What’s the Difference Between Resilience and Adaptability?

Many people use the terms adaptable and resilience interchangeably. However, they mean different things and we live and use them differently.

When we are adaptable, we see that reality has changed. We don’t deny that reality. Because we admit that we have a new reality, we can find new approaches to manage our responses to changes in the world. We adapt to that new reality.

If you use an agile approach in your work, you create adaptability whenever you use double-loop learning. I often need to see my mental models so I can challenge them. You need two things for adaptability: recognizing something has changed. And, the ability to create alternatives.

When we are resilient, we find ways to persevere. Even in the face of challenges, we have enough belief in ourselves. (See the building resilience series.) We first need sufficient physical capability, then problem-solving capability, then somehow know we can find our way past this.

I suspect there is a feedback loop: When we encourage change, we see reality has changed and that we need to generate alternatives. And, when we generate alternatives, we feel better about ourselves. That allows us to be more resilient. When we practice resilience and adaptability, we can create more adaptability.

I suspect that belief in ourselves leads directly into greater adaptability. And, that’s where people might confuse resilience and adaptability.

Resilience Helps Us Move Forward…

When I practice being resilient, I increase my ability to move past this event to something forward despite setbacks.

If you’ve seen me in person during the last few years, you’ve only seen me walk with a rollator. Even in the house, I use a rollator. I can maintain a fast walking pace, and stay upright with a rollator. Without? A little iffy. (Okay, more than a little iffy.) The rollator helps me maintain and build physical health.

When I’m not worried about falling over, I can be my normal self-confident self.

Notice that resilience is primarily an emotional topic. It’s how we feel about ourselves: our physical self, our problem-solving and confident selves. I can’t think my way through resilience. I feel it.

Adaptability Helps Us Create Options

I also practice my adaptability, my ability to discover and use new ways of working and living.

For me, everything changes at least a little bit every day. Those of us who live with vertigo know that sleep, food choices, and even the barometric pressure can cause changes in how we feel. Sometimes, minute to minute. Definitely day to day.

I can’t change how I react to vertigo. I can manage my adaptability to it. (This is similar to your company not being able to change the market. Your company can manage its responses—its adaptability—to the market.)

I practice my adaptability with the Rule of Three, with thinking about my choices. I can think about my choices when I have enough belief in myself to know I can generate options. And, in order to generate options, I have to be not too off-kilter. (Yes, that was a little vertigo joke!)That’s why if you’re sick, especially with a head cold, you might not think all that well. You don’t see alternatives.

I need to think to create options.

We need both adaptability and resilience in our lives. If we expect change, we can build our resilience and find ways of moving forward. If we practice adaptability, we can create more resilient lives and workplaces.

That’s the question this week: What’s the difference between resilience and adaptability? I hope if you disagree with me, you add a comment.

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