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The Adapt or Get Zapped Approach to Innovation
August 2013

Adapt or get zapped. That’s my philosophy. If you don’t adapt to changing circumstances, you’re probably going to get zapped: Beaten by your competition and outmaneuvered in the market place, putting the entire company at risk for extinction.

Just as adaptability is essential for the survival of a species (think Charles Darwin), it’s also necessary for the survival of a business. Especially a business that wants to thrive, and to be more innovative and competitive.

Since the adaptable organization models the flexibility of its leader, your flexibility is crucial to your organization’s innovation.

If you’re not flexible—in giving differing opinions an honest hearing, in being receptive to constructive feedback, in being willing to let go of some of the old ways of doing things—your organization (company, department, team) won’t be flexible either.

Adaptability is important because it’s at the heart of innovation. At its most basic level, innovation is about doing things differently. But before an organization can do things differently, its leaders need to think differently.

And innovation doesn’t occur unless we, and the people around us, are adaptable enough to start thinking differently. So, we need to create an environment where people know it’s ok to think differently.

If the employees, and the leaders who report to you, aren’t going to tell you the truth because they’re afraid you’ll get mad or you'll respond in some other negative way, they won’t give you the info you need to truly innovate.

The people who report to you have plenty of information and lots of ideas about how to innovate. All you have to do is display the adaptability that makes them feel comfortable in giving you the ideas.

Here are three ways to show that you’re adaptable.

  1. If you’re not already doing so, start focusing on the grand purpose. Be flexible enough to see that the grand purpose, and serving the customer, are what motivate and engage people. Yes profitability, sales, and revenue are important, but you need to focus more on the grand purpose.

  2. Become much more skilled at listening. Nothing shows adaptability more than being truly willing to listen to other people’s ideas. Teams I work with are often surprised at how difficult it is to REALLY listen to other people.

  3. Listening is more than just “hearing.” It’s about focusing totally on the other person, and what he or she has to say. That’s why improving this skill requires lots of hard work.

  4. Once you’ve developed that skill, ask direct reports, team members, frontline employees, and even customers, how you can do a better job of serving them. Hopefully they’ll see by your listening that you’re REALLY adaptable, and interested in their ideas.

Do these three things, and you’ll be more adaptable, and people will see you in a more positive light. And your adaptability will lead to innovation.

Remember, the choice is yours: adapt or get zapped.