The Key to Being Adaptable

| | Personal Leadership
The Key to Being Adaptable post image

If you want to be adaptable you must be willing to let go of the need to know the answer.

Why? Because there is rarely one answer: that single right answer to the questions you are being asked and are asking or the right path through the challenges you face.

Sure there are questions for which there is a known answer.  For example, what is the sum of 2 + 2? There are also those answers you can find in a book. For example, if you take a test on American History in the US in school the right answers can be found in the book you were assigned.

Yet if you took an American History class in another country they might use an entirely different book and some of the answers might not be the same.  And let’s not forget that for a very long time the answer to the question, “Is the world flat?” was a definitive, “Yes.”

The problem with needing to know “the” answer is the questions we are asking today are more often than not about an unknown future rather than a known past. The book is essentially not yet written.

So you have two choices:  wait for the book or become the author.

The thing is, you are already the author of your life, your career, your relationships, your business. Essentially you are the author of your past, present and future.  Whether you accept that or not is another matter entirely.

If you truly want to be adaptable you must first accept your role as author.

Until you do you may find yourself equipped for a world that no longer exists while you wait for someone to write the book with the answers.

Your choice.  Unless, of course, you know someone with a crystal ball.

What do you think it takes to be adaptable?


Enter A Comment

Suresh GP   |   23 March 2013   |   Reply

Great thought Susan! The degree of adaptability is determined by your choice of becoming an author

Basically we are the creators of our own destiny!

Susan Mazza   |   23 March 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Suresh

We are most definitely the creators!

Audra August   |   24 March 2013   |   Reply

Some interesting insights, Susan. This is very true…we’re not being adaptable when we either wait for an answer or when we don’t get the answer we were expecting. We can often create our own barriers this way. The magic is when we can shape our organizational culture to encourage risk taking and more open sharing of options and ideas – so people don’t wait and don’t get ‘stuck’. Thanks for getting me thinking!

Susan Mazza   |   25 March 2013   |   Reply

There is indeed magic when we are willing to become not only the authors of our own lives, but also of the culture of the organizations in which we invest a part of our lives. Glad to get you thinking and thank you for joining the conversation Audra. Look forward to hearing more of your thinking!

D'Anne Hotchkiss   |   24 March 2013   |   Reply

Susan — You have given me great inspiration! Wait for the book or be the author. I believe I will write this in bright red lipstick and large letters on my bathroom mirror and leave it there until the thought resonates in my head. Thank you for the encouragement.

Susan Mazza   |   25 March 2013   |   Reply

You have me thinking this could be a great bumper sticker! My daughter writes on her mirror with dry erase markers if you are looking for an alternative to lipstick :-)

So glad to have provided encouragement and inspiration to you D’Anne.

Alli Polin   |   25 March 2013   |   Reply

Susan – now that’s a call to action I’m going to answer! Wait for the book or be the author… Even set backs and uncertainty are taking each of us somewhere… just need to be intentional (and adaptable) along the way as we figure it out. Thank you, Susan!

Susan Mazza   |   25 March 2013   |   Reply

Excellent point Alli that “Even set backs and uncertainty are taking each of us somewhere”. We may not always choose our circumstances, but if we are the author we are always writing the story in what we choose to do and learn in the face of them.

Camille Smith   |   26 March 2013   |   Reply

great wisdom. well and clearly said. for me: it’s all the footnotes that Others are jamming into the book i’m authoring! i’m getting out the scissors.

Susan Mazza   |   03 April 2013   |   Reply

Excellent point about those pesky “footnotes” Camille!

Bill Matthies   |   02 April 2013   |   Reply

“If you want to be adaptable you must be willing to let go of the need to know the answer.”

Stretching a bit this reminds me of my strategy to regain control of what would have otherwise been an out-of-control closet/drawer problem.

Years ago I adapted a “one in, one out” policy for my clothes. Didn’t matter what I bought, everything from suits to shoes and all in between; bring a new one home meant something old had to go. However deciding which old one that would be was at times quite taxing until one day I simply decided I knew enough to act. Pick one and move on.

It’s not exactly the same with the need to know, but close enough. Sometimes focusing (too much) on gaining the “right” piece of “knowledge” consumes our ability to act. And as you said Susan, there’s rarely just one “answer”.

Better to spend a sufficient but not excessive amount of time knowledge gathering, acting decisively on what you learn, rather than getting bogged down looking for the perfect solution, or in the case of my closet, the perfect shirt.

Susan Mazza   |   03 April 2013   |   Reply

What a great illustration of the point Bill. “Analysis paralysis” caused by trying to make sure you make the right choice is all too common.

You said it well with this: “Better to spend a sufficient but not excessive amount of time knowledge gathering, acting decisively on what you learn, rather than getting bogged down looking for the perfect solution…”

Thanks for sharing your story and your wisdom!

Eduardo Lozano   |   04 April 2013   |   Reply

Great! Thank you.
One roadblock to overcome in being more adaptable is the training we’ve had since kindergarden to alway have “the right answer”. From golden stars to A+ we were rewarded for getting the right answer. And the answer had to be mine!!
There are many ways to skin a cat, bake a cake, or arrive at my destination.
I have been able to avoid unhealthy conflicts just by saying “that’s interesting, and what you propose is one way to go about it, what other alternatives are there?”

Thank you for the reflective mood.

Susan Mazza   |   04 April 2013   |   Reply

That is unfortunately so true Eduardo. It is very hard training to unlearn. Until we figure out more and better ways to reward students for the quality of their thinking and not just for “the right answers” we will be helping people entering the workforce to unlearn this for some time to come.

Thanks for offering your strategy for getting past the attachment to knowing the right answer – it’s a very good one!

Kent Julian   |   17 April 2013   |   Reply

Be the author. Write YOUR book. Those are truly “live it forward” concept. I love it, Susan! Great concepts and very well written.

Susan Mazza   |   17 April 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Kent! Hadn’t thought of it that way but you are right – it is a “live it forward” concept. Appreciate you adding your perspective.

Matt   |   11 June 2013   |   Reply

Do you know of a book that talks more about this art of adaptability…and no I’m not trying to be funny regarding the blog…haha. I have someone who needs this fodder for thought, and this would be a perfect chance to give him something that he can chew on and read about for weeks to come.

Susan Mazza   |   15 June 2013   |   Reply

Can’t think of a book specifically on the topic of adaptability unfortunately Matt. The key principle behind my point here is personal responsibility. There are a few more articles on the topic here – just scroll down to the word cloud in the right sidebar (or the bottom if you are on a mobile device) and click on this term in the sidebar. There is also a book on personal responsibility I can suggest called The Question Behind the Question (aka The QBQ). Hope that helps!

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