The volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, even chaotic, state of today’s business environment is a modern truism. Unenlightening as that truism may be, one thing that’s worth appreciating is the very real need for entrepreneurs to embrace and nurture their own ability to adapt.
Personal adaptability was one of eight “critical capabilities” of successful business leaders identified in a 2015 white paper, “Leading Now: Critical Capabilities for a Complex World,” published by Harvard Business Publishing. The authors had developed a “Leadership Capabilities Framework” describing 20 broad capabilities that leaders need to be successful. These capabilities fall into three domains of control: Leading the Business, Leading Others, and Leading Yourself. Of these 20 capabilities, eight were deemed “critical.” Personal adaptability falls into that third category.
But what does personal adaptability look like in real terms? Turns out that scholarly research into that single trait as it applies to entrepreneurs is not easy to unearth; there’s been relatively little of it published that’s specific to that niche. But the popular business press has much to say about it. And glancing over some representative samples provides an interesting overlap:
The HBP white paper describes personal adaptability in terms of resilience, practices that support resilience (such as time management and meditation), and leadership effectiveness. But key to this critical capability is steering clear of a “That’s how we’ve always done it” mentality. “Instead,” the paper states, leaders “look at new realities through fresh eyes so they can spot and seize valuable opportunities.”
This notion of looking “through fresh eyes” is a theme you’ll find offered by numerous teachers and business travelers who have gone before us.
In Fast Company’s “4 Steps to Becoming More Adaptable to Change” Jennifer Garvey Berger offers the following tips:
- Ask different questions.
- Accept multiple perspectives.
- Consider the bigger picture.
- Experiment and learn.
“4 Tips for Being More Flexible and Adaptable,” by Simon T. Bailey, takes a more circuitous approach:
- Think creatively
- Embrace ambiguity.
- Exercise emotional intelligence.
- Shift focus.
See some overlap here?
The first three of Berger’s tips are all about perspective, opening one’s mind to the views of others, then stepping back to apprehend the bigger picture, the view from 30,000 feet. We could even argue that experimenting and learning comes from the same motivation. How often do we say, having learned something new, “Oh, now I see!”
Jeff Boss is an author who has leveraged his experience as a Navy SEAL into his own brand of chaos theory. In his article, “4 Ways to Embrace Adaptability,” perspective plays a large role. Redefining one’s motivation, for example, is a way of suggesting that one views adaptability through various personal lenses — for example, through the lens of self-improvement or through relationships. His suggestion to “observe” is all about carefully examining the situation or environment to “minimize the gap between stimulus and response in [the] mind’s eye.” Boss also suggests setting small goals — a kind of day-by-day approach to the larger challenge. It would not be inaccurate to call this “lowering one’s sights.” Again, a matter of perspective.
Bailey’s advice to “Think creatively” and “Shift focus” dovetail neatly with Boss’s recommendation to develop likely courses of action — a practice of answering situational “What if” scenarios in moments of crisis.
Focus your perspective
Whether narrowing or broadening one’s perspective, you — as a founder, investor or future entrepreneur —may find yourself needing a clear lens to see into the business realities before you. We at tekMountain specialize in viewing startup ecosystems and investment opportunities with clear-sighted acumen. Give us a call today for a new perspective into your future.