The need to develop adaptive intelligence will form a critical part of what it will take to thrive in the future. Adaptability is not just about being successful in a changing world, evolutionary insight identifies it as critical to survival.

But what does it mean to be ‘adaptively intelligent’?

Research has shown that there are four specific aspects necessary to develop adaptive intelligence:

  1. The ability to live with change and uncertainty.
  2. Embracing different types of knowledge for learning.
  3. Embracing diversity for resilience.
  4. Creating opportunity for self-organization for sustainability.

In today’s Tuesday Tip we will look a little closer at the second of these two aspects namely, developing different types of knowledge for learning.

Learning is an inherent part of adaptive leadership. The need to be a learning organisation (something long championed by author Peter Senge) as well as being a learning individual all forms part of the adaptive ‘DNA’. Given this assumption (the need to learn) we can then focus on what it means to ‘embrace different types of knowledge’ in the pursuit of that learning.

Here would be three things you can do to be a better (and more intentional) learner:

  1. Know your starting point:

People learn in different ways, as perhaps do organisations. Understanding how you learn best is therefore a good starting point. Most learning and developmental programmes fail to take this fundamental reality into consideration when designing the programme. Seldom are the programme participants assessed as to what exactly is their individual learning style and even less frequent is the actual design of the programme reflective of this contextual reality.

So, do you know how you learn best?

Think about the lessons that have ‘stuck’ and explore why that is -and what contributed to this being the case. When you know how you learn best you can then intentionally build such stimuli into your routine and schedule.

  1. Identify and experiment with the sources that inform your learning:

Think about the sources that inform your learning.  Over time we often become ‘lazy’ and habitual as to where we get our information. This can be dangerous as we develop ‘blinkers’ and blind spots in our opinions and worldview.

Intentionally enlarge the scope of where you get your information.

If you subscribe to different magazines or newspapers, then why not change your subscriptions on an annual basis? Deliberately ‘mix things up’. Review your reading habits and intentionally visit the less familiar categories and genres and explore this ‘new knowledge’.

Spend some time with children. Really spend time with them and watch how they play ‘make-believe’ type games. If you are bold enough enter into their game without bossing the game; let them dictate the rules and pace of the game.

Insights gleaned from such an obvious source might surprise you! The point here is that we often think that we can only learn from the learned, the powerful, the successful and the prominent. Of course we can but the truth is we can also learn from everybody. There is a wisdom saying that says, ‘when the learner is ready the teacher appears’. Our learning is never stunted by the lack of teachers but rather by our inability to see the teachers that surround us.

Consider investing in an activity that is new to you. Art classes, a society of some sort, a walking club…any number of options and activities. The point is that you deliberately put yourself in the way of unexpected learning and insights. These might be insights about you – how ‘invested’ you really are; how easily or difficult it is to commit to whatever it is you are doing; what surprises you about the others involved or about how ‘you show up’ in the setting. When last did you get out of your comfort zone to experience something new and different?

Reverse whatever it is that you find natural and normal. If you are the type who speaks a lot, speak less; if you like to be active, do less; if you often find yourself giving answers or sharing your opinion, ask questions and listen more; if you prefer coffee, try tea…and so it goes. Point is, try the polar opposite to what you have (perhaps for good reason) built around you that form the habits and ‘structure’ to how you live day to day. Maybe it is best to let those around you know what you are trying to do but essentially you are opening yourself to different perspectives and experiences. Of course you might well beat a hasty retreat into your familiar routines and behaviour but will do so perhaps with fresh appreciation for why they exist in the first place!

Ask five select friends or people you respect for different qualities and characteristics how ‘they learn best’. Besides teeing up a good conversation, listen to what it is they have found helpful and try some of what they do for yourself.

Select 10 films that you might not ordinarily watch and watch them. Careful selection could make this a rich learning experience. Films are under-utilised in executive education and I once worked in a Japanese MBA programme in Tokyo where the entire course was designed around select movies.

  1. Track what happens:

If you are brave enough to try some of the above, then track your progress.

Keep a ‘Learning Journal’ in which you periodically capture what is working and what isn’t working. Reflect and record what is being learned and why that might be.

Recording this learning adventure will help the very process of developing a reflective habit and that in itself is valuable in the learning journey.

And last, but not least…have fun!

About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Keith Coats

The world needs a new leadership response to a global context of change, complexity and uncertainty. Leadership Thinker (and author of today’s Tuesday Tip), Keith Coats is passionate about helping audiences around the world to understand what this response looks like and to equip leaders with the tools needed to respond to this changing context.

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