“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”
– Charles Darwin
We live in an era of constant change.
We’ve heard this so often over the past few years that it’s easy to dismiss it. But for most of the era in which Sapiens have roamed the planet there was very little change.
Author Jonah Goldberg, in an interview promoting his latest book, engages in a thought exercise where an alien is assigned to check in on human progress throughout human existence from the beginning, and visits planet Earth each 10,000 years. Goldberg describes the series of reports the alien makes back to headquarters as follows:
“The first time you show up, you would write, ‘semihairless apes foraging and fighting for food’. Come back in another 10,000 years, you would write, ‘semihairless apes foraging and fighting for food’; no change. So on your 25th visit, you would come back, and your ship would be spotted by NORAD, and you would maybe get here just in time to see Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl.”
Goldberg’s point is clear: virtually everything that is “new” has happened since 1700, and the vast majority of that change has happened very recently.
It’s helpful to think of change in evolutionary terms – thus the quote at the beginning of this post from Chuck Darwin. After all, our reactions to the world around us are deeply imprinted from millennia of survival skills. The familiar is comforting, whereas the unfamiliar portends danger.
And so it is in an era of demographic shifts, economic transformation, supply chain disruption, and global competition. The possibility of existential threat to our careers, our communities, and our opportunities seems be growing.
Into this swirly vortex of change, striding purposefully, is the adaptable human. That human is you.
“But I don’t see myself as adaptable”, you might say. Nonsense. If you’re reading this you are the off-spring of the generations who adapted and succeeded. You have adaptability in your DNA (I don’t know if that is scientifically true, but work with me here).
The Clifton StrengthsFinder – something I’ve written about before (enter “StrengthsFinder” in the search box above) – lists 34 “themes” that describe a general strength. The idea, if you’re not familiar with it, is that we tend to invest too much time attending to and shoring up our weaknesses, but we should instead focus on further developing and leveraging our strengths. Let’s face it – if you stink at analytical thinking when you’re thirty years old you’re unlikely to be great at it when you’re fifty.
One of the strengths is “Adaptability”. The StrengthsFinder website describes it like this:
You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans.
Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them. You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once.
Some ideas for you:
- There are many roads to adaptability. You might discover that you’re adaptable through your interest in others, or the deliberative way in which you observe coming change.
- Your past will prove that you’re adaptable. Just look at all you’re been through – the personal challenges, the moves, the growing up years, the professional twists and turns. You’re probably more amazing and adaptable than you fully realize.
- Push yourself into some uncomfortable situations to further exercise your “adaptability muscle”. I’m not talking about things like swallowing swords or dancing with snakes (although if you do one of these I’d like the video). I mean going to a civic meeting you might not otherwise attend, or talking with someone who is outside of your comfort zone for one reason or another, or whatever. The point is to get outside your comfort zone and expand your world a bit.
Being adaptable is something I look for when I’m interviewing job candidates, and it’s something this crazy, changing world will value more and more as time moves on.