“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”
You’ve probably seen this quote attributed to Charles Darwin. Although the words may have been inspired by Darwin’s work, he never said them. A business professor named Leon C. Megginson did.
“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.”
Max McKeown, an English writer, consultant, and researcher specializing in innovation strategy, leadership, and culture, said the above quote.
Nolan Ryan, the American former Major League Baseball pitcher, and sports executive, wisely stated:
“Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.”
It’s clear that adaptability is, and always has been, important to an individual’s survival and success in life. But what exactly is it and how do you become more adaptable? Let’s take a deeper look.
What Is Career Adaptability?
Adaptability has always been crucial to human survival on a basic level since the beginning of the species. More recently, it has become an essential element of career and business success. Moreover, it’s going to keep getting more important in the future in a global business world that is constantly changing. In order to stay competitive and relevant, as a business or individual, you must be able to learn, adapt, and respond accordingly. Thankfully, for us, adaptability is an emotional intelligence skill that can be learned.
Quite simply adaptability means being able to change. It means expanding your capacity to accommodate change, no matter how challenging, radical, or unwelcome it might be. It means instead of using your energy to try to change the circumstances, you put your effort into changing yourself to enable you to thrive in whatever the new situation is.
Specifically, the Vocational Psychology Overview defines career adaptability as:
“Career adaptability means the psychosocial resources to cope with changing work and working conditions. It involves the ability to adapt to changing tasks, engage in continued self-learning, and regulate one’s career direction. Career adaptability also is needed to respond to the changing demands from employers who are increasingly seeking an adaptable workforce. A prominent conceptualization of career adaptability characterizes it as psychosocial strengths or capacities for solving unfamiliar, complex, and ill-defined problems presented by developmental vocational tasks, occupational transitions, and work traumas. Taken together, identity and adaptability tell the person when and how to change in a fast-moving world of work.”
Your Brain Doesn’t Like Change
Your brain is instinctually wired to fear anything uncertain or new. It’s a brain bias that helped our ancestors survive because anything new and unknown potentially meant, “caution danger!” Today, this bias can get in the way and impede your progress professionally and personally because change and uncertainty are the only way you grow and advance in your career and life.
Thankfully, your brain can change — both physical form and function — through a process called neuroplasticity. And by transforming your relationship with change and uncertainty into one of acceptance, curiosity, and growth, you can calm your brain’s fears and help it become more adaptable. This can, in turn, help you be more successful in your career and every other area of life.
Five Types of Adaptability
Adaptability is not one single skill. It encompasses many aspects of emotional intelligence. There are five basic types:
Studies have shown that our brains are built to continue learning throughout our lifetimes. To keep our brains challenged and healthy, we need to keep the learning process going which means continually challenging ourselves personally and professionally. This is a type of proactive adaptability that can help you stay ahead of the change game and successfully be prepared for and adapt to future challenges.
Although it may sometimes feel uncomfortable, learning adaptability is about intentionally pushing yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. This could mean that you actively seek developmental feedback or immerse yourself in situations where you have a lot to learn.
Life can feel like a beautiful symphony when things go as planned — which rarely happens. So, enjoy it when it does. More often, life is unpredictable and unscripted. Whatever happens, you need to be prepared to improvise at the moment. People with a high level of reactive adaptability are good at this kind of improvisation. You might describe this person as “always landing on their feet.”
Although your brain’s “fight vs flight” reaction will almost inevitably kick in when facing changes, complications, and pressure, reactive adaptability allows you to remain calm and in control in these moments instead of getting hijacked by your emotions.
At our core, human beings are social creatures. To adapt, we need to adjust our approach based on the views, feelings, and needs of others. This is what social adaptability is all about.
People who exhibit social adaptability continuously seek input from others, rather than simply considering their own opinion. In doing so, they are more likely to have a better outcome by drawing on the knowledge of people around them.
Social adaptability also includes seeking meaningful, two-way interactions rather than just focusing on your needs or message. This means being open to seeing and understanding others’ viewpoints and adjusting your approach based on new input.
