When the only constant in life changes, your best defence will always be the ability to adapt. If you learn only one skill in your life – learn to be inherently flexible.
Adaptation is the secret key to survival. Species that thrive are those that can adapt genetically, physically, and mentally faster than others. Evolution itself isn’t exactly a fast process. According to Phys.org, “for a major change to persist and for changes to accumulate, it [takes, on average,] about one million years.” It’s the ability to adjust quickly that gives human beings the edge on our planet.
In fact, human beings are considered the most adaptive species on the planet. Our brains give us a huge advantage when it comes to our ability to adapt. “In fact, in the human genome, there are all kinds of interactions that allow human organisms to have plasticity — the capacity to adjust is itself an evolved characteristic.” Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History tells Scientific American in an article.
So why does this matter? Because as a human being, especially one aware of the ability to adapt, you can harness this skill for good.
What Makes Something Able to Adapt?
The ability to change. The more something can adapt (change) to suit the needs of the environment, the more likely survival and proliferation will be. In business, adaptability is equally important. Rather than a populous increase, we want the proliferation to be in the clientele and profit margins. Rather than literal survival, a business fights for economic survival.
In my social life, the rare occasions I attempt to venture forth from my domicile, I’ve noticed something. A person can get by without adapting, though they need support to do it. A business, however, has very few ways to reach out when they refuse to adapt.
For example, I’ve known individuals who have lived at home with their parents far past a reasonable age. These individuals have expressed a refusal to adapt and go out to make it on their own. The support from the parents, AKA enabling, allows this refusal to be functional. Only humans do this; In the wild, the animal that fails to adapt likely doesn’t survive.
It could be friends, family, parents, welfare… There are many ways a human being can choose to personally avoid adaptation. A business has far fewer options. Sure, they can borrow money or resources to avoid adapting… though what else? When a business fails to adapt, there really isn’t a safety net (unless you’re a rich kid with a trust fund).
Which is why most successful, longstanding businesses are flexible. Look at some of the greatest names in their industries, and they all have very different, very humble beginnings. They don’t become overnight perfection, they cultivated it over time while adjusting to the ebbs, flows, needs and wants.
I consider these 3 things to be the cornerstones of adaptability in business.
- The ability to get past what you know.
- The ability to get past your ego.
- The ability to trial and error to succeed.
Let me tell you why.
If You Preconceived It, Let It Go
In this case, I LOVE to be the bearer of bad news. If your ideas and notions are recycled rather than processed each time, you’re not going to get far. You can’t just copy paste. Eventually, things will change. Having preconceived notions, an opinion formed beforehand means that your reactions are predicated of a pile of speculation, not fact. Like weather prediction, you can only get so close, though if you can update your audience fast enough, you’re still ahead of the curve.
Worse yet is when the preconceived notions are incorrect or self-deprecating. Hanging on to those notions will cripple both you and your business. It is true that we learn through trial and error, and our knowledge is the collected sum. However, when we let those notions impact present-day decisions WITHOUT looking for new truths, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
That’s why letting go of your preconceived notions is one of the three cornerstones of being able to adapt. All you need to do is look at each situation as it’s own, collect all of your relevant data, and then make and take action. Leave what you “know” at the door and be open to truly see and experience.
It’s Not Them, It’s You
Many out there may disagree though I’ll say it anyhow. Your ego will directly impact your ability to adapt.
Think your way is the BEST way? Is the ONLY way? Have you been doing it the same with for years with success? Do you refuse to change thinking you know better? That’s your ego talking.
And it’s wrong.
Yes, there will be things that you excel at, though always someone better. Yes, you will likely be in situations where your way is the best way, though you can’t possibly know that without examing all aspects. Yes, you did some awesome thing and that has merit. Great.
However, none of the above should dictate the terms of your reactions to any given situations. Use your senses to gather information, your brain to process it, and use your ego to enact the confidence to make it happen. that’s the only place that ego really belongs.
Otherwise, stuff the little bugger, be humble, learn a few damn things, and adapt.
Ruin, Rise, Rinse, Repeat
There is no magic pill. No secret sauce. No get rich quick. It’s perseverance and adaptation all the way. If you are lucky enough to get it right the first time, beware your first falter, it will be greater than others. It’s about knowing you’ll make mistakes, embracing them anyways, and the learning from them.
I watched a TED the other day and in it, the speaker Reshma Saujani, said that the reason men adapts more effectively than women is that they expect to meet challenges. It’s rather poignant and worth watching because she isn’t wrong. The best female CEOs are ballsy risk takers and they know the value of an attempt.
Imagine if we only ever took one shot at something. One try and then it’s pass or fail. Can you imagine? Some of the greatest inventions of all time came indirectly while failing to develop something else entirely. Here are 10 of those inventions to give you an idea.
That’s why the 3rd cornerstone is the ability to f*&# it all up, get back up, make a few adjustments and try again. It’s how I like to test designs, codes and projects. We try to break them, fixing after each hiccup, until eventually there are no more issues to fix.
Sacha, Why Are You Telling Me This?
Before running a business, I was a perfectionist. Hardcore. I wanted nothing more than to be perfectly right all the time. I still get fits where I crave that controlled perfection. I thought that it would be an ideal trait to have as a business owner.
Quite the opposite. The more time I spent spinning my tires chasing a perfection I couldn’t even identify, the less time I was being productive. I mean, until you bugger up, how are you supposed to know what “right” even looks like? So I’d hammer away trying to obtain perfection only to achieve exhaustion. When I broke it down, that perfectionism was driven by my ego, my preconceived notions, and my resistance to “failure”. (Which is really just an attempt in disguise!)
Now, do you understand why I’m sharing this with you?
I have harnessed my need to be a perfectionist and poured it into wanting to be perfectly adaptable. Now that’s something I can get behind.
What about you?
Thanks for reading – talk soon!