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How to Be Adaptable in Volatile Times

Updated on March 15, 2018
aesta1 profile image

Mary is an organizational development specialist and writes about today's changing workplace.

Adaptability 50 Years Ago

50 years ago, when we looked for our first job in industry after graduating from university, we boasted about and we’re tested on our adaptability. In large companies, new staff were rotated through different departments not only learning the skills required in different management positions but showing how they could shift work patterns, knowledge, relationships from one group to another quickly without an issue.

A degree in history or social sciences taught how only the adaptable survive and we used that learning.

Adapting to a New World

Adaptability | Source

Shaped by Volatility

The world has moved on. Employers either don’t have the time or won’t make time for that kind of multi-month bridging session. Even in the employment interview, scenarios can be made and quickly changed to see how the potential employee responds in the new working world where everyday can bring a new demand or a new technology or a new opportunity in a new language.

Adaptability is one of the most important skills a young person can develop in today's world shaped by uncertainty and over focussed on specialty knowledge.

We Are In A Flux

We are in a flux, according to the Right Management Manpower Group. Recently, this group did a survey of 100 HR leaders and 250 line managers in the UK and Irish organizations with 500+ employees and their key findings confirm what you must have observed or experienced:

  • 91% of HR Directors think that by 2018, people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty
  • 60% of HR Directors identified employee wellness and resilience as key to enabling organizations to achieve their objectives.
  • 53% of HR Directors said that employees’ ability to deal with unanticipated problems is the key attribute for future business success

I don't think this is a surprise to many of you. The writing on the wall is clear. If you are to succeed in this constantly changing environment, you need to be at home with uncertainty. Adaptability is being able to respond to uncertainty and remain ever relevant as changes come.

Adaptability is now the defining characteristic for success and employers seek and value this highly in new recruits. Employers recruit applicants whom they think can adapt easily to the changing circumstances, resourceful enough to deal with what might come up and able to see failure as a learning opportunity. Many employers now actively recruit the talent they need and their field of recruitment has become global.

Adaptability in Today's World

Adaptability in Today's World
Adaptability in Today's World | Source

What is Adaptability?

So, what is adaptability? The word comes from Latin, adapto which means fit to or adjust. In organizational change, its most commonly understood that adaptability is the ability to change or to be changed in order to fit transformed circumstances. According to Katja Andresen and Norbert Gronau, who pushed for adaptability to be considered a field of study in organizational management, it is the ability to change something or oneself to fit to occurring changes.

Often, it is referred to as lateral thinking but it is much more than just lateral thinking which of course is vital as well. Thinking laterally suggests you can look in many directions for solutions to one problem. Adaptability suggests you can hopscotch from one problem to another and begin designing an approach to a solution.

Especially if you are part of the gig economy, adaptability is the basis of any continuity of employment. Perhaps, you’re a painter/designer, but you must be able to adapt from painting on walls to paper to plastic and from grand to miniature. If you’re a programmer, you have to fit in to whatever language or format each employer wants.

There are great examples around. Elon Musk who moves from space scientist to electrical engineer to futurist car designer to hole digger. Jeff Bezos who seems to be able to tackle almost anything and, finally, supervise the experts he hires.

We all can’t be that level of genius but in today’s work environment we almost will be able to adapt quickly and apply our skills and knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to new circumstances, new environments, new data on a daily basis.

Elon Musk: A Genius at Adaptability?

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk has pushed performance and achievement not just in himself but in the people he recruits. According to many, he is wired for success. For me, Ashlee Vance gives us an Elon Musk who is a genius at adaptability as he moved not just from one continent to a new one but from one business to the next changing the fundamentals of those businesses in a way not thought of possible by the greats in that business and shaping our lives and our future in a fundamental way.

Read this book and go through the experience with Elon as he builds his business at the same time sending shock waves to the industry. Extremely well written by a well known business columnist and author, it is a joy to read. I did not buy the book because I follow the news around Elon Musk but our daughter brought us a copy and I read through it all the time conflicted, admiring Musk and wondering at the same time if he is just plain crazy as he, himself, asked the author. Crazy or not, he has driven himself and those he recruited to look at errors as challenges and lack of resources as opportunities to create something not done before.

