What is Adaptability?

I’ve been exploring adaptability in this blog for several years now, but I haven’t defined it rigorously. I discovered this report: Training Adaptable Leaders: Lessons from Research and Practice from the US Army, and I’m slowly digesting it.

Here’s how the report defines adaptability:

an effective change in response to an altered situation.

Well, that part works for me.

The report goes on to divide eight dimensions of adaptability into these three areas:

  • Mental Adaptability: how you think in normal or emergency situations to be effective, how you solve problems.
  • Interpersonal Adaptability: how you interact with others, including cultural adaptation.
  • Physical Adaptability: adjusting to the current environment. The report talks about physical strength. I would talk about managing your own body to be able to do what you want to do, given what you are able to do now.

There are some personality traits related to adaptability:

  • Self-efficacy: the belief in one’s abilities. You can grow this, with the growth mindset.
  • Resiliency: How quickly can you recover from change/hardship? I think this depends on the change or hardship. Some of us are “built” more resilient than others, but you can grow this, also.
  • Open-ness: how open are you to new things? How curious are you to trying a new set of circumstances?
  • Achievement motivation: People who are high on this motivation tend to persist longer with a set of tasks than people who are lower on this motivation. (There is no Right or Wrong here.)
  • Tolerance of ambiguity: How easily do you cope with environmental uncertainty?
  • Willingness to learn: do you demonstrate enthusiasm to learning new things?

My opinion: Some of us are born with some of these things. Some of us develop them. I was born with a tremendous willingness to learn many things except knitting. Not interested. If you told me that knitting would create new neural pathways in my brain that might cure my vertigo would I be interested? Oh, yes. But, under normal circumstances? Big yawn. Sorry if I offended you knitters. I wanted to provide a real-world example after all these lists.

There are some other skills:

  • General cognitive ability: How you see and act in the world. Here’s a great post.
  • Problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • Metacognitive skills. The report actually gives the example “For example, someone making a difficult decision might ask himself “Have I considered multiple alternatives?” (fist pump.)
  • Communication skills.
  • Self and other awareness skills.

And then,

  • Domain specific knowledge. This is an army report. I am not going into the armed forces. (Can you imagine?)
  • Varied adaptive experience. The more varied experience you have, the more adaptable you could be.

The report goes on to how they select and train leaders for adaptability. But us adaptable problem solvers can use this for our thinking.

Supposedly the personality traits are hardwired. But I bet, if you wanted to increase your adaptability, you could learn to be more comfortable with the more adaptable personality traits. This is similar to working outside your preferences from MBTI. I hate to think that personality is destiny. I don’t believe that it is. You can stretch and learn to adapt your personality, too. That’s what the growth mindset is all about.

Certainly you can grow the other skills, such as problem solving, communication, and self awareness skills.

What do you think? Think this is a bunch of hooey, or are they on to something?

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