Six Enemies of Adaptability – and What to Do About Them

The need to be adaptable – to develop adaptive intelligence at both a personal and organisational level is well stated. In fact, it is something that is overstated. It is the most important thing if one is to thrive in the future. There can be no more important a conversation.

So what exactly is ‘adaptive intelligence’?

Essentially it is the capability to use information to manage (challenging) situations, communicate and connect with other people, and educate yourself on the surrounding context or climate.

An important question to then ask is, ‘what are the things that block adaptability’? Or to put it another way, ‘what might be the enemies of adaptability’?

Here would be six common ‘enemies’ that thwart adaptability; and some tactical questions/suggestions as to how to defeat them.

1. Knowing for certain

It is not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so“. – Mark Twain
A ‘knowing for certain’ leads to fixed assumptions. Fixed assumptions lead to an arthritic condition that limits flexibility. When we know ‘for certain’ it means we stop asking questions or that we develop huge blind spots that allow bad habits to breed unchecked. Curiosity and questions are important in galvanising adaptability and when there is an absence of curiosity and questioning – or worse still when they are actively discouraged, the causality is adaptability.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

What is it ‘you know for certain that just isn’t so’? Add this question to your next team agenda and see what your team comes up with. What are the questions you should be asking, but aren’t? Why not?

2. Habits

Being adaptable requires identifying mindsets and behaviours that we need to change. Of course ‘wanting’ to make this change is an important part of the equation! Habits can get in the way of such change. It is hard to change old habits and develop new ones but this is exactly what adaptability demands.

Identifying the habits that are blocking a change in both mindset and behaviours is the first step in gaining a clear picture of what needs to be done in order to start the adaptive process. Flexible mindsets and behaviours are an essential part of what it means to be adaptive.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

What are some of your ‘work habits’ (the way in which you approach your job)? Where did they come from and are they still serving a future fit purpose? Which of these might need to change as you think about the work you will be doing three years from now?

3. Fear

Fear is a very real block to developing adaptive intelligence. For some, this will be more of an obstacle than it will be for others. The fear blocking adaptability will have many guises: What if I fail? What will I lose? What will I have to let go of? What will others say or think? And so the questions will keep coming. Fear can lead to a very real paralysis that inhibits or blocks adaptability. Identifying this fear and facing it (easier said than done) is the start in overcoming it and embracing adaptability.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

When you think of the future – what do you fear the most? Why? What might be your ‘sense of loss’ in making any of the changes that you feel will need to be made if you are to adapt?

4. Organisational Hierarchy

A hierarchical structure makes adaptation far more problematic. The reason is that effecting change can only really start from the top in a hierarchy. The lower levels (often acutely aware of the need to change and adapt) are usually powerless to effect the necessary change. The ‘command and control’ leadership style that usually is indicative of a hierarchy means that others within the structure are unable to initiate change. Information and control flow ‘downwards’ and over time there develops unresponsiveness within the lower levels within the structure and a kind of ‘wait to be told’ type of malaise sets in.

Research reveals that creating opportunities for self-organisation is a characteristic of adaptive intelligence and creating such opportunities results in increased sustainability. This should be all the motivation needed for leaders to ensure that they create such opportunities within their structures!

Reflective Questions/ Action:

How might your structure be inhibiting the development of adaptive intelligence within your organisation? How could you increase opportunities for your team/organisation to ‘self-organise’? (Why not discuss this with them?)

5. Short-term Thinking

Short-term thinking means that the changes we make tend to be incremental and the action taken is in response to immediate pressures or opportunities. Many of the metrics in place drive and reinforce a short-term thinking mentality within a business and this is extremely dangerous. Leaders need to lift their heads and ensure that they and their team are ‘looking out the window’.

They need to be looking at the horizon and do, what we at TomorrowToday like to call, ‘think like a futurist’. Smart leaders intentionally cultivate questions and conversations that force their team to consider the long-term consequences of the decisions and actions taken today. The issues around climate change have helped raise the awareness and importance of thinking long-term.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

How far into the future are you and your team thinking? What are you measuring (and why)? How might this impact your ability to think long-term?

6. Spending too much time on the dance-floor

In the Adaptive Leadership model, a distinction is made between the ‘dance-floor’ and the ‘balcony’. The idea is that leaders need to spend more time on the balcony from where they are able to get a different perspective of the dance-floor. When on the dance-floor one’s perspective is limited to the immediate surroundings and in a world that is complex, connected and fast-changing, being on the dance-floor can be dangerous because of what is unseen.

Most leaders spend too much time on the dance-floor. A quick and easy ‘test’ of this would be to look at your last few leadership team agendas. The chances are that you will see an agenda dominated by ‘operational issues’ (the dance-floor) and little that is forcing the conversation to consider the bigger picture, the ‘out-there’ disruptions that need to be given careful attention.

Spending too much time on the dance-floor inhibits the ability to see the adaptation that is needed. It feeds off of ‘short-term thinking’ and means that dance moves are honed rather than calling for an entirely new dance.

Reflective Questions/ Action:

Review your last few agendas and put the dance-floor / balcony assumption to the test. What could your individual / collective balcony look like? How could you begin to access it and how will you create such accountability?

These six ‘enemies of adaptability’ represent but a start in what might be your most important journey as a person and/or as a leader. Intentionally building the capacity to be ‘future-fit’ – or to adapt to a changing context to thrive, cannot be emphasised enough. This is important work at both a personal and at a leadership level.

