The Adaptation Advantage
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The Adaptation Advantage : Let Go, Learn Fast, and Thrive in the Future of Work

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A guide for individuals and organizations navigating the complex and ambiguous Future of Work

Foreword by New York Times columnist and best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman

Technology is changing work as we know it. Cultural norms are undergoing tectonic shifts. A global pandemic proves that we are inextricably connected whether we choose to be or not. So much change, so quickly, is disorienting. It's undermining our sense of identity and challenging our ability to adapt. But where so many see these changes as threatening, Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley see the opportunity to open the flood gates of human potential--if we can change the way we think about work and leadership. They have dedicated the last 5 years to understanding how technical, business, and cultural shifts affecting the workplace have brought us to this crossroads, The result is a powerful and practical guide to the future of work for leaders and employees. The future can be better, but only if we let go of our attachment to our traditional (and disappearing) ideas about careers, and what a "good job" looks like.

Blending wisdom from interviews with hundreds of executives, The Adaptation Advantage explains the profound changes happening in the world of work and posits the solution: new ways to think about careers that detach our sense of pride and personal identity from our job title, and connect it to our sense of purpose. Activating purpose, the authors suggest, will inherently motivate learning, engagement, empowerment, and lead to new forms of pride and identity throughout the workforce. Only when we let go of our rigid career identities can we embrace and appreciate the joys of learning and adapting to new realities--and help our organizations do the same.

Of course, making this transition is hard. It requires leaders who can attract and motivate cognitively diverse teams fueled by a strong sense of purpose in an environment of psychological safety--despite fierce competition and external pressures. Adapting to the future of work has always called for strong leadership. Now, as a pandemic disrupts so many aspects of work, adapting is a leadership imperative. The Adaptation Advantage is an essential guide to help leaders meet that challenge.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 177 x 252 x 19mm | 426g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1. Auflage
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1119653096
  • 9781119653097
  • 167,289

Back cover copy

Praise for the adaptation advantage

"An indispensable guide to navigate this new era in the workplace."
--Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

"The Adaptation Advantage is a masterclass in how individuals and organizations can and must develop the capacity to change fast and learn faster. Whether you were born digital or born analog, this book is your indispensable resource for thriving in a world that is transforming as you read this."
--Jim Kouzes, coauthor of The Leadership Challenge

Learn to thrive in the Future of Work

What do you do? That social ice breaker imprisons us in the past. In a fast-changing world, we have to look past our work-based identity, move beyond the comfort of our current knowledge and skills, and prepare ourselves and the organizations we lead to adapt continuously to a rapidly changing future of work.

Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley share three core beliefs. First, success in the future of work centers on our ability to learn, unlearn, and adapt. Second, to succeed, we need to let go of "the way we've always done it" and--more importantly--our professional identities. Third, leaders must get comfortable with failure, not knowing, ambiguity, and vulnerability to create the requisite psychological safety to lead our teams.

Economic and social shifts are unavoidable. With the lessons found in The Adaptation Advantage, you'll learn to ride these waves to a more successful and fulfilling future of your work.
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Table of contents

Foreword xiv


Introduction xix


Breaking with Identity to Seize the Adaptation Advantage xix


So What's Changing? xx


How Did We Get Here? xxi


How Big is the Challenge? xxii


The Adaptability Gap xxv


Amid Rapid Change, Keep Calm and Adapt On xxvi


So What's in This Book? xviii


Who is This Book For? xxix


Notes xxx


Part I: Adapting at the Speed of Change 1


1 The World is Fast: Technology is Changing Everything and Planting Opportunity Everywhere 3


Wait a Second 3


Technological Climate Change 5


Environmental Climate Change 8


Climate Change of the Market 10


The Force of Three Amplifying and Interlocking Climate Changes 12


Notes 15


2 The Only Things Moving Faster Than Technology are Cultural and Social Norms 17


Shifting Ground Beneath Our Feet 17


From Linear and Local to Exponential and Global 19


Race 20


Religion 22


Age 23


Family 25


Gender Identity 25


Truth and Trust 26


Consent and Power Shifts 28


Death of Distance Reshapes Human Relationships 30


So, Who are You? Occupational Identity and Expertise 30


Notes 32


3 You're Already Adapting and Not Even Noticing 35


We've Already Begun to Outsource Our Memory 35


People Aren't Horses 37


Atomization, Automation, and Augmentation 38


Atomization in Action 39


Automation in Action 39


Augmentation in Action 41


Putting Atomization, Automation, and Augmentation Together 41


Notes 46


4 Getting Comfortable with Adaptation: The Slowest Rate of Change is Happening Now 47


The Power of Pause 47


From Scalable Efficiency to Scalable Learning 48


From Stocks to Flows of Knowledge 53


From Learning to Work to Working to Learn Continuously 54


Identifying Patterns to Build Bridges 56


Notes 60


Part II: Letting Go and Learning Fast to Thrive 63


5 What Do You Do for a Living? The Question That Traps Us in the Past 65


The Questions That Limit Our Identity 65


The Identity Trap 71


How Identity is Formed 71


Narratives Can Trap Us in the Past and Limit Our Future 73


Gender, Narratives, and Identity 73


The Confidence Gap 74


Identity is Never Done 77


An Occupational Identity Crisis Isn't Limited to Job Loss 78


Notes 80


6 Finding the Courage to Let Go of Occupational Identity 83


What Does the Parable of the Three Stonecutters Have to Do with You? 83


The Day 1 Mindset: You are a Prototype; Start with Why 85


How Job Loss Can Be a Gain 89


Modeling Vulnerability: We Share Our Hard Lessons 91


What Do You Do Now? 95


Notes 95


7 Learning Fast: Why an Agile Learning Mindset is Essential 97


Learn Fast-What Does That Even Mean? 97


What Do We Mean by Learning? First-, Second-, and Third-Generation Learning Organizations 98


