There are contexts where change is optional and we affirm that every change has an element of choice. However, in the current state of the world, “to change or not to change is NOT the question”. The new norm requires the cultivation of a way of being that is characterised by adaptive capacity. This is essentially the capability to continuously learn and strategically adapt, to both survive and thrive. In biology, life forms which can adapt or possess traits making them “fit” for their environment increase their likelihood of success in the emerging reality. For adult humans, we can intentionally nurture our ability to learn, create robust learning cycles and cultivate a way of being that is useful in times of tumultuous systemic changes. This is challenging and is a combination of a number of highly desirable abilities; foremost among them is observation or awareness. The first to notice that things are changing in a significant way often have the best chance at adapting to present and future conditions.
Adaptive people are people who notice. Or as Steve Sample calls them in his book, A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, “first class noticers.” People who pay attention to their feelings, gaps in their stories, the intensity of their emotions or the emotions of others, or even notice how they are thinking or acting in ways that are less than useful. They honestly observe how others respond to them and the impact of their actions, behaviours and ways I being. Asking, “Is what I am doing producing the results I expect it to?”
Another level of this touches the strategic, this being the ability to have an overview of things and also looking at the leading edge of where they are going. Asking questions like; “What am I not seeing?”, “Where is this trend leading?”, “What are the forces creating this movement?”, and “If this continues at this rate in this direction what are the implications?”.
If done well, observation will lead to the making of skillful choices about the urgency and direction of change. Think about areas of your leadership and life where signs were ignored or not even observed until it was too late. Strategic personal or organisational development requires proactive observation.
Also, consider recalibrating your “radar”. We tend to see what we are looking for and rarely question what our “radar” is tuned into. Observing what we unconsciously observe and making a conscious choice to expand our field of vision and depth of radar will open up a new level of awareness.
Finally, reflect whether there are any ways where you may challenge a held view in order to better adapt to today’s reality. What will you do if you find areas for exploration? How will you research and begin the process of adapting?
Choose to become a first class observer as the first step toward increasing your adaptive intelligence, agility and capacity.
Craig McKenzie and Tony Dickel