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Adaptive Capacity

February 26, 2012

What is adaptive capacity?

In very simple terms, adaptive capacity is the ability to adapt when the environment changes. It is a thought process where individuals embrace and explore ideas rather than demonizing them.

One would find “…failure is a friend, not an enemy. When things do not turn out as they had hoped, they transform failure into something palatable, even desirable. They see approaches that do not work as something that is not shameful, but as sources of valuable information that will eventually lead to a successful outcome.”*

Some characteristics found with adaptive capacity:

  1. Creative people with powerful adaptive capacity find pleasure in problem solving. Their brains become flooded with endorphins when addressing problems which becomes both a motivator and reward.
  2. In the course of making decisions those with adaptive capacity determine if they are on a path that is dissatisfying, if so they change direction to move down one that is more satisfying.
  3. Imagination is the catalysis for change looking beyond current and past experiences.
  4. Tolerance for ambiguity and change is found in those people with adaptive capacity.

This out of box thinking drives new perspectives.

Vaillant (Aging Well) notes, “It is not stress that kills us. It is effective adaptation to stress that allows us to live.”

Adaptive capacity thinking does not place value judgments on ideas but rather uses creative problem solving to find innovative solutions.

Disruptive technology is the result of adaptive capacity; innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. This type of thinking can revolutionize business.

Consider the iPhone….


*W.G. Bennis and R. J. Thomas ( 2002); Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders. Harvard Business School Press.

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