss the idea of “discontinuity”, which suggests that companies should cultivate a view which assumes that everything they have always done is now irrelevant. The concept challenges the notion that in order for organizations to succeed, they must maintain the status quo and bank on the continuity of their products and the market. Conversely, “discontinuity” presumes change.  You don’t want a company that’s built to last, you need a company that is built to evolve and adapt.

Foster and Kaplan cite Intel, a company whom, when Japanese competitors released a bargain basement alternative, was forced to abandon its cutting-edge memory-chip business. The memory-chip was Intel’s flagship product, the very core of their revenue and brand identity.  But rather than further entrench themselves in a dog fight over price, Intel transitioned into the microprocessing business, and not only survived the crisis, but came out stronger than before.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Increase Your Ability To Adapt:

Change Your Perspective: High school debate teams practice arguing both sides of an issue. So should you. The better you can break away from your preconceived beliefs and opinions (no matter how correct they may be), the better you can see future events from varying angles, and approach potential obstacles in fresh, creative ways.

Break Your Mold: Do you always take the same route back and forth to work? Is Tuesday always Turkey Taco Night? Stop that. Mix up your patterns.  Make intentional choices to add variety and spontaneity to your life and routines.  Have you ever taken a vacation without any destination or itinerary in mind? Go ahead. Surprise yourself.

Learn By Example: Find someone; a coworker, family member, or mentor who possesses great adaptability skills.  Watch them. How do they respond to setbacks and challenges? Do they take problems in stride? What can you learn from them?

Take a Risk: Sometimes it’s good to face your fears for no other reason but to defang them. Afraid of heights? Go hop on a Ferris wheel.  Hate the water? Take swimming lessons. Don’t put yourself in danger, but face activities that you previously avoided at all costs. Teach yourself that there is nothing you can’t do.

Challenge Yourself: A major aspect of adaptability is the ability to think quickly and creatively in a stressful or uncomfortable environment.  Discover ways to increase your ability to solve problems in less-than-ideal situations.  If you have difficulty thinking clearly amidst too much noise and chaos, find a noisy and chaotic place and practice problem solving and concentration exercises there.