In more stable business climates of decades past, chief executives could leverage efficiency to achieve success. Closely managed corporate routines could be made a little quicker, a little smoother and a little cheaper to maximize profit and improve the bottom line. While that skill still has its place in the boardroom, today’s chaotic and unpredictable business climate also demands that executive leaders learn an entirely new skill: how to be adaptable.  Managing organizational routines tightly will produce efficiencies but adaptable CEOs have mastered a much more challenging process of deliberately changing routines.

Adaptability allows organizations to premeditatedly and continuously change and create. For those who are comfortable with the status quo, change can be disconcerting and uncomfortable. By its very nature, it is disruptive. Despite that, leaders must develop the courage to habitually scan the horizon for new opportunities, problems, trends, technologies, ideas and methods, so they can be identified, evaluated and adopted before the competition spots them.  The adaptive leader anticipates problems and opportunities, develops timely solutions and new routines to improve quality, raise quantity, reduce costs and stay ahead of competitors, and he or she exhibits attitudes and behaviors consistent with adaptability.  Adaptable leaders embrace new solutions promptly and know how to get new ideas accepted across all levels of their organizations.  The most effective leaders in today’s world are both efficient and adaptable.

However in our experience, many executives are ineffective because they value short-term results above all, and reward successful implementers of routines disproportionately.  Simply put, they favor efficiency at the expense of adaptability.  They seek to repeat yesterday’s successes by mimicking programs and systems of the past, but in doing so often overlook emerging opportunities.  Regardless of the current popularity of creativity and innovation in the media and business publications, most CEOs – when given a choice – overwhelmingly favor established routine solutions over unproven novel ones.  They have not yet learned how to nurture and reward individuals who are capable of generating the ideas that will translate into new products, services and procedures essential for gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage.  They have learned to design processes for efficiency but not for adaptability.

Adaptability is a process of continuous deliberate change-making, beginning with the generation of new problems that ultimately may morph into new opportunities.  It can be considered virtually synonymous with organizational creativity, which our research defines as a continuous four-stage process of generating, conceptualizing and solving important problems and implementing valuable new solutions.  In our experience, most CEOs understand problem solving and implementing, but fewer understand problem conceptualization and fewer still, problem generation.