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How To Become an Adaptive Thinker and Thrive Through Change

by | May 1, 2024

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Imagine this: you’ve spent months crafting a whole new marketing strategy, complete with data-driven projections and targeted customer personas. Suddenly, a global pandemic hits, disrupting supply chains and turning consumer behaviour on its head. Your carefully laid plans are thrown into disarray. What do you do?

This scenario highlights the crucial role of adaptive thinking in today’s business landscape. Change is no longer a distant threat; it’s a constant reality. According to Accenture’s Pulse of Change: 2024 Index [1], the rate of change has increased by a staggering 33% just in 2023, and a whopping 183% since 2019. Moreover, 88% of survey respondents expect change to accelerate even further in 2024. In this dynamic environment, businesses that can’t adapt are destined to struggle. That is why learning to become an adaptive thinker has never been so important.

What is Adaptive Thinking?

Adaptive thinking is the ability to adjust your thoughts, behaviours, and strategies in response to new information or changing circumstances. It’s about being open-minded, flexible, and constantly learning. Traits that also align closely with the Experimental (Yellow) Thinking style. Here are some key characteristics of adaptive thinkers:

  • Open-mindedness: People with adaptive thinking skills are receptive to new ideas and perspectives, even if they challenge their existing beliefs. For example, a marketing leader with a strong preference for traditional advertising might be initially resistant to the idea of social media marketing. However, an adaptive thinker would be open to exploring the potential benefits of social media and how it can complement their existing marketing strategy. This characteristic of adaptive thinking seamlessly connects with lateral thinking, which involves the ability to think outside the box and look beyond conventional boundaries when solving problems.
  • Flexibility: They can easily adjust their approach when faced with unexpected situations. Imagine a sales team that has meticulously planned their sales pitches for a specific customer profile. However, upon meeting with the client, they discover that the customer’s needs have changed significantly. Adaptive thinkers on the sales team would be able to adjust their pitch on the fly, focusing on the customer’s new priorities and pain points.
  • Willingness to learn: They embrace a growth mindset and actively seek opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge. In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, continuous learning is essential for staying ahead of the curve. Adaptive thinkers are constantly reading industry publications, attending workshops, and taking online courses to expand their knowledge base.

The Importance of Adaptive Thinking in Today’s Workplace

The ability to adapt is critical for success in today’s dynamic business environment. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Change is inevitable: The pace of change is only accelerating, and businesses that can’t adapt will quickly fall behind. From technological disruptions like artificial intelligence to evolving customer demands and economic uncertainties, businesses need to be prepared with effective change management strategies to navigate a constant stream of change.
  • Problem-solving: Adaptive thinking helps you approach problems from different angles and find creative solutions. When faced with a complex challenge, an adaptive thinker will not be limited by their initial assumptions. They will be open to exploring different perspectives and brainstorming a wider range of solutions.
  • Innovation: It fosters a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to experiment and take risks. In a world where the status quo can quickly become obsolete, businesses need to be constantly innovating to stay ahead of the competition. Adaptive thinking creates an environment where employees feel empowered to try new ideas and experiment with different approaches.
  • Employee engagement: When employees feel empowered to adapt and contribute their ideas, they are more likely to be engaged and productive. A study by Gallup found that employees who are highly engaged are 21% more profitable than their less-engaged counterparts. By fostering a culture of adaptive thinking, businesses can create a more engaged and productive workforce.

5 Ways to Develop Adaptive Thinking Skills

The good news is that adaptive thinking is a skill that can be learned and developed. Here are a few tips:

  • Embrace lifelong learning: Continuously seek out new knowledge and experiences. Read industry publications, attend workshops, take online courses, and network with other professionals in your field.
  • Challenge your assumptions: Don’t be afraid to question the status quo and explore alternative perspectives. Regularly ask yourself “Why are we doing things this way?” and be open to considering new approaches.
  • Seek diverse perspectives: Surround yourself with people who think differently from you (cognitive diversity). Collaborate with colleagues from different departments, network with people from different industries, and actively seek out feedback from customers and clients.
  • Practice reflective thinking: Regularly take time to reflect on your experiences and learn from your mistakes. Ask yourself questions like:
    • “What went well?” 
    • “What could I have done differently?” 
    • “What challenges did I encounter, and how could I have adapted better?”
    • “What can I learn from this experience?”
  • Step outside your comfort zone: Stepping outside your comfort zone can be an uncomfortable but rewarding way to develop new skills and perspectives. Here are some ideas:
  • Volunteer for new projects: Take on projects that force you to learn new things and apply your skills in unfamiliar territory.
  • Travel to new places: Immersing yourself in different cultures can broaden your horizons and challenge your assumptions about the world.
  • Learn a new skill: Whether it’s a new language, a musical instrument, or a creative pursuit, learning something new can help you develop new ways of thinking and problem-solving.

