“Everything starts from a problem – but not everyone faces the problem in the same way.” -via Juan Carlos Eichholz Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Can Thrive In A Changing World
Mike Tyson used to say that, “Everyone has a plan…until they get punched in the face.” The reality is, every individual, every organization, is going to get punched in the face at least one time or another. The problem is, it is happening quicker and more often in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.
Change is accelerating, disruption is escalating, even our foundations are shifting…
As Peter Thiel shares in Zero to One, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.” And it is not that strategies and plans have suddenly become useless, rather it is in the inability of our individuals and organizations to adapt when our “big plans” get “punched in the face” that often renders them ineffective to the new realities they are facing.
However, the ability of our individuals and organizations to adapt relies heavily on creating the capacity in which to do, so. But, too often, especially in times of confusion and chaos, when capacity is lacking, and when adaptability and agility is most needed, leaders will turn to authority to fill that capacity gap. Or as Eichholz shares in Adaptive Capacity, “The disequilibrium exceeded the adaptive capacity.”
In today’s VUCA world, we cannot believe that our individuals and organizations will be spared from the confusion, chaos and disruptions of a changing world and the adaptive challenges that arise within these shifting environments. Or that the disequilibrium and tension that these environments create will be helped by leaders creating more structures, more rules, more hierarchy, and extending more authority, in fact, the challenges will become more exacerbated.
In fact, we need leaders who are much more engaged in strategic thinking, than strategic planning…
Leaders who are intentional in creating the organizational capacity to deal effectively with the disruption and loss that many of these adaptive challenges pose and impose upon our individuals and organizations. In times of great upheaval, the organizations that are most effective and remain most relevant don’t turn to more authority, rather they have created the internal capacity that draws on greater levels of autonomy.
When leaders have a deeper awareness of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of today’s world, they understand that any “big plan” has a much greater risk being “punched in the face” at one time or another. And it is not in if it will happen, but when and how? Building the ongoing capacity and autonomy of the organization allows for not only greater clarity, adaptability and agility when that “punch” comes, but the ability to carry out the ‘intent’ of those plans in the midst of the chaos and confusion that arise.
So as we carry forward with the work of building greater individual and organizational capacity to better face the adaptive challenges of today and tomorrow, I leave you with these thoughts from Adaptive Capacity by Juan Carlos Eichholz…
“But leadership is difficult to put into practice because it involves challenging people instead of satisfying them, asking questions instead of giving answers, generating disequilibrium and tension instead of providing comfort and safety, allowing differences to emerge instead of pretending that they do not exist, involving people instead of giving them instructions, and, in sum, confronting people with the problem instead of facing the problem by yourself or simply ignoring it. All of this must be done within a strong containing vessel, one that holds people together while they are living with the complexities and losses of adaptive work.”