Survival of the Adaptable

There is an old adage about people who can’t, won’t, or have trouble with change: “Like the dinosaurs, they didn’t adapt…” And what happened to the dinosaurs that didn’t adapt? They were doomed to extinction.

With today’s complexity and rapid change in both the for-profit and the non-profits worlds, adaptability to change is at the top of the list of skills that are required to lead and to execute innovation and the work of the day. Without adaptability, extinction is a real possibility.

Adaptability to change is a skill. While there are some people who find it easy to embrace change, those who struggle with it can acquire the approach and the skills necessary to move forward—and to lead—change.

Being adaptable to change means first, recognizing any resistance you have to it. Resistance is natural, as change can challenge our feelings of competence, rearrange relationships, and make us uncomfortable. What if we reframe our mindsets? What if, instead of resisting change, we think of it in a different way: change is growth; change is learning; change is improvement. When I think of change in this way, I get excited: What can I learn that will help me know more and make better decisions? This way of thinking lessens the anxiety about negative consequences of what might happen in the absence of knowing, to a “what if” mindset. I become a great experimenter, knowing that some ideas will work and some will not. Either way, I’ve learned something new.

Second, that the key to being change-agile is to be willing to experiment—quickly, often, and in a way that doesn’t sap too many resources. In this way, pilots, rapid response teams, and innovation incubators become a significant piece of strategy, structure, and approach to growth and problem-solving. With this experimentation comes a mindset that ensures quick mobilization once a solution or an approach is deemed worthy of pursuit. Sometimes this might result in a process improvement or, it could result in an entire course correction. I choose not to be afraid of either of these outcomes as I know that change is most often for the better.

Third is, of course, identifying the risks with any approach. Using the “what if” mindset excavates creative scenario planning, which helps create a safe and solid base from which to experiment.

And, fourth, key to being adaptable to change is to hire and cultivate those with an inventor—or a maverick—mindset. As a CEO, I certainly count on our extraordinary staff to challenge our processes, push back, and help us learn as an organization.

These days, if we focus solely on content and technical expertise in our respective fields, we are doomed to extinction. But if we become really good at learning new things and being open to growth and experimentation, we will remain fresh, we will keep learning, we will keep growing, we will keep making mistakes, and we will ultimately survive and thrive.