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Why we need to learn to be more adaptive

As the world gets more fragmented, specialised and complicated… and changes at speed, there will be a premium on adaptability, agility and resourcefulness (Cilla Snowball, Group Chairman BBDOAMV).

So how do we learn to be more adaptive in a fast changing world?

I have heard the comment my whole working life that change is constant and it’s speeding up.

This is not a new message. Watch the Russell Crowe film “Master & Commander” and you will hear him commenting on the rapid change in the world based on a new keel design for a ship. Change is nothing new.

Charles Darwin famously observed that:

adaptive charles darwin

If that is the case (and I believe it is) then it begs the question “How adaptive are we? (particularly as leaders and managers of teams and businesses). I’m not convinced we are as adaptive as we think. And I include myself in that statement.

Most of the work I am asked to do with clients has something to do with change. Culture change for an organisation; personal change to help someone take a step up in their career; Skills change to help people present, sell, manage and lead.

My observation is that expectations are out of kilter with reality when it comes to change. Culture change doesn’t happen because you create a new set of values, mission and vision statements and run a few workshops to launch them.

Going on a two day management workshop doesn’t make you a manager and implementing the skills the 1st, 2nd, 3rd time is often less than satisfactory. Rather like changing your grip when playing tennis (the coach told me it was the way to do it!), the first few times may see some wild shots and some lost matches. The result? We revert to what we know and keep going as we were. No adaptation. No progress.

If we had applied that principle to walking, we’d have all given up after a few face plants.

We have to keep going and push through the failure in order to adapt successfully. We need encouragement from others and our own courage. It’s unmissable in toddlers learning to walk, not so obvious in the business setting, where many people are asked to get on with it, line managers are too busy with other things to provide the framework and support their people need. And this is just as true for a CEO learning their role as it is for a junior coordinator starting out.

We need to accept that adapting, being agile and being resourceful has to be our own responsibility and understand that it takes time and effort. Most of us can’t afford to stay doing and thinking as we are right now.