‘It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin
Adaptability in the workplace is not a new concept. It’s a topic that has been covered in articles and TED talks and there are an array of resources out there on the characteristics that adaptable people exhibit and why adaptable people are valuable to their organizations.
In work settings, adaptability skills have traditionally meant a person’s ability to make changes to adjust for unforseen circumstances. For those of us working in technology, adaptablity is very often second nature. Even before the Covid-19 crisis it was not uncommon to see the most urgent technology projects and initiatives being facilitated with little notice.
The thing about adaptability in the work place is that there are choices that come with that lifestyle. If you are not particularly adaptable, there are careers and organizations better suited to people who are less adaptable and where they can be successful. Then came Covid-19, a situation that is demanding the world to be more adaptable, even those not particularly good at living with constant change.
The pandemic and the circumstances we are living with today have meant that we are surrounded with friends, neighbors and family (especially kids, teenagers and the elderly) who may not be particularly adaptable and who are struggling with the realities of living with a large degree of uncertainly. Are there ways that we, as more adaptable people, can help those we love to cultivate those skills?
What makes someone Adaptable?
Adaptability speaks to being able to manage unusual or unpredictable circumstances where there are no explicit instructions. To be successful you must face the unknown with your judgement and your confidence to help make decisions quickly. Depending on how confident a person is, what can feel like a simple decision to some, will feel like a hard decision for others. Adaptability is the product of having tried new things and honing your problem solving skills. So, how can we help those that are struggling and stressed, to become better adapters?
- Collaborate: Work with others to help them anticipate some scenarios that may happen and practice with them ways of how to respond. Practicing how you might address the situations you can think of together, will help them to start looking for the available options when faced with the unexpected. For example, if you have a relative that wants to connect with others discussing various options, trying a Zoom meeting and practicing may help them to understand that there are alternatives to try. Try and shift the conversation to what’s possible, vs what’s unavailable.
- Help them to see the difference between Critical Thinking vs. their Emotions: Critical thinking involves assessing a situation and drawing reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and then discriminating between the useful and less useful details to then solve problems and make decisions. Conversely, dealing with challenges emotionally minimizes the facts of the situation and highlights feelings which may obscure what is possble. Helping others discriminate between the two, to temper emotional elements out of pramatic decisioning will help make them more adaptable. Feelings should be acknowledged, but its not always the best thing to place emotional choices ahead of decisions that can be influenced by factual data.
- Research: Knowing what to expect in advance can help minimize the unknowns. Helping them to research what information is available regarding potential upcoming situations and which details what to expect, will make the number of unknown’s decrease. Have a general plan based on what you know.
- Observe the situation: What are others doing? Many of us are finding ourselves following new processes for things we have done hundreds of time. Pay attention to details.
- Don’t try to be perfect, but meet deadlines: I’ve led marketing for high growth technology companies for 20 years. My model for success on nearly every project is 70% improvement over the last iteration and done on time. Doing something to improve, even if it’s a small step, is better than waiting for all the information or the perfect conditions. Usually by the time those scenarios materialize you are way past deadline. Outside of work following the same mindset helps dealing with the unknown. In the real world (when was the last time you bought 100% of your grocery list), understanding that perfection may not be possible, but in the current circumstances adequate is okay, might be a perspective that less adaptable people could use help with.
- Being Resourceful and Creative: Sometimes the goal is clear but how to get there is not. If the traditional way of approaching a situation is not possible recognize that adaptable people are better at looking for alternatives. Encourage them to focus on ways to find the solution rather than longing for a process that is presently impossible. Recognize that you may need to help with brainstorming. As scores of virtual weddings, graduations, birthday drive-bys, even baby showers have shown, keeping your eye on the end goal is the starting place of an inventive outcome.
- Help them to have faith that it will all work out: Everyone feels a bit overwhelmed at times. The reality is that there are people around that want to help and want them to be successful. Chances are that things will work out fine, but if they don’t assure them you will help them come up with alternatives.
Per the experts, it sounds as if there are still some periods of adjustment in store for us and while things will improve, some things won’t be back to normal for a while. Helping those you care about to better navigate the uncertainly by helping them to hone their adaptability skills is a great way to show you care and to help them find more peace in navigating these challenging times.
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