“The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” - wrote Tolkien in his most praised Lord of the Rings trilogy. The world will continue to change, reshape, and develop. In the last couple of months, I was triggered by different circumstances to think about adaptability. Is it important, and to what extent? Can we measure or develop it? Is it fixed?
We all know the drill. Wake up early, do not be late. Don't have breakfast, and take a coffee instead. Just dress to play multiple roles during the day and go to sleep afterward. In film theory, you have several acting methods, and that analogy is something I often use to explain people's behaviors. In essence, we are performing, and through those roles, we try to fulfill all expectations set by ourselves or the people around us. The way I approach it is to submerge myself in every aspect of it. Like the method actors, I'm trying to play every role not just physically but also emotionally and mentally, whether we speak about running or being a dad to my beautiful daughter. And, sometimes, it drains me - a lot.
When trying to adapt, I often switch to the Meisner Technique and respond to external stimuli using my instincts. So rather than going deep into making choices ahead of time for every moment, I naturally respond to external cues without overthinking.
The topic of adaptability is exciting and discussed among neuroscientists, psychologists, and anthropologists. They try to figure out one of the vital evolutionary traits that brought us to where we are now from different aspects. Many tackle this topic successfully, but as always, there are some obvious misses. Let's not forget to mention motivational speakers and their quick personality fixes. Is that trend even alive? Hopefully not. Talking about adaptability requires a lot of energy and focus, so it’s essential to be careful when sharing simple advice and conclusions.
Like most of us, I started to Google everything related to this topic, and multiple authors covered it very well. The most interesting ones created very catchy phrases, such as Jennifer Jones and her “Adaptability Equation”. She spoke about adaptability in a very simple but effective way and tried to answer one question - Why are some of us more adaptable than others?
The “Adaptability Equation” is easy to understand. It contains vital superpowers we should build - the power of purpose, inquisitiveness, resilience, and a critical setback defined as a threat.
The Huts effect and finding purpose
We got one of the simplest explanations of purpose from Richard Leider. During one of his visits to Africa, he was deeply engaged with the Huts tribe, one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes on Earth. During the interview with one of the tribe members, Richard was asked about the two most important days of our lives and provided a common-sense answer: birth and death. He was right about the birth, but the second most important day, according to his tribe companion, is the day when you determine how you fit and find your place and purpose within the tribe. In essence, the purpose is fundamental for our happiness, job satisfaction, or choosing our future, whether in our career or personal life.
The trial and error method or how to spark curiosity
Understanding what we want to use, develop or improve helps us spark our inquisitiveness or curiosity. So one of the simplest ways is to experiment, try, fail, and eventually succeed. Imagine a wristwatch and how you slowly separate it part by part, cog by cog. Understanding how things work or people function helps us be more connected, engaged, and adaptable. Understanding how the world works allows us to understand our place in it and build our purpose. To refresh the storyline, I’ll give you a tip - think like Alice in Wonderland!
Crumble or regroup, that is the question
Sometimes life deals a bad hand and horrible things happen to us. The critical question is not "why" this stuff happens, but how do we manage ourselves when these things occur? Do we crumble or regroup? And how do we regroup? Resilience is best understood as an individual's ability to maintain personal and social stability despite adversity. Some psychologists believe resilience involves three major components: biological attributes, family and social relationships, and environment. It is not a solo project, and it is contagious.
Getting to know the powers of our Almighty Brain
A critical setback for developing our adaptability is feeling that we are in danger. Our brain is a very complex organ. It simultaneously responds to the environment while balancing physiological and psychological demands! However, when it detects a potential threat, it starts a chain reaction of neurophysiological activities that reorganize its resources and attention so that it can concentrate on protecting the organism, also known as you! The threat system can overpower us and make us feel fearful, angry, or anxious when it is not needed. But there is a catch. To be highly adaptable, we must know our threat responses, what causes them, and the best ways to handle them.
Adaptability Quotient - Our degree of adaptability
Wandering through the voids of Google, I came across many bad and a few useful and funny things that deal with adaptability. We started with catchy phrases, so why don't we just continue in that manner? Natalie Fratto is currently the Managing Director at Silicon Valley Bank, but before that, she was a writer and venture investor. While she was a speaker at a TED talk, she mentioned a very interesting abbreviation, AQ, short for the “Adaptability Quotient”. Probably with the belief that the abbreviation will become part of the business pop culture. Soon after, she became the Managing Director at Silicon Valley Bank; enough said. She referred to AQ as something that can be measured, tested, and improved. Natalie shared an interesting view on how we assess our adaptability based on her experience with company founders:
- Asking "what if" questions instead of asking about the past forces the brain to simulate. Natalie knows that we can not live in the past, and she is not interested in it. She is more focused on the present and tries to understand how you "manipulate information, given a constraint, in order to achieve a specific goal." The real power of "what if" questions is in reducing anxiety about change and opening the doors for creativity and opportunity.
- Active seeking of active unlearning and trying to understand how to override old data with a new piece of information. To become more adaptable, we should shake our beliefs and behavior. The American writer and Futurist, Alvin Toffler, once wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn,” and I think it perfectly describes why it’s important for us to be in the learning process constantly.
- The third and final trick that Natalie used to assess a founder's adaptability is to look for people who infuse exploration into their life and business. In general, we are overusing exploitation of our successful behavioral patterns or business models and stopping our explorations for new, more adaptable scripts. This reminded me of the first or second year of studies when we studied cognitive psychology. At the time, I didn't understand a university professor's statement that "forgetting is more important than memorizing." Somehow when I look back, it makes sense, right?
Previously, I mentioned Alice in Wonderland. This story has been following me throughout my entire life. The tale of Alice in Wonderland begins when a young girl named Alice follows a jittery white rabbit from the palace down a dark, dingy burrow to a tiny door where she discovers the magical world she's been longing for. So let's ask ourselves - When was the last time we followed a jittery white rabbit? Daniel Kahneman once said: “We do not see the world the way it is; we see the world according to our instruments.” Therefore, in the end, if nothing else, let's question those instruments.
Before tackling the topic of adaptability, Enis took us through a very insightful approach to flexibility in the workplace in his previous article. You can read it here if you missed it.
About Enis Kudo
Enis Kudo is an HR Professional with over 10 years of experience in managing people agenda complexity in multinational companies, specialized in transforming academic findings into tangible organizational development projects.
Currently, Enis is the Head of People Operations at Symphony, leading a dedicated People Operations team. In this role, Enis leads all people processes within the B&H community. Furthermore, he is a part of the Country Lead Team, with the aim to align expectations between business needs, employee engagement, career development, and overall satisfaction.