“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
A few years ago I decided to take boxing classes where I had the pleasure of being yelled at by a trainer three times a week along with 5-10 other people in the class. In the first class, something surprised me. When it came time for the group to use the punching bag, those who were the most physically intimidating were suddenly slow, sluggish, and uncoordinated. Although they were built like football players, they couldn't quite align all of that power and energy.
I've seen a parallel in boxing to how companies work. Large companies with vast amounts of resources and talent can often struggle when it comes time to act or change course. If all moving parts aren't in clear alignment, large companies lose the key asset of power during implementation. While in the past, this might have been the norm among large companies, we are now living in a world where speed is just as important as strength. It doesn't matter if you can throw a stronger punch if you get knocked out by a series of faster jabs.
To adapt to the rapid pace of the world, companies need to utilize their resources and learn how to move quickly or else run the risk of having market share chipped away by startups that can quickly adapt to changing consumer demand and technology. Buying every startup isn't a business strategy.
3 Ways To Become Adaptable
1. Have a Clear Mission and Values
While it's inevitable for some things to change, what you company stands for shouldn't. If your mission and values are constantly changing, it will to be difficult for anyone to actually know what the company stands for. Mission and values are like a compass. The direction of the winds will change, but the destination shouldn't. If you're constantly changing destinations, you'll end up stuck out at sea.
2. Develop a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, argues that people who see long term success in business and life have a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. She writes,
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
Companies of all sizes who don't hire growth mindset employees are going to suffer for it. Employees have to believe they can learn something before they learn it. If they view their skills as fixed, they’ll be resistant to any change, even if positive.
"Just because some people can so something with little or no training, it doesn't mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training."
Dweck provides a great example of the difference between a fixed and growth mindset, in her comparison of John McEnroe to Michael Jordan.
John McEnroe is one of the greatest tennis players of all time yet held an extremely fixed mindset. When things weren't going well he would blame the judges, the weather - anything but himself. He couldn't admit he made mistakes because he saw his talent as fixed, which would mean admitting he had weaknesses he couldn't overcome. His fixed mindset was also responsible for his poor practicing habits. If his talent was innate, what was the point of spending time practicing? Of course if he held a growth mindset, he would have been able to deal with many of the setbacks and become even better.
Michael Jordan is a perfect example of a person with the growth mindset. As someone who is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, he was cut from his high school basketball team, wasn't recruited by the college he wanted to play for, and was passed over by two teams in the NBA draft. Yet, instead of the setbacks slowing him down or making him give up, they motivated him to practice harder. He wasn't born with a perfect talent for basketball, as his being cut from his high school basketball team proves; he worked incredibly hard to become better throughout his entire career.
3. Commit To Continuous Learning
Learning is a lifelong process. To quote the entrepreneur Felix Dennis, "Anyone not busy learning is busy dying." Besides hiring people with a growth mindset and developing a growth mindset in employees, companies need to take an active role in providing access to learning as well as self-directed learning.
The most talented people in every organization are curious and interested in learning more about how they can perform their specific role better and help the company. Companies can leverage the curiosity by providing a learning management system for self-directed learning or a knowledge management system to open up the exchange of ideas and allow people at the company to teach others what they know. Creating a culture of learning can happen by accident, but it works best when it is a deliberate choice.
"A plant needs roots in order to grow. With man it is the other way around: only when he grows does he have roots and feels at home in the world."
- Eric Hoffer
By committing to continuous learning, companies are committing to employee growth and the overall success of the company. As the quote from Eric Hoffer suggests, in order for employees to feel at home in an organization, they need to experience growth. Establishing continuous learning is a way for companies to get smarter and more committed employees.
Boxing was a great lesson in the power of speed and the importance of aligning multiple moving parts. The classes changed my view of strength and size to something that could also be a weakness. There is the temptation to believe that size and power alone are enough to be competitive, but it was the older and faster Muhammad Ali who surprised everyone when he defeated the much stronger George Foreman in 1974.
Though change seems to be happening at an ever increasing rate, companies that can remain adaptable and continue to learn will have the most successful change.