Adaptability has never been a more needed skill in the workplace, yet this is one attribute new graduates sometimes lack. This is a problem, because in power of adaptability lie the keys to a lifetime of success.
A university education is a wonderful thing. It is the recognition that our culture needs more than simple vocational training—it needs well-rounded individuals who have been exposed to the ideas of philosophy, history, literature, and art so that they can better participate in the world around them. Once you go through those four years, you come out with a better idea of what it means to be a human being.
But there’s a certain stagnation that sometimes plagues new graduates. There is an old saying that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. Undergraduates, especially, are at the low end of that scale—on graduation, they often know just enough to think they know it all. This mindset can make it difficult to adapt to new situations. After all, if believe that you’re already at your peak, why would you need to change?
On top of this, higher education can be a slow-moving behemoth compared to the working world, and the rigidity of the classroom is often very different from the fluidity of the office. Students learn to perform tasks in very specific ways, with little variation. Assignments are formatted a certain way, written at a certain level of quality, and in a certain voice.
The workplace, however, isn’t like that. Life isn’t like that. In order to succeed, new graduates must marry adaptability to their academic knowledge and gear up for a lifetime of change.
Leaving campus for the big, wide world doesn’t have to be scary. Yes—there’s a lot more to take in, but there are also many more tools at your disposal than you could possibly imagine. If you can become your own personal MacGyver, nothing will be able to stop you on your path to success.
To do this, consider what’s at your disposal by considering the following questions. Is there another way to accomplish your task? Is the result you’re going for really the best result? Who else, and what technologies, might be able to help you? How can you get the most done with the least amount of work?
Whatever your situation, chances are that someone or something around you will be able to help you. Learn to set your ego aside and reach out to a co-workers or to Google or to that one expert you’ve always admired. You’ll go a long way toward becoming more adaptable.
If there’s one thing that holds back progress, it’s tradition. Just because you wrote all of your papers in an academic voice with eight cited sources doesn’t mean that you’ll be doing the same when you write that magazine ad or that business report. Once you’re out of college, it’s time to experiment.
This means doing something incredibly difficult: opening your arms to uncertainty. But if you stop thinking about uncertainty as a dark void, and start considering it a realm of infinite possibilities, you’ll have an easier time of it.
Now’s the time to try and fail and try again. Learn from your failures. Find out what works best. Let go of the phrase “This is just how it’s done,” and embrace “Let’s find a better way.”
Do this, and you’ll find success.
To become adaptable, you need learn to think ahead.
Remember that resourcefulness you’ve been busy cultivating? You’re going to put that skill to good use, but you’re going to apply it to future situations. This means planning out the execution of that big project your boss gave you, and trying to predict what might go wrong, and where.
But don’t stop there—try to come up with solutions for these problems beforehand so that when the worst happens—and it will—you’re ready with a plan.
The unexpected can happen at any moment. Keep your bases covered with a little forethought, and you’ll be all the better equipped to adapt when it strikes.
Owning and taking responsibility for your mistakes is an important part of being adaptable.
When you play the blame game every time you mess up, you blind yourself to your shortcomings. After all, if it’s someone else’s fault, you’ve no need to improve yourself.
But the fact is this: it was your fault. You made the mistake. Now it’s time to recognize that.
This doesn’t mean beating yourself up—just the opposite! It means pointing out your own weaknesses and shoring them up. For instance, if you forgot to tell Jim Bob in accounting that you needed that expense report, you now know that you need to put your tasks on your calendar rather than trying to remember everything. You found your weakness and you actively patched it.
That is the essence of adaptability.
Curiosity, despite its reputation for killing cats, is a wonderful trait for those who wish to become more adaptable.
People who are curious are drawn to the new and the unknown, making it all the easier for them to come up with new ideas and innovate old processes. Not only this, but a healthy sense of curiosity makes all of this so much more pleasant—you want to discover and explore and, as we’ve talked about, to experiment.
You can cultivate curiosity by reframing the mundane. Take boring tasks and look at them with fresh eyes, deconstructing them into their smallest possible components to see how they work. You’ll find that even within the most tedious work, there is a fascinating array of forces to be studied.
Once you discover these, your curiosity may just be piqued, and through it, your adaptability will increase.
Never Stop Learning
You may have noticed the one thing all of these suggestions have in common—to make use of them, you have to stay teachable. This is the key to adaptability: never stop learning. Never assume you know it all.
The world changes every day, and so each new day you come to work, there will be something new to learn. Remain open-minded, stay flexible, and work hard to cultivate your adaptability. Do this, and you’ll be prepared for anything—including your inevitable success.