What's Your Adaptability Quotient?

Understanding the Ways in Which You Can Change Could Boost Your Job Prospects

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Stuart Parkin
Stuart Parkin
Moore's law describes a long-term trend that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years and with it, the speed of computers and all things digital. This phenomenon has had a profound impact on products being developed. This affects us personally as consumers, and professionally in agencies responding to clients needing ever-faster turnaround and more profound, rapidly changing skills.

So what is adaptability? It can be many things but some aspects are more obvious: financial, geographic, linguistic, academic, sartorial and behavioral. Most people can be flexible or adaptive in some areas of their lives, but in other areas they either can't or choose not to change. What is also evident is that most people can't or are not prepared to adapt to everything. Different things for different people are sacrosanct -- for some, a certain level of income, for others a reasonable amount of time to spend with their families. Further, for most of us a fundamental change in behavior developed over a lifetime is also extremely difficult. So, who of us is most adaptable and therefore prepared for the ever-intensifying impact of Moore's law?

Genes are certainly an important determinant of your flexibility. Many of us have a sibling or relative with diametrically opposed habits, for instance, a brother who is incredibly tidy and organized while another member of the family is the opposite. Meanwhile, experiencing change is hugely important for our overall ability as adults to embrace change. For instance, being born in one country and growing up in another, attending several schools by the time you are a teenager, going to boarding school and living away from your family, being one of five children, experiencing the death of one of those children, or otherwise having such an eclectic and in some ways hectic upbringing would teach you not only to adapt but to seek new experiences and embrace change. Either way, directly relevant career experiences or life events can make you more or less adaptable. That said, given the experiences we have had, can the less flexible of us learn to adapt?

Motivation is fundamental to your ability to want to change. The greater the incentive, the more likely you are to do what it takes to re-skill, to get the job on offer. That said, there are some aspects we just can't change. Personality is an obvious example. Feigning this at a job interview is a crazy strategy, as you can't be something you aren't for any sustained period of time. So, how do we adapt or learn to become more able to change? The simple answer is that initially you have to want to change, to see or do things differently. In a career context, even the most die-hard individual will strive to change if he is passionate enough about where that change can take him. So, under which circumstances should you be looking to adapt?

Given that there are many aspects of a job to which we might have to adapt -- such as location, new responsibilities, new reporting structures and new skills -- the worst time to adapt is when you are told to. Conversely, the best time to adapt is quite simply, always. This is unless you believe that nothing around you will change.

What you adapt to first depends on what you enjoy doing and do well, and then, on what is likely to be in demand from employers combined with what your peers are less likely to want to do. What you are prepared to change from a career perspective requires an understanding of what you are not prepared or unable to alter. Knowing what you can negotiate and which aspects of your work and lifestyle are off the table is truly empowering. At the same time, enhancing your capabilities, your flexibility and therefore career possibilities will allow you to be if not ahead of the curve then at least riding the wave of exponential and inexorable change described by Moore's law.

Stuart Parkin is a New York-based career coach and executive recruiter. He has 20 years of experience in agency new-business and marketing and has worked on four continents across agency disciplines. He has run Sparkin, his New York-based consultancy, for seven years, working with a range of traditional, multicultural, digital and PR agencies including DDB, Rapp, SpikeDDB, Porter Novelli, Dieste, Fallon, Berlin Cameron and Organic.
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