Three tips for being flexible and adaptable

2010

Unless you've been living in a cave, you will have seen a lot of change the past few years. Millions of people are out of work, companies are closing their doors and many people cannot relocate because they owe more on their house than it is now worth.

Six years ago, Kodak laid off 6,000 employees because the company stopped making 35mm film cameras because digital cameras had become ubiquitous.

Five years ago the City of Detroit had mass layoffs and reductions in services because the tax base to support city employment was drying up.

Three years ago the country's major pharmaceutical companies laid off more than 60,000 workers after getting clobbered by cheaper generic medicines, less-productive research, and expiring patents on their most lucrative drugs.

Now list the people you know who've been downsized or laid off the past few years. Chances are some of them have been out of work for way too long, and yes, some of them have even lost their homes.

It seems nobody has a golden key that will solve all those problems, but I like the advice to "stay flexible" and "adapt." Obviously that's easier said than done, but being adaptable and flexible is necessary - and also do-able. Here are a few tips to succeed in that effort:

1. Believe you can be flexible and adaptable. Long-time readers know that I advocate the quote attributed to Henry Ford; "Whether you think that you can, or think that you can't, you're right."

2. Take inventory. List the top five accomplishments in your life that brought you the most satisfaction. Then, for each accomplishment, list five or more skills or attitudes you used to achieve them. Follow that up by identifying the common threads, and if you can, rank those skills and attitudes in the order of how much you enjoy them.

3. Brainstorm and network ad-nauseum. Take your list of skills and attitudes and meet with people you know. Neighbors, friends, and relatives are a good starting point. Brainstorm with these people about what kind of work could align with the skills and attitudes you identified in the previous step. The more brainstorming and networking you do, the more likely an opportunity will show itself.

Some of you may remember parents or grandparents talking about the wooden iceboxes used before the days of refrigerant. You may have heard stories about the ice-man carrying blocks of ice up many flights of stairs.

Being an ice man was hard word, but there was plenty of job-security (repeat business was guaranteed). But then came appliances that kept food cold, and ice-men had to look for work elsewhere. Their careers quickly disappeared in the heat of new and superior competition.

My point is that jobs and careers come and go over time, and flexibility is a key to survival.

Consider also a letter written by Martin Van Buren while he was the Governor of New York (before he became President of the United States). In 1829, Van Buren lobbied President Andrew Jackson about how the growing railroad industry would cause a loss of jobs and career paths related to the country's canal system. He said that the federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons:

One. If canal boats are supplanted by "railroads," serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen, and lock tenders will be left without means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for horses.

Two. Boat builders would suffer and towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.

Three. Canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.

Obviously, change happened and people had to be flexible and adaptable. So really, all the change we have today is not new, other than the speed at which we experience it. Adult learning experts say that after completing a formal training program today, 40% of what people learned in those programs will be obsolete within five years.

So yes, change is upon us, but it's always been upon us. The question is "will you be flexible and adaptable?" Rare is the person who still wants to store food in wooden boxes kept cold by blocks of ice or travel across country through canals on barges pulled by teams of horses. Heck, most people think traveling by train is slow and old fashioned.

Can you do it? Can you take inventory about what makes you feel proud about what you do? Can you network and brainstorm? If so, those steps toward adaptability will help you survive in the ever-changing workplace.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.