The Art of Adaptiveness

In these times of increasing complexity, and the associated uncertainty, it is increasingly less sensible to rely on thorough plans. That does not mean the act of planning is meaningless, but it has to be approached differently.

“A plan is useless — planning is indispensable” — Dwight Eisenhower

So what then?

To survive in this turbulent society, the key is not to want to be fully in control. Newsflash: that’s impossible. But of course, we humans like to be in control, some more than others. In particular managers who are asked by their superiors to show “control” can easily feel the absolute need to demonstrate this with a clear plan, concrete actions, and solid targets.

The problem with this attitude is of course that there are many many things that we do not and cannot control. This is not necessarily a problem, only if your expectation is geared towards that being a problem.

The alternative: build in adaptiveness. Plan, by all means. But as a dynamic verb, not as a rigid noun. Allow yourself time to reflect, zoom out consider (possible) alternative scenarios and how you might respond to them. And then the real magic happens when you develop pathways that allow you to change course, when the situation requires this.

This is not a weakness, it is necessity. Human progress is built on it.

By being adaptive you keep the doors open to multiple pathways

And here comes to Art-part. The approach that will help the attitude is to think ahead. Envision multiple futures, different scenarios occurring, and take steps that allow you to play into such scenarios. Can you anticipate everything? No, most likely not. But if you have considered alternative futures and types of surprises, chances are that without extreme efforts you can play into unforeseen circumstances as well.

At the very least these chances are much higher than if you set out on one, focused, particular path. The latter looks like you know what you are doing, but creates a severe path dependency. Fine in a controlled, predictable environment, but in real life, well, close to useless.

Forget control, become an Artist.

Also published on Medium and LinkedIn