2020 Skills: Novel and Adaptive Thinking

In this post in a series on 2020 Skills, we take a look at new ways of thinking. 

Here is a handy index for accessing all posts in this series:

  1. Sense-Making
  2. Social Intelligence
  3. The T-shaped Professional
  4. Virtual Collaboration
  5. Computational Thinking
  6. New-Media Literacy
  7. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  8. Cross-Cultural Competency

Skills for a Changing Workplace

Change and uncertainty are the only definites. The ability to change behavior when faced with unpredicted circumstances is crucial in the technological future unfolding around us. The Internet and social media have changed the way we connect and communicate. Machines are taking over jobs in the service industry, and global outsourcing is the new normal.  As a result, high and low skilled jobs are now flooding the market. One essential both have in common is the need for workers to develop novel and adaptive thinking in order to survive in the fast-paced fast-changing global world we now live in.

What is Novel and Adaptive Thinking

Simply, it’s a proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based. We do it every day. For example, what happens when you’re driving to work and your favorite route is blocked by construction traffic? You improvise! You take a detour. How about you forgot to do laundry the weekend, and now your favorite tie or blouse is in the dirty clothes hamper. What do you do? In a spontaneous effort to make the morning less stressful, you select your second favorite shirt even though it’s slightly less attractive.

Daily we are confronted with new possibilities and unpredictability. The ability to think through problems, acting swiftly, while negotiating fear of the unknown is the foundation of novel and adaptive thinking. We will walk through several steps and thought processes individuals and teams alike can take in order to improve their novel and adaptive thinking skills.

How to Develop Novel and Adaptive Thinking

While novel and adaptive thinking may come easy to some, others can strengthen their skill by practicing the following steps:

1.) Realize you use adaptive thinking every day in work and nonwork functions as mentioned in the introduction. Consider adaptive thinking to be a common practice. Building any skills requires one to develop confidence and the more you practice the better you will get. Identifying adaptive thinking as something you are already doing solidifies a foundation of expertise.

2.) Allow yourself opportunities to practice adaptive thinking during non critical moments. Great leaders train! Athletes stay in the gym when they are not in a game. Exceptional leaders should be no different. Find low hanging fruit to practice your skill. If you mess up it won’t matter, it’s just practice. Find different workplace scenarios such as your last big team project and walk through what you may have done different, how you could have executed better, what would you do if your project is ran behind schedule? What would you do if someone on your team unexpectedly quit? From serious to simple, practice, practice, practice.

3.) Control your impulse to act immediately when confronted with a problem. Always take time to think thoroughly through situations that arise in order to process the best steps to move forward.  If a ball is flying at your face will you duck or will you catch? If you duck, is there anyone behind you? If you catch, will you extend your hands in time, or will the force be too great to stop? Take a moment and think about the scenario and the many implications that may follow.

4.) Be open to new ways of doing things. We are systematic beings. We create systems and structures to simplify life.  When those systems break down, we have to be open to trying new things. Adaptive thinking is about thinking outside of the box, not going by the letter. What would you do if there were no rules, no blueprint, how would you solve the problem? At times going back to the drawing board and unlearning the patterns and habits of old is crucial in becoming a better strategic thinker.

5.) Anticipate changes in your environment before they even happen. Being proactive is better than being reactive. If you have already thought through possible problems before they happen, you will be prepared. Always observe patterns in your local environment that provide clues to what may happen next.

6.) Ask questions about the problem you’re facing. Think critically and understand the ins and outs of the problem. Why did your client bail mid-project? Who is responsible? What were the motives? How can we make necessary changes moving forward? Poke holes and ask questions. The more you understand the issue, the better you will be at solving it, and preventing it from happening again.

7.) Assess risk tolerance for all stakeholders involved and make a decision based on corporate and collective values. Will your decision influence your team in a positive way or will you be the only beneficiary? How will your decision making affect your environment? What will your team, management, community members, or shareholders think? It is imperative as you grow in adaptive thinking that you assess the risk tolerance of not only yourself but those around you for maximum leverage.

The more you practice novel and adaptive thinking the easier it will come. Follow these steps and you will surely be on your way to perfecting a powerful skill for the workplace of 2020.

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