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can develop your adaptive thinking skills and become more adept at navigating change, solving problems creatively, and achieving success in a dynamic environment.

How To Leverage Herrmann’s Whole Brain® Thinking Methodology for Adaptive Thinking

Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain® Thinking methodology can be a powerful tool for developing adaptive thinking skills. Whole Brain® Thinking helps individuals understand their own thinking preferences and how to communicate and collaborate with others who think differently. The methodology identifies four distinct thinking styles:

  • Analytical (Blue): Prefers logic, data, and critical thinking. While valuable for tasks requiring precision and analysis, an overreliance on blue thinking can hinder creativity and adaptability in a dynamic environment.
  • Practical (Green): Focuses on process, organisation, and implementation. Green thinkers excel at getting things done efficiently, but they may struggle to adapt to change if they become too rigid in their approach.
  • Relational (Red): Values connection, collaboration, and building relationships. Red thinkers excel at fostering teamwork and understanding the human element, but they may overlook data and logic in their decision-making if not balanced with other styles.
  • Experimental (Yellow): Seeks new ideas, possibilities, and innovation. Yellow thinkers bring creativity and a big-picture perspective, but they may struggle with follow-through or implementation without the grounding of other thinking styles.

Improving Thinking Agility With Whole Brain® Thinking

By understanding their own thinking preferences and those of their colleagues, individuals and teams can leverage the strengths of each style to become more adaptable. Whole Brain® Thinking acknowledges that individuals may lean towards specific thinking quadrants, yet it emphasises the importance of embracing all thinking styles. 

Adaptive Thinking Creates a Cohesive Team

In teams where employees openly share their Whole Brain® preferences, a deeper understanding of diverse approaches to workplace challenges emerges. Rather than viewing differences as obstacles, teams can harness cognitive diversity as a catalyst for innovation and success.

For instance:

  • In a team predominantly comprised of blue thinkers, incorporating a yellow thinker into brainstorming sessions can ignite fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.
  • When confronted with a complex problem-solving scenario, encouraging green thinkers to consider the emotional ramifications of their decisions (red thinking) while exploring unconventional solutions (yellow thinking) alongside their analytical approach (blue thinking) can lead to comprehensive and effective outcomes.

Becoming An Adaptive Individual

Becoming an adaptive thinker necessitates stretching beyond one’s comfort zone. One effective method involves practising thinking preferences that diverge from your dominant thinking style. By comprehending the thinking preferences of colleagues, individuals can enhance their adaptability by appreciating and leveraging these differences to foster creative thinking, collaboration, and informed decision-making.

Case Study: Leading Through Change with Adaptive Thinking

Imagine a company facing a major industry disruption. Their traditional business model is no longer sustainable, and they need to adapt to survive. Here’s how an adaptive thinking leader might approach the situation:

  1. Embrace Transparency: The leader openly communicates the challenges facing the company and the need for change. They solicit input from employees at all levels to gather diverse perspectives (seeking diverse perspectives).
  2. Encourage Experimentation: The leader creates a safe space for employees to experiment with new ideas and approaches (stepping outside your comfort zone). They might allocate resources for pilot projects or innovation teams.
  3. Focus on Learning: The leader emphasises the importance of learning from both successes and failures (reflective thinking). They encourage employees to share their experiences and adapt their strategies based on new information.
  4. Build Resilience: The leader acknowledges that change can be difficult and provides support to employees during the transition. They might offer training programs, coaching, or employee assistance resources.

By fostering a culture of adaptive thinking, the leader can increase the company’s chances of successfully navigating change.

How Will You Adapt?

Having good routines in place, healthy habits, and following best practices remain valuable components of business success. But, more and more, things are moving faster than we can even keep up with. No one can predict the future with complete certainty, but we can at least prepare ourselves to be able to assess new situations efficiently, and to pivot and execute a fresh approach without sacrificing our values or principles. 

Being an adaptive thinker helps you and your organisation meet the moment while remaining true to yourself. The best part is you can learn this skill and hone it. And there’s never a better time than now to get started. Get in touch with Herrmann Asia today to learn more about how you can grow your adaptive thinking skills.

Ready to develop your adaptive thinking skills? Download our free guide to uncover the 4 steps to build thinking agility and create your own action plan. 

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