How does he do this? Get the book and read for yourself.


How to Become More Adaptable in Volatile Times

So how do you become more adaptable especially in today's highly volatile environment? How do you practice? If you’re a foot baller, you start young kicking with your left foot. If you’re a coder, you expand your battery of language skills. If if you’re a modeller, you learn everything you can about additive manufacturing and then, keep learning.

You look at the job title you might be applying for and you identify all the skills that might be needed to deliver the job as well as allied jobs. You'll find yourself saying, "Hey, I can do that too". That way, even if it's one narrow set that you’re hired for, you can move quickly to respond to crazy needs that become part of the problem as you expand the solution.

Don’t over specialize. They need to have your core skills but you need to be able to see how your part fits in to the broader piece and keep thinking of how the edges of your work can connect with the edges of 4 or 5 other people doing complimentary components. Tinker, tweak, test out and allow your kids to do so.

Practicing a "can do attitude" can be helpful. By looking at any problem and thinking of alternate ways of tackling it. Making batteries is one thing but linking batteries to electric motors to charging stations to wheels and guidance systems, that's where the magic lies and it's in those edges that the great opportunities lie. TESLA ia a collection of narrow skills exploded into a whole can by an genius of adaptability.

Remember, adaptability does not mean giving in but growing out. You take your core competencies and values and use that as a seed bed for change.

Women Driving Rickshaws in Barcelona

Women Driving Rickshaws in Barcelona
Women Driving Rickshaws in Barcelona | Source

How do you usually react to change

When plans change for a family celebration for example, what do you usually do?

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

— Charles Darwin

How flexible are you?

In general, how would you rate yourself in flexibility?

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Never Too Old to Try New Things

Trying New Things
Trying New Things | Source

15 Ways to Become More Adaptable Today

1. Change your mental frame.

You have, as we all do, a frame from which we view events. Change this frame of mind, mental model or what others refer to as world view and develop an Open Mindset. A mind set that is open to look at changes and see how to adapt yourself or your organization to it. The more entrenched you are in your mind set, the more closed your mind is. With a closed mind, the intelligence and energy is used to reframe the changes to fit the old world view or make it right. Nobody wants to be wrong but to be adaptable, one must be at home at being wrong. In fact, when one feels right, one must question that so that one does not get entrenched.

2. Experiment.

Tinker, tweak, test out. Get out of the stigma of error and fear of failure. Welcome change as an improvement. Learn new methods, new procedures and techniques. Test them out.

3. Sharpen your observation skills, recognition skills, cognitive skills and learn to draw conclusions from new information.

I had a first hand experience of this the other day I was buying a pair of shoes. We were out for a walk and only had credit card with us. When we passed by a shoe store, the bargains were just too good to let go so we went in. When we paid, our card did not work. I watched, though, and after observing closely how things were done in the other stores, I asked the store lady to try out again and guided her through the process. She was not adaptable. Guess who was? It worked and I am enjoying my new pair.

4. Have or develop an open scientific mind.

A scientific mind questions existing beliefs, theories, practices, seeks answers, patterns and relationships, divergence, facts, information and see how they can be improved to respond to new situations. Always test out accepted beliefs in your industry. You do NOT need to be a scientist but you must keep asking 'WHY".

5. Challenge what you always thought was right, what you have always believed in.

Label it wrong so you will look at how you can make it more effective given the new environment. This is the problem with many of the great thinkers or professionals. They have arrived at theories, answers giving most of their energy into it that they are no longer able or willing to give those up or question those given a new situation. They will keep applying what they have previously done and got recognition for. Why change?

6. Teach yourself to think ahead.

Practice until you have improved your skill at spotting emerging trends in the media, in fashion, in production..

7. Develop resourcefulness.

Challenge yourself to do things given only certain resources. What do you do? Show initiative and self reliance. Look for new ways of doing things more effectively. Be comfortable to improvise, adapting or changing as you go ahead

8. Respond more effectively to challenges and unexpected changes.

Limit your whine and blame. Instil in yourself and your kids that whining is not acceptable. Instead of looking for blame, look at what went wrong and how to learn from this so it is not repeated.

9. Be curious.

Learn and keep learning. Keep current. Be at home in variety, in differences, in newness.

