By Mike Sygula
“The only constant is change” – Heraclitus
What I mean by flexibility here, is not physical flexibility, but the willingness to adapt to a constantly changing environment. I wanted to share with you why this is so important, perhaps even more important now than ever. If there is anything that we can be sure of in the universe, it is constant change. It seems like everything evolves, and all moves. The 40 world is full of systems; social systems, immune systems, weather systems, and all systems evolve, typically into more complex ones. We belong to many systems ourselves. For example, if you work for a company, it is a system of employees, perhaps suppliers, partners, customers, etc. If you study at college, you belong to a social system with teachers, students, groups of people and various other environmental aspects that will invariably have an impact on you. What is really important is to be able to adapt to change, as these systems often evolve and shift.
Why it is so important?
Let us first look at it from a business point of view; anyone remembers Kodak? At its peak, they employed around 140,000 people, and in 1996, they were ranked the fourth most valuable brand in the US. In 2012 they filed for bankruptcy, they still exist now but had a major makeover and are nowhere near where they used to be. The best part is that they invented the digital camera in 1975, but because of their lack of flexibility, they didn’t adapt to the changing environment and failed when digital technologies really took off. The Digital Camera market became flooded with cheaper options, and smartphones became a more popular choice for most consumers. I can’t tell you what was the best option for them, but they certainly missed it.
The opposite example, is Coca Cola, another superbrand that also has been around for decades. They seem to understand the market trends and are thinking beforehand. In recent years, people have been turning to a healthy lifestyle. Soda consumption has fallen to the the lowest in 30 years. Thanks to the Internet, we are more educated than ever about what to put in our bodies. Everything shows that this trend will continue. For brands like Coca-Cola, which centers their business around unhealthy products, it is not the best environment to be in. This is why they have been acquiring “healthy” brands for the last few years. They own now; 41 Odwalla that produces smoothies and Juices. Innocent Drinks, Glaceau, Honest Tea and a few other ones. This is an example of management that is willing to adapt to a changing environment, and shows signs of flexibility. Even if it means to shift direction by 180 degrees.
It’s not only extremely important for organisations to be flexible, and keep an eye on trends and changes in the markets and different environments though, as individuals we also need to recognise when to change our behaviours and stay flexible.
Don’t’ stay fixed on something entirely.
Let me share one small story, where adapting to a situation paid off. A few years ago I was traveling in Poland with my sister and her boyfriend at that time. The three of us decided to drive to a city in the mountains, it was around 2h drive. We decided we would go there in the morning, enjoy the day and come back in the evening. My sister’s boyfriend was taking longer in the morning and, as a result, we left late. We also ended up stuck in traffic, so we arrived around 4pm in the town, and because it was winter it was already getting dark. There was some tension which resulted in some minor arguments between my sister and her boyfriend on why we left so late, and the trip did not make much sense anymore because it was already dark. What we decided to do, was stay overnight, which ended up being a much better option than just coming there for a day. We ended up having a lot of fun in the evening, and met a bunch of new people at the local bar. We also did a small hike the next day in the morning, and found really good and cheap accommodation, and everything worked out much better in the end than our initial plan. If we would have made it on time, we would probably never have come up with the idea to stay over night. All the 42 arguments earlier were unnecessary, we just adapted to the situation as it unfolded.
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