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Adaptive Organization

Alvin and Heidi Toffler published The Adaptive Corporation in 1985. The Tofflers predicted that different factors than what affected the industrial era would drive future organizations. For example, they believed managers would need to learn to recognize patterns and common causes behind a myriad of seemingly disparate symptoms. They felt this to be a “dangerous misconception” that makes problems seem “pattern-less or unconnected, and therefore subject to independent remedies.”

Sadly, many large organizations still treat these symptoms as separate problems unrelated to fundamental systemic forces preventing them from becoming more adaptive, all these 30+ years later.

The organizations that have learned to become adaptable, or were created with adaptability built into their corporate DNA, have exponentially outperformed their non-adaptable counterparts across every meaningful measure.

Do you have to be born an adaptive organization to be one? Absolutely not, as it can be learned. Existing organizations in the public and private sectors have learned to be adaptable by transforming themselves in ways that surprised even them.

So what exactly is an adaptable organization?

The simplest definition of an adaptable organization is one that is both sustainable and resilient over the long-run and is able to maintain its relevance to its clients/customers.

Just like organisms in the natural world, an organization cannot achieve sustainability and resilience unless they are constantly moving, swaying, and adjusting to the ecosystem they live in.

Being sustainable over the long run has the following three components:

  1. Being resilient to short-term perturbations in the system such as cyber events, social media catastrophes, and the usual business events that otherwise might be catastrophic
  2. The ability, as the Toflers suggested, to distinguish between systemic issues and their symptoms, and to address them, rather than use corporate medicines that mask the underlying causes which eventually kill the organization
  3. The ability to maintain relevance to its clients/customers over time

You need to all three if you want to become adaptive.

To provide additional clarity on what an adaptive organization is, we developed a set of Guiding Principles for an Adaptive Organization which we will make available under a Creative Commons License. They are currently out for comment.

Contact us to learn more about becoming an adaptable organization.