10. See the whole picture and be positive in your attitude.

Be upbeat. Hey, laugh at yourself while you're learning not to mess up again in the same way.

11. Train your mind to think quickly and to work under pressure.

12. Take on challenges even at short notice.

See how you can make the changes work and not keep giving reasons why the changes won't work.

13. Get out of your comfort zone.

Do something you have not done before.

14. In school, take a course that is way different from your area of concentration.

If you're into computers, take Music or Singing or Acting.

15. Know your why.

Volatile times demand greater adaptability on your part but as you respond to the challenge, don't forget to stick to your values, what you stand for and what you commit yourself to.

Individuals who cultivate a variety of skills seem brighter, more energetic and more adaptable than those who know how to do one thing only.

— Robert Shea

How do you think should adaptability be improved?

You must have your own ideas on how to develop adaptability from your own experience. Please feel free to share in the Comments below.

© 2018 Mary Norton


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      I like that Peg. You are right. Even when we do, change is so fast today, we can hardly cope that many times, we get shocked.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 6 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

      I like these tips for adapting to the rapidly changing work environment. I remember a seminar long ago that spoke about the need to adapt to change. The speaker said something like, "If you can't adapt and overcome to changes you'll find yourself in a state of Future Shock."

      Looking at things with fresh eyes is great advice in your 15 different ways to improve adaptability.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Chitrangada for your positive comments. I pushed myself to write about it hoping that more of our systems especially our education system learn to adapt.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 6 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      An excellent article about adaptability.

      As they say, change is the only constant thing, and It’s important to change according to the changing times. I always believe in this principle, and I am flexible about it. When I look back, I feel happy and content that I have adapted for the better.

      Very nicely done article, with some valuable suggestions and thoughts.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Linda. I thought so and I do try to highlight the issue especially to educators. I just told my husband last night that had I been taught by great Science teachers and engaged in school experiments, I would have gone into scientific research. Sadly, most of our experiments in Science were theoretical.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have to give credit where credit is due. Grumpy added that but I agree.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Eric, you are like me. We like to plan and plan well. Recently, I read that some companies before implementing a plan, they kill it and do a pre-mortem. They would tell their employees it did not work and they would then give feedback. The feedback is much more honest and substantial.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You listed some great suggestions for becoming more adaptable, Mary. This is a useful and important article for people in today's workplace.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      I certainly agree with you about the necessity of adaptability. I like your statement: adaptability does not mean giving in but growing out. That's a great mantra for life in general. Great suggestions for improvement. Thanks.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Mary this is great. I can do change. Change is good if I make a plan for the change and what new stability is there.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, I can see that in you Flourish. Maybe your name here speaks as well of your adaptability. The change can be sometimes intimidating that we just stick to what is familiar. Today, though, change pushes us.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 7 weeks ago from USA

      I especially like 13 and 14. For me, gaining brand new experiences is critical practice in continually adapting and staying both interested and involved in the world around me. I gain access to problems, information, people and solutions that I wouldn’t have had if I had chosen to remain closed off from change. Meeting new people who are very different from me and who bring different ideas to the table is also key because it forces me to think more creatively. We live in such a fast-changing world that adaptability is a critical capability.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Mary, you reminded me of my 2 favourite books. Yes, we used the book, Who Moved My Cheese, in our training sessions. Rich Dad, Poor Dad started me in investment. This is one reason I keep writing. It forces me to learn. Thank you.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 7 weeks ago from Brazil

      The ability to adapt is an underdeveloped skill. I think this should be taught in schools. The book 'Who moved my cheese' is about thinking about how things are in a constant state of change and adapting to this. This small book was even used as a training element in my sister's career in law enforcement.

      From a personal point of view, I look back and can't believe how adaptable I have become. In fact, using skills I had but in a new way.

      This is a critical point now in the era we are in. In the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the author highlights one father who specialized and another who was a jack of all trades and adaptable. The poor dad was the one who was stuck in his chosen specialized subject.

      The world is changing so rapidly that open-mindedness is critical.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 7 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Bill. You always get here first and I truly appreciate that. Yes, I can see very well how key adaptability is in your life and writing.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      A wonderful article with very practical suggestions. I know, for me, adaptability has been one of the keys to happiness.