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rotary smartphoneDefinition of Adaptive Change

Adaptive Change shifts mindsets, habits, behaviors, and culture in order to respond to adaptive challenges, which are challenges where:

  • the problem definition is not initially clear at the outset and requires learning;
  • where the solution or solutions to the challenges require learning, discovery and/or new tools and approaches; and
  • where the work to resolve the challenge resides not in the authority structure but in all the stakeholders in the challenge working together to resolve it.

This is in contrast to three other types of change:

Technical Change:

Technical changes involve the use of tools, processes, people, and procedures with clear expertise (and the authority to execute the change), to solve clearly-defined problems, with clear solutions.

Technical-Adaptive Change:

Technical-Adaptive changes occur in systems with clearly-defined problems where the solutions are not clear, and those with expertise and/or authority, and those who are stakeholders in the change must collaborate to learn, discover, and develop solutions together.

Complex-Technical Change:

Complex-Technical changes occur in systems where problems are not clearly defined and require learning and/or discovery to even define the problem. Once the problem is clarified, however, a clear technical solution emerges, and an authority / expert can execute the solution.

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For further reading on Adaptive Change, check out the articles below.


Leadership Postures for Organizational Change

5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79I work with a lot of leaders in the midst of significant changes to their organizations. They tell me stories about the change processes that lead to positive transformations, and they tell me stories about changes that caused harm and distress. What I have discovered is that the success or failure of a change process is more about a leader's stance as they approach organizational change than it is about their particular skill set.

This stance is made up of four posturesthat, taken together...


Why is identifying adaptive change important?

5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79Last week, I wrote about four leadership postures for organizational change. These postures shape our leadership stance, increasing the likelihood that our change process will achieve healthy results.

The first posture of those four was change identification - knowing what type of change we were dealing with: adaptive or technical. To recap the difference between the two:

"Adaptive changes deal with habits, mindsets, and behaviors, and require organizations and their leaders to learn some...


Are You a Finite or Infinite Player?

2020 has thrown curveball after curveball at small- and medium-sized businesses. Those with adaptive leadership are best suited to survive the pandemic, economic downturn, and political turmoil. Adaptive leadership starts by understanding what kind of game you are playing: finite and infinite.




Finite games have known players, set rules, a point at which they begin and end. They have winners and losers.


Infinite games have known and unknown players, constantly...


The Dropped Ball Series: Our Fatal Attraction to Glory

The Case of the Glory-Chasers

Glory ChaserI coached one of the nation’s elite schoolboy rugby programs for several years. It was my first big coaching job. I was so excited that I made a critical mistake: I did not take the temperature of the school administrators before accepting the job.


The admin had a singular focus. They wanted to win championships. The program had accrued second-place trophies in the State, Midwest, and National tournaments. The first ‘Ship had eluded them and they were...


People are Creative, Resourceful, and Whole: The Values of Sustainable Companies Series

creativekidengineersWe consultants are wired to be problem-solvers. See something not working right? Let’s find a way to fix it. See a workplace in conflict? Let’s find a way to resolve it. See the organizational duct tape starting to show? Build a structure to hold it together better.

It’s not just consultants, though: the strongest, most sustainable businesses (and nonprofits, let’s not forget them) see a problem, one real people experience, and provide a solution for their problem. Sometimes, that’s a te...


Two Practices of Adaptive Leaders

5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79Experienced leaders may disagree on a lot of things, but one thing almost all agree on is that growth as a leader is deeply personal, inner work. One may start off as a leader because of natural charisma or a position of authority, but staying a leader, and maturing as one, requires growth. Nowhere is this more true than in an adaptive leadership space - where the problems themselves may not be clear, let alone the solutions.

History is full of great speeches - real and imagined - that rally...


Three More Orientations and Practices of Adaptive Leaders

Matt Presenting at CCP CroppedIn our last article, we began a conversation into the orientations and practices of adaptive leadership. We focused on the first two of the five orientations and practices: inner quiet and curiosity. In this article, we will talk about three more orientations and practices:

  • Respect
  • Delegation
  • Learning

Let's dive right in where we left off last time.


The third practice is respect. Intentionally approaching people believing that they are resourceful, creative, and wholecreate...

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