Characteristics of an Adapting Mindset

“A traditional manager focuses on following the plan with minimal changes, whereas an agile leader focuses on adapting successfully to inevitable changes,” (Highsmith J. , Agile Project Management, 2009). Change is inevitable, what we can manage is how we respond to change. In an environment of volatility, ambiguity, and uncertainty, how can leaders expect to conform to a plan, in particular one that predicts results a year or more in the future? While most managers would agree that change is inevitable, those same managers often fail to put appropriate adaptation mechanisms in place. Adapting is one of the four critical leadership mindsets shown in the figure.

In most organizations of any size we encourage conformity and optimization. To be agile and adaptive, we need to encourage risk taking and quirkiness. Having an adaptive mindset means that someone is open to change and understands the change process—opening individuals to see reality as it is, not as they think it should be; realizing that adaptation is a natural process that can be goal directed, but not controlled; grasping that adaptation is driven by emergent (innovative) results that are generated by collaborative processes operating at the edge-of-chaos (minimal structure); organizing for rapid decision making; and acting for change.

“Experimentation matters because it is through learning equally what works and what doesn’t that people develop great new products, services, and entire businesses. But in spite of the lip service that is paid to “testing” and “learning from failure,” today’s organizations, processes, and management of innovation often impede experimentation.(Thomke, S. Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation, 2003)

And, I might add, today’s organization, processes, and management often impedes successful adaptation to business turbulence. Changing and adapting are not the same and the difference between them is important. There is no goal inherent in change—as the quip says, “stuff happens.” Adaptation, on the other hand, is directed towards a goal (suitability).

Change is mindless; adaptation is mindful. Adaptation can be considered a mindful response to change.