The S-Curve of Learning: Explore, Experiment, Execute, Expand 99


The Curse of Expertise: The Challenge of Unlearning 102


The Iceberg: The Substance Beneath the Surface 102


Identity: The Core of the Adaptive Mind 103


The Agile Learning Mindset 104


The Enablers: Uniquely Human Skills 108


Why We Need the Agile Mindset: The Broken Education-to-Work Pipeline 111


ABL: Always Be Learning 114


Notes 114


8 Rise of the Humans: Developing Your Creativity, Empathy, and Other Uniquely Human Capabilities 117


Play is the Way Forward 117


The Uniqueness of the Human Drive to Learn and Create 119


The Predictive Markets Declare Future Skills Favor Humans 122


Understanding Uniquely Human Skills 127


Chasing STEM at Our Peril 128


The Skills Battleground: Humans Need Apply 132


The Return on Being Human 133


Return on Humans for All Jobs: The Special Power of Empathy 134


Evolving Beyond Shareholder Value: The Purpose of a Company 135


To Maximize Human Potential, Place the Human in the Center 137


Notes 139


Part III: Leading People and Organizations in the Evolution of Work 143


9 Leading in Continuous Change: Modeling Vulnerability, Learning from Failure, and Providing the Psychological Safety that Builds Trusting Teams 145


You are at the Wheel 146


Leadership, Power, Cookies, and Chickens 146


What Makes a Modern Leader? 153


Transformational Leadership 167


Transformational Leadership and Change Management Models 168


Leading with Fear: The Burning Platform 170


Putting It All Together 173


Notes 173


10 The Adaptive Organization: Creating the Capacity to Change at the Speed of Technology, Market, and Social Evolution 175


What Should We Measure? 175


The Power of the Culture and Capacity Focus 177


Culture at the Core 177


Capacity: Culture's Partner 184


Capability and Context: The Scissors Metaphor 186


In Accelerated Change, Focus on the Inputs Rather Than the Outputs 187


Becoming a Learning Company 190


Notes 193


11 Capability is King: Looking Beyond the Resume to Design Your Adaptive Team 195


No More Little Boxes 195


The Job Description is History 197


Job Descriptions Become Traps 198


Fire Your Job Description 200


Hire for Cultural Alignment 205


Hire Adults and Let Them Do Their Jobs 208


Turn the Right People into Great Teams 209


Embrace Cognitive Diversity 212


Get Comfortable with Failure 214


Live in a State of Continuous Learning 215


Manage a Multigenerational Workforce 216


How Do We Get from Here to There? 217


The New Leadership Imperative 218


Notes 219


12 Getting Ready to Seize Your Adaptation Advantage 221


Notes 223


Additional Resources 225


Books 225


Videos 226


Acknowledgments 227


About the Authors 229


Index 231
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Review Text

Advanced Praise for The Adaptation Advantage

"The Adaptation Advantage is the clearest, most compelling, and original examination of the present and future workplace. The big surprise in this book is that it's not about learning to live with more robots, but rather learning to become more human. Whether you were born digital or born analog, The Adaptation Advantage is an indispensable resource for thriving in a world that is transforming as you read this."
--Jim Kouzes, Coauthor of The Leadership Challenge and Executive Fellow at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leavey School of Business

"Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley are prophets of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Their extraordinary insights and tools challenge and empower organizations, leaders, and people across society to thrive in a future marked by exceptional technological and societal change."
--Major General James Johnson, U.S. Air Force (ret), former Director of Air Force Integrated Resilience

The Adaptation Advantage makes sense of the confusing and scary world of change. McGowan and Shipley give us permission to be entrepreneurial by exploring the natural pathway to engagement in a context of uncertainty. Reading this book is a therapy session with motivational power. You'll want to reread it again and again.
--Stephen Spinelli Jr., PhD., President, Babson College, co-founder of Jiffy Lube

"Most books about the future of work put automation at the center of the story. McGowan and Shipley put humans at the center--as well they should. The Adaptive Advantage is a call to stop defining ourselves by our jobs, to extend formal education into lifelong learning, and to let curiosity lead us through the arc of our working lives. That way we remain resilient no matter how strong the waves of change become. Many essential capabilities can't be replaced...creativity, collaboration, judgment, sensemaking, empathy, and other forms of social and emotional intelligence are uniquely human. While technology will continue to influence the way we work we have immense agency to determine and design what we do and why we do it."
--Sandy Speicher, CEO, IDEO

"How thrilling to read the book that encourages us to see change as a propellant, not a weight! This is an insightful explanation of the velocity and force of the elements of change. It offers leaders the insight and capability to creatively lead transformations."
--Lynne Greene, Former Group President, Estee Lauder Companies

"McGowan and Shipley's The Adaptation Advantage nails it--adapting to change means adapting to a new identity It requires letting go of a job or skill-based identity in order to thrive in a world of rapidly changing societal norms and technologies. This is important reading."
--Jim Spohrer, PhD., IBM Director, Cognitive Open Technologies
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About Heather E. McGowan

HEATHER E. MCGOWAN (www.heathermcgowan.com) is an in-demand, internationally known speaker and Future of Work Strategist. She assists corporate clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in rethinking their business models, teams, and organizational structures to become resilient in changing markets.

CHRIS SHIPLEY (www.cshipley.com) spent thirty years entrenched in the technology industry as a journalist and technology analyst, observing and predicting business and social transformations brought about by digital innovation. She advises companies on positioning, business modeling, and innovation practices, and serves on the boards of several startups and advisory panels.
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