Increasing our adaptive capacity

In the spring of 2007, I was 16 weeks pregnant when I learned that my unborn son had spina bifida, a congenital deformity of the spine that would cause him to have partial leg paralysis and a host of other attendant conditions.  In the instant of his diagnosis the story of my life shifted dramatically.

In the years since, as I’ve watched my son grow and achieve, I’ve noticed  a marked increase in my ability to adapt to whatever situation life throws at me.  At times, I’ve shared the highs and lows on this blog.  From all events I try to extract “what am I learning from this?”

Here’s where that question has led me tonight.

When you are better able to absorb the rapid changes in your reality, that’s called increased adaptive capacity.  It is a term applied to ecological systems or human social systems. I’ve applies the term to myself, but I can see its benefits when applied to large organizations, especially those going through transformational change.

Over at Resilience Alliance they build on the idea of adaptive capacity, saying in part,

Systems with high adaptive capacity are able to re-configure themselves without significant declines in crucial functions in relation to primary productivity, hydrological cycles, social relations and economic prosperity. A consequence of a loss of resilience, and therefore of adaptive capacity, is loss of opportunity, constrained options during periods of re-organization and renewal, an inability of the system to do different things. And the effect of this is for the social-ecological system to emerge from such a period along an undesirable trajectory.

Over at Cognitive Edge, they’ve posted a great video [~10 minutes long] about Risk & Resilience that takes the idea further still.

Things do happen.  People get hurt at work.  Babies are born with unexpected challenges.  Whole industries and their giant leaders fade away (e.g., Kodak).

It isn’t what happens that defines us or our organizations.  It’s what we do when (or before) it happens that matters.

I’m going to adapt.

Want to try it with me?  Why not try?

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