Adaptive Challenges

There’s an old proverb which says, “Don’t be the general who’s still fighting the last war.” The wisdom of this proverb suggests that every new challenge requires a new set of strategies.

Overall, leadership experts rank challenges in two categories. The first is the technical challenge. Technical challenges require technical solutions. They are usually mechanical and utilitarian in nature, making them translatable to any context and sector where the same problem may occur. We see many technical challenges when it comes to management of systems. A plan, forecast or solution that worked in Japan can also work in the US, or in Brazil.

The second category is adaptive challenges. These are more complicated, and their solutions often require a fundamental change in the way we think and act. We see examples of adaptive challenges in the sectors affected by disruptive initiatives and also when it comes to leading people. Leading a group through an adaptive process is exhausting and requires resilience.

Adaptive challenges are often unprecedented. The military are experts at such challenges, because in a particular theater of war the strategies that worked years ago may not work today. The battlefield is constantly changing and decisions need to be taken as quickly as possible. That’s why the military like the American Marines have mantras such as, “improvise, adapt and overcome.”

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to try to apply technical solutions to adaptive challenges. Unprecedented challenges require unprecedented solutions. The leader who undergoes an adaptive challenge becomes a mobilizer of reflection and self-awareness leading his team through the arduous process of change.

And you? How would you rate the current challenges in your industry? What do you need to do to overcome them?

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