‘n Moontlike NGK perspektief op Clem Sunter se vlaggies

Clem Sunter lig ‘n paar belangrike vlaggies uit om dop te hou vir die toekoms waaronder die volgende voorkom:

  1. Die Religie vlag: Dat die religieuse oorloë tussen Saudi Arabië en Iran dopgehou moet word.
  2. Die Rooi vlag: Dat lande soos Rusland, Sjiena en Noord Korea dopgehou moet word vir moontlike kommunistiese bewegings.
  3. Die Grys vlag: Dat lande soos Japan, die Verenigde Koninkryk en Sjiena dopgehou moet word vir hulle ouer wordende gemeenskap.
  4. Die Bewolkte vlag: Dat anti-establishment sentimente dopgehou moet word as gevolg van stygende ongelykhede in die samelewing.
  5. Die Groen vlag: Dat ekologiese kwessies aan die toeneem is en dopgehou moet word.
  6. Die Pandemie vlag: Dat hierdie vlag se scenario nou aan die uitspeel is met die COVID-19 virus.

Ek het gewonder wat sal gebeur as ons kortliks na hierdie 6 vlaggies kyk vanuit die perspektief van die NGK. Hoe sal die NGK reageer op hierdie vlaggies?

  1. Die Religie vlag: Religie in Suid-Afrika raak al meer pluralisties. Terwyl Suid-Afrika steeds statisties ‘n Christelike land is met 79.8% (2001, statistieke Suid-Afrika) van die bevolking wat meld dat hulle Christene is, wonder ek of hierdie die praktieserende geval is? Met sosiale media wat ‘n al groter rol speel in die gedagtegang van jongmense wonder ek regtig hoeveel Suid-Afrikaanse burger leef steeds Christelik en vertel ander mense van hulle Christelike oortuiging.
  2. Die Rooi vlag: Met Suid-Afrika wat besig is om hegter bande te smee met veral lande soos Sjiena en Rusland is die vraag daar oor wat die langtermyn gevolge daarvan gaan wees op die toekoms van die religie in die land.
  3. Die Grys vlag: Hierdie vlag is veral ‘n vlag om dop te hou in die NGK omdat ‘n beduidende deel van die NGK se lidmate bo 65jaar is. En wat hierdie vlag nog belangriker maak om dop te hou is dat hierdie ouderdomsgroep van die NGK se lidmate tradisioneel ook die gedeelte is wat getrou bydraes maak aan die sisteem. Jonger mense en NGK lidmate gee eerder hulle tyd en geld aan kleiner organisasies waar hulle die verskil kan sien en in kan deel as om ‘n dankoffer in ‘n groot put te gooi waaroor hulle nie eintlik ‘n sê het nie.
  4. Die Bewolkte vlag: Hierdie vlag is ook ‘n belangrike vlag om dop te hou in die lig van die reuse ongelykheid in die land. Waar gaan die NGK haar stem laat hoor en deelneem aan die regstellende aksie? Veral gegewe dat die NGK ‘n bydrae in die verlede gemaak het tot die ongelykhede van die land?
  5. Die Groen vlag: Ek vermoed ‘n groot deel van die ekonomie gaan onder die groen vlag staan in die toekoms. Hier kan die NGK nie net al haar geboue en bates ekologies bestuur nie, maar ook aktief ‘n ekologiese bewussyn kweek onder mense om in harmonie met die ekologie te leef.
  6. Die Pandemie vlag: Die COVID-19 pandemie het ‘n groot impak op die gesondheid van die NGK. Dit plaas ‘n vergrootglas op alle werksaamhede van die kerk. As daar nie goeie verhoudings was voor die pandemie is daardie verhoudings nou nog broser, waar sterk verhoudings gebou was, dra dit nou by tot sterker samewerking.

Ek plaas hierdie woorde vir myself om op ‘n gereelde basis terug te kom na hierdie vlaggies en dit te herbedink soos die omstandighede verander.

Clem Sunter se vlaggies om dop te hou vir die toekoms

Introducing a scenario of hope changes the future.


  1. Scenario Planning
    1. Mind of the fox
      1. One future: hedgehog
      2. Many futures: fox
  2. Flag watching
    1. Religion flag
      1. Religious wars between Saudi and Iran
    2. Red flag
      1. Russia
      2. China
      3. North Korea
    3. Grey flag
      1. Ageing population
        1. Japan
        2. UK
        3. China
    4. Cloudy flag
      1. Anti-establishment sentiment because of rising inequality in society
    5. Green flag
      1. Ecological concerns
    6. Pandemic flag
      1. Much to do about
      2. Camels straw
        1. The world was in a fragile state before the pandemic hit
          1. China’s growth slowing down
          2. Easy money policy with low interest rates which led to massive governmental and consumer debt.
        2. Economy breaks the camels back
        3. Length of economic recovery is important
          1. Watch the statistics
            1. GDP
            2. Inflation
            3. Level of employment
            4. Not a “V” but a “U” curve
      3. Spain again
        1. Second wave of outbreak?
        2. Much uncertainty about virus
        3. Uncertainty about fatality rate
        4. Uncertainty about infection rate
        5. Uncertainty about cure/vaccine
      4. Tightrope
        1. A balance between lives and livelihood
        2. A balance between lives and economy
        3. Walk the tightrope until covid-19 has a vaccine or goes away
        4. South African scenario playing out
  3. “May the fox be with you.” – Clem Sunter
  4. Is there any way to get away from “the rich get richer” scenario?
    1. WW2 did wreck the wealthy 50’s 60’s 70’s was a time of global growth for all.
    2. It is possible after the pandemic is over when we move to a global inclusive economy.
  5. Siyabulela Xuza
  6. The world of work has changed. The power does not lie in big government or organisations. Adapt to small businesses as the way of the future. Small businesses are going to transform the South African economy.