A person’s ability to develop themselves is one of the most important drivers of their long-term professional success. But growth and change seldom come easy. Entrenched mindsets and behaviors often sabotage these efforts by preventing new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.
Unfortunately, the need for growth has never been greater. In recent years, terms like VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), and now BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible) have been used to describe the increasing levels of upheaval, even chaos that executives grapple with. How can executives be more adaptive to the demands of this environment? How can they flourish in a constantly changing world?
Developing Our Adaptive Capacity
The good news is that as we age the capacity to adapt to complexity gets stronger, not weaker as previously thought. The work of developmental psychologists such as Robert Kegan demonstrates how our ability to make sense of the world becomes more nuanced and sophisticated as we age and equips us to better adapt to VUCA and BANI-type situations.
Developing this adaptive capacity requires an ongoing commitment to being more self-aware about our thoughts and the patterns behind them. The work of Kegan and others provides a roadmap to developing adaptive capacity by evolving our ability to make meaning out of complexity along three stepwise levels:
Socialized Mind – here our thoughts and actions are largely shaped by, even reliant on, the definitions and expectations of others and our environment.
Self-Authoring Mind – here our thoughts and actions are shaped by our own judgments and belief systems, and by what we believe people need to hear not what they want to hear.
Self-Transforming Mind – here we can look objectively at our thoughts and the thoughts of others through greater self-awareness and an ability to assess and reconcile multiple opposing views.
Three Steps to Developing Adaptive Capacity
Increasing our adaptive capacity is not about getting smarter in the traditional IQ sense. It’s about increasing awareness of our thought processes, thinking more critically, and solving problems with an independent frame of mind.
Adaptive mindsets spring from an intimate knowledge of self. If you’re committed to developing your adaptive capacity in a certain area start by asking yourself three things:
What is the one big thing that you want to change?
What thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are in the way of making that change?
What fears and anxieties perpetuate those thoughts, emotions, and behaviors?
Dealing with your underlying fears and anxieties is critical to attaining an elevated adaptive capacity and, ultimately more expansive and creative ways of responding to VUCA, BANI, or whatever other challenges come your way.