Adaptability is the extent to which we effectively manage and deal with the inevitability of change. It is now recognised as a key human intelligence that can be assessed, measured and developed. Adaptability is also one of the major pillars of resilience as it helps us to embrace and flow with change and adversity rather than resist it.
Our ability to adapt and create new ways of meeting challenges has always been critical to our survival. According to paleoanthropologist Richard Potts, human evolution, survival and eventual dominance, was mostly due to the development of a large brain with the capability of adaptive behaviour.
He explains how the evolution of the human brain is a clear example of our ability to adapt. Modern human brains are social brains that give us the capacity for information sharing, creating and passing on knowledge and engaging in complex, large-scale collaboration. In this way, humans can adjust to new challenges and situations.
One of the most significant changes we are currently witnessing is rapid technological change. This is impacting our lives on all levels. Natalie Fratto, a specialist on change strategy, explains how we are compelled to grapple with more technological change than ever before in human history.
The acceleration in technological advancement over the next 10 years will equal that of the last 100 years. Eighty per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2025 did not exist in 2017 and the average amount of jobs that people will have in a lifetime is six, with six different companies. Business giants like Blackberry, Blockbuster and RadioShack, bowed down to agile acrobats like Apple, Netflix and Amazon.
The Covid-19 virus is another example of a massive medical, social, economic and psychological disruptor that is challenging our capacity for rapid adjustment and mass collaboration. While its future is unknown and its long-term impact is yet to be seen, we have all witnessed excellent examples of adaptability in the way we work, play, socialise and live our lives.
As the rate of change accelerates, adaptability is becoming even more essential. Transformational consultant, Jennifer Jones, suggests practical ways in which we can develop our adaptability.
The first is developing a strong sense of purpose. When we have a clear mission in our lives, we are more focused on our destination. This helps us to weather storms without getting derailed or demotivated. It also gives us the energy to find new, effective ways of adapting and overcoming obstacles. A sense of meaning and purpose makes the struggle worth our while and it is particularly important when the going gets tough!
Another practice she suggests is to nurture and maintain our inquisitiveness. This is referred to as having a growth mindset, a beginner’s attitude or the curiosity of a child. Having this approach to life prevents us from becoming set in our ways and as a result rigid and inflexible. It encourages life-long un-learning and learning, that involves letting go of old ways and trying new ways of doing things. British philosopher, Alain De Botton, is quoted as saying, “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough”.
The third area is resilience building. Resilience gives us the confidence that we can overcome obstacles and bounce back from setbacks. With this confidence, we feel more confident to try out new things and move outside our comfort zone. There are many ways we can build our resilience such as investing in deep meaningful and supportive relationships; mastering emotional regulation; developing healthy thinking habits and moderating our levels of stress.
Other practical adaptability building behaviours we can practise are:
Adaptability is like a muscle that we can develop with practice and training. While we cannot control or predict all the changes that occur in our lives, we can always manage our response to these changes. However, by being proactive, and by reading the signs of the times we can often anticipate change and prepare for it in the best way possible. The inevitability of change need not be a constant threat to our wellbeing, but a force that makes our life a journey of learning that helps us become better, wiser and stronger.