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Adapt or die: goodbye corporates?

Adaptability seems to be at the heart of all the work we’ve been doing recently. Lots of people are talking about it. And, in preparation for our next community conversation we sat down to talk about it too. Specifically, what we think it actually means for life and work and businesses right now, especially large organisations. Here’s how the conversation went:

Spoiler alert: Ultimately, we still aren’t sure exactly what it means!

People ARE adapting!

Humans are intrinsically adaptive. It's one of our human superpowers. But what shape is current adaptation taking?

In the world of work right now, it appears to be mostly “I” level adaptation that's happening. People are making choices for themselves as individuals. Driven by overwhelm and disenchantment, or both, people are making quite different choices in their working lives to those that they were making fifty, fifteen or even five years ago. The consequence of this approach seems to be an increase in individualism and disconnection.

The "great resignation" is a prime example of individualism in action that created a “global phenomenon” but it wasn’t a collective movement. It was just a lot of people, individually, making some choices that served their needs.

People still in the system now feel stuck - energy for adaption is for surviving in that context - so those left behind mostly seem to be keeping their heads down so's not to lose the "security" of their salaried roles.

It all feels quite precarious. And unsustainable.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t coordinated collective movements - like those for human rights and some grassroots community initiatives - but have we lost sight of a common good and the will and ability to adapt as a collective to act on that?

How does conscious collective adaption happen?

We have some ideas but mostly, we have this sense that it's the one thing that's going to make all the difference to how we work in future, and the future of work and the world.

We also see organisations doing some things that we think it's definitely not.

For example, we believe it’s not just doing the old things faster or doing more of them in the hope they'll achieve something different; writing updated policies and procedures; creating new processes, publishing them and hoping that’ll do the trick or just telling people they need to be more adaptable. Very few people actually become more adaptable when they are told they should/must/better do so! Which is an irony because humans are incredibly adaptable (see above) and that’s what got us here.

Who is the adaptability that organisations are asking for actually serving? The Man? Capitalism?

What organisations are doing is talking about adaptability being critical and doing these things above to demonstrate & demand it but it’s not really shifting things for them. This is because within those spaces, apart from the few shareholders who are enjoying record profits, everyone is individually trying to survive.

Organisational adaptability seems to be nothing more than thinly veiled relentless pursuit of profit by another name.

Organisations aren’t serving people’s intrinsic needs much beyond providing them with a pay cheque anymore.

Organisations used to be a place where people felt they had a job for life, created value in the world, were developed and grew, felt connected to others and experienced a sense of belonging.

Then we moved to more jobs ever a lifetime, still one at a time, being more commonplace… more movement but same needs attended to.

Now, we've moved to rapid turnover, portfolio careers and multiple jobs being the norm = increasing de-commitment to the organisations by employees (and the orgs are doing it back). Loyalty and investment in each other seems a thing of the past, or very rare! There's been an erosion of things that fuel the human soul because of margin squeeze.

There's been a steady decommissioning of the social contract between the organisations and their staff, which has been going on for decades.

Some organisations still pay lip service by talking about people as their greatest assets and creating “wellness” programmes (lunchtime yoga etc.) but it’s still about the profit. There's little or no real care for the human system… or individuals in that system.

This doesn't feel like what the world needs right now or how we're going to tackle the big, complex, wicked problems we're facing as a collective.

So what IS required for collective adaptation?

We don't have all the answers but we believe that some of the fundamental requirements for collective adaptability are that:

  • It also serves the individual needs, as well as those of the whole.

  • It needs unconventional mindsets, emergent systems and tools, individual and social behaviours that shift and are interconnected.

  • It's a blend of creativity, learning, and resilience...

But what do YOU think?

If you fancy joining us for the ongoing conversation in real time... sign up here


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