The Enduring Competitive Advantage of an Adaptive Mindset

Gretchen Pisano is the CEO of pLink Leadership, a woman-owned and -operated leadership consultancy plowing the research of positive psychology and neuro-biology into leadership development globally.

Dubbed “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by technologists, this wave of change we are experiencing differentiates itself by speed, scale, scope, and impact. Up until now, we’ve been feeling the winds of innovation, like apps that bring new conveniences (WeatherBug, Wrike, MapQuest, etc.), and platforms that bring new interconnectivity (Slack, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, etc.). But, experts forecast that the next two years will bring substantive impact to the world of work and thus life, as robotics, autonomous transportation, AI, additive manufacturing, and biotechnology fundamentally alter business models. This has significant impact on us as individuals because the pace of innovation is outpacing human capacity to change at scale. How can we grasp integrating algorithms into our products and managing globally dispersed teams when we are still struggling with Casual Friday and considering a policy for flexible workers? We must accelerate our ability to adapt – our future success relies on it, and the place to do it at scale is within our organizations.

Adaptation means to “become better suited to one’s environment.”

To do this we must recognize five fundamental truths about human intelligence:

  1. We are leading adaptation versus leading change efforts.
  2. Sustainable behavior changes come from evolving underlying mindsets. This means that we are in the business of evolving consciousness.
  3. Consciousness is not simply relevant to leadership. It’s essential.
  4. We can encourage, inspire, and intentionally cultivate consciousness in ourselves and others.
  5. Human intelligence is the companion to AI; not the predecessor.

Adapting to One’s Environment

It is a universal truth that our environment is constantly changing. Sometimes these changes are sudden, and other times they are gradual. With sudden changes, we can see adaptability in the speed and strength of a person’s response. Are they able to grasp the new reality quickly and adjust the way they process information to account for it, or do they use powerful storytelling to ramp up their delusions and hold onto a now outdated version of reality? With gradual changes we see adaptation (or the lack of it) over time. As time passes, are outcomes improving or declining? The measure of adaptation in both situations is consciousness – being awake to and aware of what is happening inside of and around us.

This is an unfamiliar concept for many of us. We have been trained to focus almost exclusively on what we know and how we demonstrate it – our competence. And yet, to thrive in this fourth industrial revolution, competence will not be enough. We must focus on what we call the 3 Cs of leadership: competence, character, and consciousness. To readily adapt, we must be highly attuned to sensing changes “out there” (our external environments) that will require changes “in here” (our internal environments). We must tune into that internal landscape as well, identifying our blind spots, seeking new truths that challenge old beliefs, forego cynicism for curiosity, and exchange our primitive fight, flight, or freeze reactive tendencies in favor of engage, advance, and embrace creative competencies.

The Future Belongs to the We

Individual adaptation is essential. Obviously, each of us must seek to adapt to our changing world. But the future will belong to those who are able to cultivate an adaptive mindset in themselves and others and to those who are able to build organizational cultures whose core premise is adaptation forged by a highly conscious (and therefore creative) workforce.

Adaptation relies on consciousness because consciousness changes the way we see the world, perceive opportunity and threat, establish priorities, make decisions, take action, and engage other people in our efforts. Consciousness is a game changer and an enduring competitive edge. Those who cultivate it recognize this. Those who don’t question whether it is even a “thing.”

Walk the Conscious Leadership Path

To become a conscious leader in your own life and work is to cultivate and encourage your own adaptability. It will mean embracing unfamiliar concepts so expect discomfort. AI engineers call this the surprise-fear-embrace curve. It is easily observed in peoples’ response to new technologies. Less easily observed – but just as relevant – is when people realize that, in order to advance their leadership, they must ease up on demonstrating their knowledge and double down on demonstrating their awareness and agility. If you are just beginning this journey, here are some suggestions:

  • Begin a regular perspective-taking practice. Mindfulness is an example of a solo perspective-taking practice. The key is to observe and dispute your own thinking. Get really good at frequently asking yourself, “What do I believe about this, and how might I be wrong?” Ask others, “What do you think?” Good places to start:
  • Unmute your emotions. Practice noticing what you are feeling and naming it with precision. As a society, we have not focused on emotional precision or social-emotional agility. “Don’t get emotional” is frequent although misguided advice. When we mute the negative emotions or fail to notice its emotional impact altogether, we mute the whole system, cutting off our access to a powerful built-in intelligence source. Good places to start:
    • Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly
    • Todd Kashdan’s, The Upside of Our Darkside

  • Notice that you speak without ever opening your mouth. There are two incredibly important aspects of this to our adaptability:
    • The Inner Narrator has the greatest impact on our outcomes, more than any other factor. Studies tell us that we say between 300 and 1000 words per minute to ourselves. Become aware of this internal monologue. Is it encouraging adaptation or urging cautious followership?
    • The first things that people notice about each other are body, eyes, and expression. Are yours all saying the same thing? Frequently, our tone and body language are unintentionally out of sync with our words. This is due to a lack of awareness of how we are responding internally. If we are not aware, we cannot ask ourselves where the disconnect is. We can only instinctively model it for all the world to see.

  • Read, listen, and learn in micro-bites. Bring your head up out of the trenches and get really curious about what’s going on around you. Most especially, out of your area of subject matter expertise. Good places to start:

Inspired by fear and opportunity, we have made a practice of seeking new frontiers. We look to the horizon to find the next destination, to the edges to find the next near opportunity. The new frontier in this fourth industrial revolution is not out there. It is in here. Cultivating an adaptive mindset means evolving your own consciousness rather than waiting for age or chance to do it for you. As your consciousness evolves and your choices change, you will notice that it become self-developing and self-sustaining. You cannot become unenlightened. You will not forget to exercise your conscious mind. You will recognize it in others and they in you. You will feel the shift, and it will make you immeasurably better prepared for what is coming.