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  • Writer's pictureWilma Hartenfels

The metacompetence - Staying flexible through adaptability

Last weekend I was hiking in the mountains. While I was walking along, a young woman joined me. She asked me what I did for a living and we struck up a nice conversation. It wasn't long before she asked me an interesting question, 'What do you think is the most important skill in today's world?' Wow, what a question after only 15 minutes of conversation! I didn't have to think long before the answer came to me - inspired by nature: Sure, adaptability!

In today's world, there are many skills needed to evolve and stay up-to-date. Some we've touched on in this blog as well: teamwork, purpose orientation, self-reflection, etc. But the most important competency for success in the VUCA world is adaptability.

In evolutionary terms alone, only those species that have adapted quickly enough to new conditions have survived. Whereas change used to be gradual, today we are literally overrun by new circumstances. Nevertheless, many people hold on to the old. Understandably so, because life needs constants. And change is scary. Nevertheless, it is of enormous importance to train one's own adaptability in order to be able to keep up.

But how do you foster this ability? First, it's important to keep learning new things. Not through formal training, but through immersion in real experiences, through 'learning while you go' or even 'action learning'. In my case, this included regular job changes in a wide variety of fields, stays abroad, exchanges with new people, various hobbies and, above all, the leap into self-employment. The latter was the biggest action learning project of all for me, as it took me completely out of my comfort zone (I never really wanted to be self-employed).

But that's not all: it also takes the courage to unlearn the old, i.e. to let go of old methods, ideas and approaches. For me, unlearning the old does not mean completely forgetting old skills, but keeping the good aspects and enriching them with new ones. An example is the change of some companies to 100% online collaboration, where previously a presence culture prevailed. Here, old processes and rituals of collaboration and communication need to be unlearned, at least in part, and supplemented or replaced by new ones.

How can you concretely train your adaptability in small steps?

  • Consider: How can I consciously move out of my comfort zone today? Initiating the overdue conversation with a problematic customer, the dreaded presentation in front of the boss? Consciously decide on a challenge and just do it!

  • Take time and challenge habits that are not beneficial: Which ONE habit do you want to change and how can you go about it in mini-steps?

  • Which person in your environment is a change artist? Have a conversation with him or her.

  • If all this is too much for you: Find opportunities in your everyday life to discover new things and break up old patterns. For example, regularly take a new route to work or order a different dish at the restaurant more often.

Twin-Tip: Where your greatest fear is, there is also the greatest potential for developing your adaptability. Once you have taken the step into the unknown (like I did with self-employment), it gives you an enormous amount of self-confidence that you can master any new situation.

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