Each day, we may face tough challenges and we often have to do so with limited time and resources. Creative adaptability is all about coming up with the best solutions in these situations. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” That’s the epitome of creative adaptability.
People who demonstrate creative adaptability usually think outside the box and see things from a different perspective. People with high creative adaptability are also more inclined to consider the bigger picture, which can help them to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated problems and solutions.
No matter how hard you train, it’s just not possible to sprint a whole marathon. Slowing down to pause, catch your breath, and reassess is sometimes needed to stay at our best and on track. People with high lifestyle adaptability are much better at doing this in their day-to-day lives. They are able to truthfully recognize their limits and carefully monitor their work-life balance, taking the time to invest in both and recharge when needed.
Lifestyle adaptability can bring personal and career benefits. Although this strategy might cause you to lag behind on some short-term demands, it boosts your long-term effectiveness. This type of adaptability also prepares you for dealing with pressured situations and, more generally, helps you to live a healthier, happier life in the end.
Are You Adaptable?
Do you know if you are adaptable? What do you think? In his article in Forbes, “14 Signs of an Adaptable Person,” they identify the traits of adaptable people. They:
- see opportunity where others see failures,
- are resourceful,
- think ahead,
- don’t whine,
- talk to themselves,
- don’t blame others,
- don’t claim fame,
- are curious,
- are open-minded,
- see the big picture, and
- stay current.
Five Ways You Can Become More Adaptable
If you decided that you would like to develop your adaptability (I think we all could), remember it is a skill you can build and learn. Here’s how:
Begin to become aware of your mindset and work with it
Your mindset sets the foundation for the way you experience your life. The exact same events can happen to two different people, and each person’s brain will interpret the happenings and react differently. This, in turn, will cause different consequences to follow.
You can’t control the random thoughts that pop into your head. However, you can control how you respond to those thoughts. Instead of reacting and thinking in the same ways you always have, you can become aware of your habitual thought patterns and insert a pause. Then, you can work with your mind to go intentionally in a direction that supports and encourages adaptability.
Force yourself to take risks
Little progress is made without risk. For some, the idea of risk is so adverse that they will run from it as fast as they can, but taking risks is a key part of being adaptable. Start small and gradually increase. You will get more comfortable with change, uncertainty, and fear, the more you expose yourself to it. Also, don’t forget to train, practice, and prepare. Through repetition and experience, you can program your brain to perform and make better decisions under stress when the pressure is on.
Encourage an open-mind
Encourage yourself to “think outside of the box.” Distance yourself from and question your typical thoughts and beliefs. Analyze them objectively from different angles. Is this just an inherited belief from your past? Is there another way you could think about it? Drop the storylines usually running in your head and any personal emotional investment you have in the situation for a minute. Try on different points of view and zoom out to see the bigger picture.
People who are curious and open to new information tend to be more adaptable. They embrace learning new things and new ways of thinking. In fact, challenging your brain will help keep it sharp and healthy. Keep current on new technologies in your industry. Attend informational seminars providing more knowledge about some aspects of your job. Work on self-improvement. Network with and learn from colleagues. Ask them about their career paths. Read what they read, etc.
Re-frame how you view change
You can condition your brain to not fear change automatically. Learning to get comfortable with a level of uncertainty and ambiguity can reduce stress and help you be more adaptable. You get more comfortable with change and more confident about your ability to manage and make the most of it by exposing yourself to it.
When you feel yourself getting anxious about change, remember that it’s your brain’s natural response and try to consciously change your perspective by looking for the good, speculating possible positive outcomes, and not automatically believing the negative thoughts. It also helps to remind yourself that change is the only way good things happen and come into your life too — not just bad.
Being able to adapt is already a vital skill for success in your career and life, in general, and it’s only going to get more crucial. You can help yourself succeed by building your adaptability skills and by being proactive. Change is the only constant, in life and in the business world. You must be skilled at adapting to the disruptions that have become commonplace these days, with pandemics, natural disasters, man-made crises, etc. The question isn’t if change will happen; it is when and how much.
This post was first mentioned in the Authoritti5.0 Magazine