Adaptability is a two-edged sword.
On the one edge, the good edge, we use the ability to adapt to adjust to the hard things we need to do. We can, and do, get used to the new normal of a more difficult, yet more fruitful behavior. We toughen up, and soon this new behavior becomes normal or second nature. We adapt and grow.
A budget is a great example of this. Before the budget, we make decisions based on impulse, feelings, pressure from our friends —all manner of low-logic, high-emotion living. Not that this is bad necessarily, it’s just a terrible way to handle your money if you are trying to get anywhere of substance. But when the epiphany happens, and one becomes aware of the destructive nature of past spending patterns, we can establish a new normal. We can train ourselves and our spending, so we have a new way of handling money. In time, and with practice, the change ceases to be the “new” way and instead becomes the “normal” way. It may even become “the way we’ve always done it.” We forget about the discomfort of change when something more pleasant — making budget, not stressing about the bills — replaces it.
In this case, the ability to adjust is an asset.
Another great example of healthy adaptability is getting used to an exercise rhythm. Going to the gym can (and should) become a routine, and after a time this routine can become a lifestyle. The pain of working out is replaced with a feeling of accomplishing something better for yourself and your body.
We also adjust and adapt to things we cannot change and did not choose. Our ability to adapt can preserve our sanity and can keep us functioning and upright when things spin out of control. We adapt rather than check out or drop out of the race of life. These things that come our way, changing our life as they come, are things like loss, disabilities, and the economy, just to name a few. After the initial pain, we reshape our life. More accurately, it gets reshaped by the events which we did not expect or design. A new normal forms out of the dust and destruction, and given time, we settle down into a relative comfort of how things are.
There is a dark side to adaptability. This other edge of the adaptability sword causes us to adapt to things that should not stay the same. This is adaptability gone bad. Our ability to become used to the way things should not be is at best unhelpful, and at worst toxic and destructive.
In this state, we overlook broken systems. We sidestep things like strategy and structure. We become used to mediocrity. We grow accustomed to the staff and their quirks because they’ve always been here. Familiarity is the toxic potion that keeps us drowsy, and warmly ignoring the very things that need changing. We overlook the threat of competition, the creeping wave of inflation, or how the truth of a market is about to change.
Vision becomes subservient to and encased in the box of normalcy, getting compressed and distorted as we shove it into the confines of how things have always been.
This is where I see adaptability most often employed. As a visionary, you must become more aware of the fact that we all devolve and settle into a state of the lowest common denominator, and given time, this state will dictate all of the fundamentals of the organization. The lowest common denominator, or “don’t rock the boat” syndrome, will decide where we are going. This state will decide what our values are. This state will actually become the single most potent value, the monolithic and overarching core value at the center of the culture. “We’ve always done it that way” is the most common driving force in businesses I’ve come across in my profession.
But a good vision shakes all that up. It disrupts. Normalcy goes away, and everyone gets mad, or offended, or uncomfortable. A good vision makes schedules change, makes careers change. Often, the name on the top of the building changes.
So, when you feel yourself getting used to things, take a healthy dose of objectivity. It just might keep you from adapting too slowly and dying from the disease of mediocrity.
© 2023 Mark Whitmore