To be adapt at adaptation is essential. Just ask the Dodo.
On the island of Mauritius, the dodo had no natural predators, so when, in the 17th century, sailors brought cats and dogs with them, the hapless pigeon (yes, it was a species of flightless pigeon) was overwhelmed. It was a state of affairs which neither they nor evolution could predict.
How can a Dodo be a Black Swan?
The plight of the Dodo was a Black Swan event, that is to say its demise came as a complete surprise (to the Dodo) had unforeseen consequences (its extinction) and it can be rationalised after the event.
Covid is another case in point, although pandemics have always been part of human history. One thinks of the Black Death, the most fatal pandemic of all time, which claimed the lives of an estimated 75-200 million people. The point is this: the Dodo could not adapt and therefore, alas, it became extinct. If the laws of evolution hold true for the world of business, companies which fail to adapt will suffer the same fate.
The word ‘Adapt’ derives from the Latin ‘Apatus,’ ‘fit.’ It was Herbert Spencer who, in 1864, coined the much-quoted phrase, ‘the survival of the fittest’, as a way of explaining Darwin’s principle of ‘natural selection’ which states that organisms with certain traits are more likely to survive than those without.
Adaptations are any behavioural or physical characteristics of an animal that help it to survive in its environment. These characteristics fall into three main categories: body parts, body coverings, and behaviours. Any or all these types of adaptations play a a key role in the survival of an animal. Examples include the spots on the leopard which serve to break up its contours, whiskers which function as ‘feelers’ and the wing which is an aerofoil.
In other words, it is about having an edge. It’s about being nimble. It’s about changing to suit circumstances.
How to future-proof your company
Regardless of whether you are a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, you need to future-proof your business. One powerful way in which you can do is not to be trapped by the past and the present. Because those who thrive amidst change, don’t merely stay ahead of the curve, they say: ‘What curve?’ You may need to abandon strategies which have not served you well in the past. Or more radical action may be called for, in which case you may need to question the way in which you see your field and your place in it. This could take many forms running the gamut from full-scale paradigm shifts to a slight change in perspective. As Henry Ford famously put it, ‘If I had asked what people had wanted, they would have said faster horses.’
The best way in which to future-proof your business is the ability predict what will happen before your competition does. This takes a great deal of vision, bags of imagination and a willingness to take risks. Many profess to have the gift, but the truth is most don’t. If this were so, bookies would go out of business. One thing you can do is to sharpen your powers of observation, for if you can see what others fail to see, if you can spot a trend, or a change in the market, you will be better able to adapt.
Plus ça change
Everything changes but remains the same – a paradox which is as true today as it was when the Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, famously said: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” Everything is in a state constant flux: from cells to galaxies, from clouds to the sun, nothing stands still. That much is true.
However, it is well to remember as we pursue the will-o-the-wisp of change that some things do not change. Take human nature. That the plays of Euripides and Shakespeare still speak to us today show that we experience the same joys and sorrows as our forefathers. It is all too easy to confound human behaviour (which is not fixed) with human nature (which is). Therefore, it might be wiser to ensure the success of your organisation, not by accepting the orthodoxy that all that is new is inherently good, but by going back to the fundamentals of your market and customer-base. What iron laws govern the former? What problems can you solve for the latter?
In trying to adapt to an ever-changing world, you must know the difference between change when it is needed and change for its own sake. It is tempting to act rashly when the rules of your particular universe change.
Adaption is not just about reaction. It’s about learning better ways to learn. It is about unlearning old habits. It’s about changing spectacles and paradigms. It is about seeing what others fail to observe. It’s about keeping a weather eye out for the latest trends. And it is about recognising when the time is ripe for change.
Leaders who can adapt to an ever-changing landscape appear to have an uncanny ability to divine the future. The truth is that when they lay their plans they are never shackled by them. Whereas others are trapped by their own perceptions and logic bubbles, they can decode the intel from the present so as to prosper in the future. Like a good boxer, they see the punch coming before it is thrown.
If you want to follow their example, then you will need ultra-sensitive antennae attuned to the slightest change. And you’ll need a sound plan to meet change when it comes, as come it will. Just as a strong swimmer dives through the wave before it breaks, so a wise organisation takes the necessary action before it is too late.
Adaptability is flexibility. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ A plan gives you a route and a destination, a set of steps to achieve your objectives and ultimately to succeed in a timely and efficient manner.
Plans are important, but they should be jettisoned if circumstances render them obsolete. Why pursue a strategy isn’t working? Why play by the rules of a game if that game has changed? The secret to a successful strategy lies in remaining fluid and flexible. Strategies should only be permanent provided they are furthering your aims. Hence the importance of measuring the efficacy of your strategy at regular intervals to ensure you are on the right tracks.
People will carry on as normal until a crisis forces them to take action. Such is human nature. All-too-often we are apt to put off learning new skills or changing our ways until it is too late. After all, ‘procrastination is the thief of time.’
Those who adapt well do so incrementally. Companies for which adaptability is an afterthought fail. Adaptability must run through a company’s culture like words through a stick of rock.
Attitude matters. Much of the secret of remaining adaptable lies in the attitude that one brings to it in particular and to the notion of change in general.
In this regard, it is most important to view change positively and be on the lookout for ways in which to adapt and learn. By cultivating the habit of discerning patterns in your chosen market and in culture at large, seeing them not as evidence of crisis, but as opportunities, you will be better able to thrive in times of uncertainty.
Control The Controllables
If, on the other hand, you fear change, it will show and just as optimism is contagious, so too is fear. But take heart. While you cannot plan against all eventualities, you can control the way in which you respond to change and crisis. This comes down to mindset. Not only about what you do, but how you do and how you view. Does uncertainty fill you will unease? Or do you stare it in the eye with composure? To quote Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
If the Covid Pandemic has taught us anything, then it is this: we all have the power to be resilient in adversity. Adaptability and resilience are not unconnected. However, resilience implies withstanding the stresses of the present, while adaptability always implies the future.
- The Spark portrait reveals and predicts how adaptable you may be across Three Personas.
- It may that you are low in the quality of adaptability. If so, Spark will recommend ways in which you can raise your score.
- Forewarned is not forearmed. Stress can undermine adaptability. Spark can help you better cope with stress.
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