We are now living in the age of Vocational Darwinism, and the business skill that will make the difference in every professional life is the ability to adapt.
At its core, Vocational Darwinism is the application of Charles Darwin’s principle of “survival of the fittest” to our working world – and whether you are a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned small business owner, you can’t escape the fact that this is the reality of the post-recession economy we are working in.
The good news is that “survival of the fittest” is often misinterpreted to mean “only the strong will survive,” implying that you need to be the biggest or meanest kid on the playground to keep your business afloat. But in fact, “The Fittest” – whether they are in an ecosystem or job market – are those who are most adaptable to change.
So when it comes to business success, adaptation has replaced social media savvy as the game-changing skill.
Adaptation In Business
But what does adaption really mean, at least in the business sense?
It means letting go of how you’ve done things in the past – how you’ve learned they are done, how you think they should be done, how they have been done – and opening your eyes to the evolving landscape in your industry. What happens after the actual adaptation part is more a function of our natural, biological mechanism than a conscious choice: you either change with the industry, or you go professionally extinct.
One of the greatest enemies entrepreneurs face in any economy is getting too comfortable with how they do things. We get into routines, cultivate little habits around how our work is done, and surround ourselves with like-minded people. Thanks to the internet, it is so easy to shut ourselves off from exposure to changes in our industry and macro trends and instead surround ourselves with mirrors of how we do things or want to do things.
It’s ironic that the internet does this – after all, isn’t the value of a global, rapidly communicating workforce supposed to be the regular influx of new ideas and practices?
Look at your Tweet Deck stream filters; look at your Facebook page sorting options; look at your RSS feed and your blog roll – how much of what you see there mirrors your own work/approach to work versus shakes up the status quo in your world?
I’m willing to bet if you give it a good look you’ll see that it is the former.
It’s nothing to be self-conscious of. The desire to surround ourselves with people, messages, and things that support our view of the world, whether that is our working world or the world at large, is a natural instinct that is commonly referred to in psychological terms as Confirmation Bias.
Confirmation Bias is Adaptation’s Enemy
Confirmation Bias can be defined as a tendency for people to interpret information in ways that confirm their already established beliefs or preconceptions. We do this by homing in on supportive data (people, messages, things) and filtering out, dismissing, or arguing against the validity of any data that doesn’t support those beliefs or preconceptions.
Here is how this intersects with entrepreneurship and adaptation: to be a successful entrepreneur – heck, even to be a budding entrepreneur – you need to have a certain amount of confidence in your ability to perform in your industry and manage your own business.
To fuel and build that confidence, you self-validate by surrounding yourself with information that your position is correct, your strategies are sound, your way of doing things is right. But overtime, that self-validation transforms into confirmation bias… and soon, we are trapping ourselves into our own ideological rut.
For entrepreneurs, fighting through confirmation bias to allow for adaptation can feel like destabilization. It requires consciously entertaining the fact that how you are currently doing things, or your current plans/expectations/forecasts, are not up to date or – more bluntly – wrong.
But it is possible to work through any confirmation bias you are holding onto while maintaining the confidence you need to do your best work by asking yourself the right questions.
The Right Questions Open the Door To Professional Adaptation
Asking yourself the right questions may seem like a simple strategy – too simple, to overcome this mental stronghold. But you’d be surprised how powerful they can be in helping you shift towards adaptability and away from the mindsets that will send you (professionally) the way of the Dodo birds (poor things).
Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of professionals, including many entrepreneurs, about how they are keeping their career moving forward in the evolving job market.
One of the most common themes was the ability to look beyond their preconceived beliefs about their work or their industry and open themselves up to change by asking questions that:
- Place ownership, power, and control of the future onto their shoulders
- Naturally called them to some form of action
- Address and effectively challenge confirmation bias
Some excellent examples of these right questions include:
- For the sake of argument, let’s say my industry won’t recover significantly over the next 12 months: is my current business model realistic for producing results?
- Let’s assume that my prospects are continuing to limit their spending post-recession… what do I need to do differently or more effectively to earn their business?
- What if my current business plan never takes off the way I need/want it to – what else can I work toward that will make my career a success by my standards?
If you are looking at these questions and feeling a bit queasy, that’s OK – they are hard to entertain, especially when you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into a business model or strategy that isn’t yielding the results you need.
It is often easier to dig in deeper and try harder than evolve. But this is what is called for in our modern business world, and the choice is simple: adapt and thrive, or maintain and fail.
Overcoming confirmation bias is just one small piece of what we need to do as we endeavor to evolve as entrepreneurs.
If you are feeling called to evolve your strategies and grow with the economy, I invite you to purchase a copy of my new book, The Finch Effect: The Five Strategies to Adapt and Thrive in Your Working Life (Jossey-Bass, 2012). It is available as a Kindle/iPad download or hardcover edition.
Here’s to your (evolving) Entrepreneur’s Journey,
Photo courtesy of kabils