The Limits of Adaptability

If you’ve been following along in this space, you’ll know I’m a fan of adaptability. We need it, we can learn it, and it can energize us.

But I’m learning its limits.

Having been playing with the metaphor of elasticity recently to capture dimensions of adaptable leadership, it occurs to me that (unlike elastics!) humans have the ability to warn others, if not to predict, when they are about to snap. And “snapping” does not only look like breaking down or falling apart. It might look more like simply being unable to fulfill your intended purpose as well as you otherwise could have, or even not at all.

While I’m sure this snapping can be quite dramatic, valuing adaptability too highly can also show up in mundane but important ways. Lately, it’s emerged in the form of me saying, “Sure, I can squeeze that in,” or “I guess it’s fine that we switch that workshop tomorrow to digital instead of in-person,” or “I know you meant to get those prep materials to me in advance, but we’ll just figure it out in the room.”

I pride myself in being flexible, but what about times when the “fixed point” that allows for adaptability actually needs to be me? In order to be of service, instead of saying, “We’ll figure it out,” I’d be smarter to say, “It won’t work. Stick with the original plan, or let’s reschedule.”

Discerning the difference is where the ability to make wiser decisions faster resides.

And most of the time, I haven’t got a clue. (Because we’re all making it up as we go along!) What I can say with certainty is that defaulting to “yes” can be appreciated, but it can also ultimately be counterproductive.

Where does over-stretchiness show up in your life?

One Reply to “The Limits of Adaptability”

  1. The danger of all this for me is that the point at which I can’t stretch anymore often comes out in my personal life and not professional. When I have said yes one too many times to my clients I end up saying no (or worse) when someone in my family asks me for something. I “take it out on them” Recognizing our boiling temperature takes insight and reflection something that also wears thin when we are stretched

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