Is Resilience & Adaptability Learned?

Resilience and Adaptability - CB and Associates

Resilience and adaptability have become business buzzwords over this past year. I wanted to learn more about both these terms – especially adaptability. I wondered if the ability to adapt to disruptions successfully and quickly is an innate trait. Or is it something that can be learned? Turns out it is a little of both.

The Personal is Professional

Starting with the personal version of resilience before we move on to the organizational version. Eric Barker is a science blogger who writes about the effect of human behavior on success. Humorous and I always learn something. In this blog “How To Be Resilient: 5 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard” he uncovers some surprising facts about stress – including the fact that some stress can actually be good. Key Conclusion:

“When you survey people about how they cope with stress, 82% say they draw strength from past stressful experiences. And when researchers interview the folks who thrive under stress you hear something similar: they see it as an opportunity to grow. They choose meaning over avoiding discomfort. They embrace the challenge.”

In “Cultivate Your Adaptability” on the Spotify HR Blog, author Johanna Tingvall makes a distinction between flexibility and adaptability. She maintains that flexibility implies being able to stretch in known situations. But adaptability is the ability to creatively change our mindset in reaction to new information and emerging situations. And she says that this trait is even more important in our current times than either IQ or even EQ. This definition is interesting – more about mindset than any particular skill.

The Professional Can Be Personal Too

Next – from an organizational standpoint. Systems improvement consultants Kepner-Tregoe recommend pursuing sought-after skills. These include improving digital capabilities, staying connected and healthy, and finding work/life balance to increase both personal and institutional resilience. Check out their article “The Future of Work is a Flexible, Adaptable, and Resilient Workforce” for access to further information and resources.

McKinsey & Co goes all-in on adaptability as the one skill needed in today’s environment in “Everyone needs more of this one skill”. Calling adaptability the one “evergreen meta-skill” they talk about how to identify this skill and cultivate it. Organizational leaders should build adaptability, reinforce it, and track it to prioritize and strengthen it.
Characteristics of an organization that are adaptable include:

-Managing physical, mental, and spiritual well-being
-Cultivating the habits of a lifelong learner
-Nurturing relationships and teams that promote well-being and learning

Finally, Natalie Fratto is a Y-Combinator alum and former IBM Watson strategist. This 6-minute watch: “3 ways to measure your adaptability — and how to improve it” contains a clear way to identify if you have this skill and what it takes to become more adaptable.

Let me know what your experience has been with resilience and adaptability – what have you found helpful? How do you think people and organizations can prioritize resilience and adaptability? I would love to hear what you think!
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