Adopt or Adapt

Thoughts on the future work culture

adaptFor the past several years I’ve been involved in many discussions, training session and workshops regarding the adoption of social smarter work. And this is serious business. Companies around the world are spending large amounts of time and resources trying to get their organizations to work in a more productive, transparent and effective way.

But there’s a problem. In most cases we’re trying to address this as if it were just another in a series of technological advances. We install corporate social networks, new collaboration solutions and advanced messaging and meeting software. After installation we provide training into what and how these technologies operate. Then we begin to measure the extent to which our employees are using the new tools. And all of this we call adoption.

But maybe we should reconsider this. Let’s look at a couple of definitions.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ― Mark Twain

Adopt – to make one’s own by selection or assent

Adopt, that pretty much sums up our efforts. We strive to get people to choose to use the new way of working versus their old way.

Adapt – to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.

I believe that today’s workplace and certainly the future workplace is full of different conditions and a new environment in which to do business. This isn’t about retooling technology, it’s about rethinking work cultures.

Now don’t get me wrong, technology is certainly an enabler of the adaptation, but using the technology is not the goal. The real value comes when we adjust ourselves to a new way of working; to evolve from the ineffective and overused habits of email, meetings and reporting into the new way of working using mobile, social and cognitive practices designed to free us to do what we were meant to do.

I just read an interesting article on the National Geographic website regarding adaptation. It states:

An adaptation can be structural, meaning it is a physical part of the organism. An adaptation can also be behavioral, affecting the way an organism acts.

I believe our future way of working will constitute both the physical adaptation (new tools, work hours, reporting structures, etc) as well as the behavioral adaptation (how we fit work into life, the revival of creativity, curiosity and risk in the workplace, etc.).

The aforementioned National Geographic article introduced me to a new concept: Exaptation. This is adaptation that developed for one purpose but is used for another. In their example they mentioned feathers might have first been for the purpose of keeping the animal warm and was later used for flight. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think it may well describe our current situation.

Most companies are trying to implement social business solutions to make their current processes faster and more effective. When in reality, the real benefits come when their employees discover they have been enabled to drastically change the way they work and in doing so, rethink their entire business, develop new ways of working and challenge the status quo.

I believe we can progress much further and faster if we stop trying to achieve and measure adoption and instead strive to enable our employees to adapt to the new way of working.

Let me know your thoughts.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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