Surviving a changing workplace: Learn to adapt


You probably know why adaptability is essential in the workplace, but how about the ‘how’? These tips were 'adapted' from the US Military's techniques for training people in combat leadership. (So pretty much exactly what you do on a daily basis.) 

Adaptability is often seen as a leadership trait, but you don't have to be a leader to learn it. In fact, it's a skill critical to surviving and thriving in a changing digital landscape. Someone, or something, is always going to rock the boat you're in.
Why not learn to go with the flow? 

Adults seem to learn better when discovering for themselves the answers to problems, as opposed to following traditional classroom methods that emphasize oral communication
— London & Bassman

Know thy team

You need to know who you’re working with. Get to know your immediate environment so you can rely on that information when the time comes. Let’s put it into perspective. If you suddenly needed to send an employee interstate for a meeting, you could draw upon your knowledge of a new employee’s background. They’ve worked with a similar client before and actually grew up in that state. Sure, there may be someone more experienced in the company, but you know the newbie is a better fit because you took the time to learn about them. You can adapt better to the situation because you know your team has got this.

Solve problems creatively, together

Always think outside the box. It’s such a cliche but it works. Spitting out ideas that might not have been tried before could result in something far more effective. Your head of team needs to set from the get go that the environment is open to feedback, and therefore open to adaptability. You know, being able to develop far better solutions because everyone has the chance to talk and voice opinions freely. The whole participatory culture thing. Your whole team is open to more ideas; therefore, you can broaden your approach to a problem. Very cool.

Give and receive pats and slaps on the back

This is somewhat connected to the previous point. You’ve got to give feedback to get feedback. A team is only going to improve if it knows where mistakes are made, otherwise you just dig yourself deeper into a rut. Ask for people’s opinions about both the good and the bad, and actually listen to them. Own up to your mistakes and suggest ways you can be better. Give praise when it’s due. Creating a “feedback loop” will make it easier for you to deal with criticism in the future and give you better ideas of how to help others improve.


Expand your domain knowledge

Now, this is a very important point and not something you can teach but simply something you need to do. Domain knowledge is knowledge about the subject you’re tackling. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to run a 10k marathon unless you knew the basics of running. If you wanted to fix a machine, you’d need basic knowledge of the machine. You need the context of the circumstances you’re in. Gather as much information about a new situation as you can, as soon as it occurs.


Try lots of weird, new things

Domain knowledge leads into this next point! Try as many weird, new things as you can. Or in more professional terms, gain experience in as many fields as you can. Experience is critical in being adaptive because it’s all about your knowledge gains. The more situations you’ve got stored in your memory, the greater the knowledge reserves are that you can draw upon. Get yourself stuck into as many new things and weird situations as you can because when one comes up unexpectedly, you’re going to be way more ready and way less stressed when dealing with it. You’ll also become desensitised to weird things, so the shock aspect won’t come into play.


Just do it. Again and again

Practicing being adaptive is going to make you more adaptive. Practice makes permanent, after all. Pulakos, who we mentioned in the previous article, “demonstrated a positive link from past experience in adaptive situations and adaptive performance”. Now, gaining the same experience isn’t going to help you when a new situation arises. It could even hurt you if you just approach it from the same mindset. Think of it like getting stuck in a rut of bad practice when you should be using core skills to approach situations differently every time. Make sure you throw yourself into situations that change things up a lot because practising adaptability will make you more adaptive. Solidify that core skill set.



This one is some real 'boots on the ground' material. The US Military trains using a strategy called “Crawl-Walk-Run”. You can probably figure out what it means for learning. It begins with learning the basic knowledge (crawling), then putting that knowledge into practice slowly (walking) before using it in the real world (running). Get the basics down, then slowly introduce them into scenarios so you can use them as needed.

"Training for real-world scenarios is important, but training correctly is crucial."


Screw Up

You need to screw things up. Set yourself up to fail so you can learn why someone else would. Make sure you acknowledge your naturally-occurring mistakes as well. You can create strategies out of dealing with those mistakes and learn how to cope with the feeling of failure. That way, when you screw up for real, you’ll be so much calmer and analytical about it and actually benefit from the whole mistake.

Jake the Dog's wisdom works for both intentional and unintentional failures.

Jake the Dog's wisdom works for both intentional and unintentional failures.

It doesn't take much to put the above into practice. And guess what? You can only get better at it. Each new experience adds to your adaptability. Your media, industry of work, and the world are only going to become more different; why not start adapting to them now?