Choosing Adaptability by Gary Gagliardi and The Science of Strategy Institute

Adaptability

When you are dealing with adaptive challenges, there is no obvious answer to the question “What is going on here?” Trying to define the problem at hand is a contentious act in itself. Managing this ambiguity requires courage, tenacity, and an experimental mind-set: you try things out, see what happens, and make changes accordingly. When you adopt an experimental mind-set, you actively commit to an intervention you have designed while also not letting yourself become wedded to it. That way, if it misses the mark, you do not feel compelled to defend it. This mind-set also opens you to other, unanticipated possibilities. Thinking experimentally also opens you to learning: you stay open to the possibility that you might be wrong. Finally, an experimental mind-set facilitates the iterative nature of the adaptive leadership process: you make an intervention based on your interpretation of the situation, and you see what happens. You use the results of your experiment to take the next step or to make a midcourse correction.

In this piece, Gary Gagliardi of the Science of Strategy Institute offers some great insights into adaptability through the wisdom of Sun Tzu and The Art of War.

Stay Oriented!

Fred

Choosing Adaptability

Description: Sun Tzu's five rules for choosing actions that allow us a maximum of future flexibility.

"Make war without a standard approach. Water has no consistent shape." Sun Tzu's The Art of War, 6:8:8-9

Perspective: "All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns." Bruce Lee

 

Situation: When we choose to pursue a specific opportunity, we narrow our focus, but in narrowing our focus, we must still keep our options open. We cannot plan out all the specific moves or actions that we will use to pursue that opportunity beforehand. If we do, we are putting blinders on without realizing it. Executing our plans puts us on a clear path but blinds us to other options. Blinded by expectations, we cannot truly see where we are and where we going. We can restrict ourselves to a narrow path . We decrease our chance of discovering how to make the opportunity pay.

Opportunity: Adaptability requires the ability to move in a new direction at any time. Exploring an opportunity means expecting unforeseen discoveries (3.1.5 Unpredictable Value). Exploration takes time so we must be prepared for unforeseen events to occur (2.3.2 Reaction Unpredictability). We must choose our initial actions so that we can easily adapt them to emerging circumstances. Success in moving to new positions requires both our commitment to the goal and flexibility as to our methods. Our goal of exploring an opportunity remains the same, but we want to be free to choose a different path of exploration at any time.

Sun Tzu's Rules: In choosing how to explore an activity, we must keep the following rules in mind.

  1. To use adaptability, we must expect anything and everything. We have to admit to ourselves that we do not know what we will find when we explore an opportunity. Exploring an opening requires opening ourselves up to the possibilities. Discovery always lies outside of our expectations and assumptions. This is the fun and excitement and terror of real strategy. Any given step may lead onward or to a dead-end. It may lead to fortune of failure. We commit ourselves to taking the next step with this in mind (5.2 Opportunity Exploration).
  2. To improve our adaptability, we choose initial activities that give us a better vantage point. From a better vantage point, we can get the lay of the land. Every step forward into an opening is experimental. The goal of the experiment is to discover more about the opportunity. With a broader point of view, we can pick better and better follow-up activities to explore the terrain we discover (2.4.1 Ground Perspective).
  3. To maintain our adaptability, we choose activities that allow adjustment to unexpected events. We must prepare ourselves not only for discovering more but for what we already know to change. We must choose initial actions that gives us the greatest possible flexibility to adapt to these unforeseen events. Situations will change in expected ways. Especially when opportunities require us to navigate difficult ground forms, we must choose activities that minimize the common types of problems we will encounter from climate shifts ((1.4.1 Climate Shift, 4.3 Ground Forms).
  4. To improve our adaptability, we choose directions that open up new options. Exploration is a learning activity. Every choice closes some doors, but when we have the option, we should pick activities that open more doors than they close. To do this, the best activities usually get us over a small barrier that obstructs other options (4.5.2 Opportunity Barriers).
  5. To get the most out of our adaptability, we must leverage the conditions we find . A journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step, but there is an inherent difference between traveling a well-mapped route and exploring unknown territory. Adapting to an opportunity means taking what the situation gives us. In a sense, our initial steps are experiments to discover the path of least resistance. We only have limited resources and we don't want to waste them tackling challenges until we have looked for a way around them (1.8.2 The Adaptive Loop).

Illustration:

Let us illustrate these ideas with the simple analogy of choosing to right vehicle to explore unknown terrain.

  1. To use adaptability, we must expect anything and everything. We don't buy a train ticket to explore unknown terrain. We don't want an ordinary car, even if the road looks smooth. We want a rugged four-wheel drive SUV with good visibility all around because we don't know what we will find.
  2. To improve our adaptability, we choose initial activities that give us a better vantage point. Since there are no roads, we want to choose a route that works its way up a hill to get the lay of the land.
  3. To maintain our adaptability, we choose activities that allow adjustment to unexpected events. We don't go into narrow ravines where a rock fall might block us or a rain storm could flood us. We don't cross rivers where we might get stuck or hit unexpected currents.
  4. To improve our adaptability, we choose directions that open up new options. We head for areas where the underbrush looks thinner, rocks fewer, the ground more even, less sticky, and slippery.
  5. To get the most out of our adaptability, we must leverage the conditions we find . While we can get over the rocks or fallen trees blocking our path, we first try to find a way around them.

PDF Download: Article PDF: 5.2.1 Choosing Adaptability