The Power of Adaptability
Adaptability can be defined as the ability to cope with unexpected situations. The events of last year brought to light the long-standing reality that, whether it be in the context of organisations or personal circumstances, it is key to survival. Our ability to adapt as a species is the main reason we find ourselves at the top of the food chain. In the words of Charles Darwin: “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent…it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Beyond survival, what are the benefits of being adaptable?
It strengthens your emotional resilience. Adaptability and resilience are closely related. Resilient people persevere, even when the going gets tough. If you are able to cope with an unfamiliar situation, you are more likely to see it through to the end. Not only is the act of completion fulfilling, but you also fortify your resilience.
You will learn more. If you see life as an everyday opportunity to learn something, you will expand both your personal and professional growth. This makes every experience an impactful and meaningful one, no matter how big or small.
It is a skill your leaders will appreciate. A standout quality for many bosses is not just intellectual capacity or talent – but good crisis management skills. If you are able to respond in a calm and purposeful way when presented with a challenge, it is more than likely that your leaders are taking note. In the same vein, the perception applies top-down as well: this is an aspirational quality that those working under you will appreciate.
To read more about leadership in times of crisis, click here.
How, then, can you make the conscious choice to become more adaptable?
Manage your expectations. Accept the fact that there are many things outside of our control. As a result, you will spend more time thinking about life as something that happens for you, instead of to you.
Do not conflate fault with responsibility. It is easy to blame our circumstances or other people when life throws us a curveball, and while it is important to acknowledge and process when something bad happens, it is even more important to understand that we are in charge of our destinies. In others words, while something may not be our fault, it is our responsibility to take action. Adapting this mindset provides the next step after acceptance.
Improvise. While it is always good to plan ahead, it is important to practice spontaneity as well. Those with the ability to make decisions in the moment are more likely to cope with disappointment better, because they understand that not everything is within their control. Making spontaneous decisions also helps keep your mind sharp. As with all things in life, the more you practice this, the sharper you become, and the better you react to an unexpected scenario.
Practice the three types of flexibility. Organisational psychologist and leadership development expert, Stephen Zaccaro, developed a three-pronged adaptability framework:
Cognitive flexibility: the ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks
Emotional flexibility: the ability to modify one’s approach when dealing with one’s own emotions, and the ability to look at a situation through a different lens
Dispositional flexibility: the ability to maintain a balance between being optimistic and realistic
Think of examples of when you would need these different types of flexibility, and make a conscious effort to improve each.
Become an independent problem-solver. When you’re confronted with a challenge, think of different solutions, and different ways of arriving at those solutions. In this way, when unexpected challenges arise, you will be better equipped in dealing with them yourself before having to consult others.
Psychology Today. 2021. Learn How Adaptation Is a Key to Embracing Change and Growth. [online] Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/sustainable-life-satisfaction/202009/learn-how-adaptation-is-key-embracing-change-and-growth> [Accessed 19 February 2021].
n.d. Adaptability: Responding Effectively to Change. Greensboro: Center for Creative Leade