Soft Skills For Life: Adaptability

Adaptability is more important now than it has been in a generation – Dorie Clark

Calling An Audible

Successful teams know when and how to make necessary adjustments and adapt at appropriate moments to affect a game. In American Football, these are called “audibles.” Most often done by a quarterback, it is a change in a predetermined plan in response to an opponent’s defensive formation. An adaptive mindset is often formed in the crucibles of life. A crucible was known as a place where metals were refined. It is also defined as a severe test or trial where the interaction of different elements results in the emergence of something of stronger and higher quality. 

Losing The Signal

In the book, Losing the Signal, authors Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff state that in 2009 BlackBerry owned half of the smartphone market, but today, that number has dwindled to a mere less than one percent.  BlackBerry was also responsible for bridging the gap between pagers and smartphones. What happened? While BlackBerry was first out of the gate, the phone industry underwent a transformative period of innovation due to the demand for touchscreen displays. BlackBerry lagged on this technology while Apple anticipated the demand and created the iPhone, which was disruptive to the phone industry and took a huge bite out of BlackBerry’s market pie. BlackBerry didn’t adapt quickly enough, and other companies like Samsung, HTC, and LG also took chunks of market space from BlackBerry. BlackBerry had a dense following and hard footing on the market, but rigidity led to its demise. Through adaptability, BlackBerry may have been years ahead of the competition in an industry where they already had a head start. BlackBerry’s success was also its downfall. Success caused comfort and complacency and stopped the flow of innovation, creativity, and change to remain successful. Sustained success doesn’t thrive on the past but rather on the ability to see the future and make the correct course adjustments to not only exist but excel. Built into every success are the ingredients for demise. The only thing that keeps it away is the risk we are willing to take to change and adapt. Success is, therefore, not only measured by achievements but by the willingness to adapt continuously to the current conditions we face. 

Keys to Adaptability

When it rains while driving, it’s important to adjust to the road conditions by turning on your wipers and headlights to see better. Adapting is key to staying safe on the road and arriving safely at your destination. Likewise, your path will often require you to adapt to different circumstances. We cannot determine what we will go through. At times, what we face seems like a pop quiz that we didn’t have time to prepare for. But time will not pause for us to get prepared; therefore I must be ready to call an audible when the play has to be changed to adapt to the current circumstance. Adaptability helps us make necessary changes in order to reach our goals. To make adaptability your reality, makes these choices:

Choose your frame: This is the lens through which you choose to see the circumstance you are in. Your attitude will largely support this. It begins with a reality check about the situation. Then, follow it up with two questions, “How do I choose to see it?” and “Who do I want to become from this?” 

Choose your voice: Which voice will you listen to? Voices lead to choices, and the voices we listen to have a lot to do with the future we experience. If you choose the voice of despair, you will drag yourself down the doldrums of life and have a pity party. But, if you choose the voice of hope in the crucible, lasting confidence and resilience can grow.  

Choose your pivot: When new Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill gave his first speech in 1987, investors thought he would speak about profit margins and how he would work to improve them. Instead, he pivoted to worker safety. Amid unbelief and pin-drop silence, he set the agenda of his tenure as, “making Alcoa the safest company in the world.” A year later, Alcoa’s profits hit a record high while drastically reducing safety incidents. Decide which direction you will pivot to, then focus. Which way do you need to pivot in this season of your life? Do you need to be more grateful instead of grumbling? Perhaps you need to dust that dream or goal off and pursue it again. 

Final Thought: In life, adaptability helps you navigate our ever-changing world. Without it, we lose the signal of progress by remaining rigid and loyal to a past that no longer benefits our present or future. By choosing your frame, voice, and pivot, you can make small intentional shifts that prepare you and position you to take advantage of opportunities when they come your way. As Jacqueline Brassey, Chief Scientist at McKinsey and Company’s People and Organizational Performance Practice says, “Adaptability means you’ve gone beyond simply enduring a challenge to thrive beyond it.” 

Keep on Keeping on.


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