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As entrepreneurs, adaptability is one of the most important skills that make our work relevant and impactful. The more adaptable we are, the more we can stay ahead of the curve and offer new insights that lead to better products and services. The less adaptable we are, the harder it is to survive and overcome economic challenges.
Ultimately, our ability to adapt relies on our speed and accuracy in discerning market trends. One must be able to quickly self-reflect, pivot and push forward in an entirely new direction based on educated expectations of what the future will demand and welcome. This adjustment is not easy, nor is it as heralded as intellectual or emotional intelligence. But I would argue that adaptability is more crucial.
Throughout my professional career, I have learned that creating the right environment is key to fostering adaptability within a larger community of entrepreneurs. These habits have been critical to building every venture I have undertaken, from Charming Charlie to Boosted Commerce.
1. Embrace diversity
The more diverse an organization is, the more successful it is in achieving its overall KPIs, OKRs and other measurables. In fact, according to a 2019 analysis by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. This growth is up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.
How is profitability impacted by diversity and inclusion? In my experience, the most inclusive communities have always offered more “diversity of thought” — a critical advantage fostered by design-thinking communities that have spent decades creating some of our most beloved products and services. IDEO, one of the most well-known product design thinking companies in the world, applies a simple philosophy: Bring together people from vastly different backgrounds to design collectively. In fact, studies highlighting intercultural friendships in the workforce have proven this. Doing so creates products that are fostered by embracing more perspectives in the design process, which leads to a larger customer base that feels better understood and represented. This then leads to innovation. A diverse executive team naturally fosters a diverse workforce that magnifies this creative process across all aspects of the team.
Of course, diversity is not a new topic within entrepreneurial circles, but it must be a consistent one to create the more inclusive spaces that are still needed across all sectors of society. Embracing this mindset leads companies to gain better access to talent that ultimately builds stronger businesses.
2. Delegate and elevate intrapreneurs
Beyond their day-to-day responsibilities, employees should celebrate their positions as entrepreneurs inside an organization.
Better known as intrapreneurs, this process allows for taking ownership of new, self-directed projects that can transform an organization from the inside out. In a similar fashion to encouraging KPIs, offer several hours each month for colleagues across all levels of the organization to speak to customers, ask for feedback, address pain points and dive further into creating innovative solutions throughout the company. Each quarter, after having “CEO Time” to generate new projects, offer these intrapreneurial teams time to present their work and gain executive approval for establishing internal changes. Doing so creates a better organizational workflow and fosters a creative company culture that breeds innovators. Furthermore, it significantly increases cash flow, as highlighted by Deloitte.
As Professor John Hunt of the London Business School notes, only about 30 percent of managers delegate effectively. They spread themselves too thin as they continually take on tasks that they should otherwise pass on to others. They not only burn out in the long run, but they develop inefficient bottlenecks that harm the larger business. At its core, fostering intrapreneurs in this manner offers executives the opportunity to help a growing organization stay innovative while still fulfilling day-to-day responsibilities.
3. Clarity breaks
Adaptability requires you to understand your market inside and out. It also requires you to take chances. Over more than 20 years as an entrepreneur, I have found that my greatest inspirations have come out of my “downtime.” I put quotations around downtime because I understand that, as entrepreneurs, downtime means having one eye open while we sleep. Can we ever really be fully disconnected?
Yet, for me, downtime has come in the form of self-designed clarity breaks. In short, clarity breaks are moments you set aside to let your imagination be free, doing something personal that offers professional insights.
In my particular case, this is catching up with my children. Whether through family movie nights or playing sports, I want to be in an environment where everyone can openly share what’s going on in their lives. Disconnecting does not always have to be a trip to the beach or a visit to the spa. By spending downtime with the people we love, we can get a different perspective for us to understand.
Whenever I have time with my kids, that proves to be particularly true, as they keep me informed about the spaces they interact with, giving me a sense of how the world is changing for the communities they are a part of. Spending time with my children grounds me and reminds me of what is most important, why I do what I do and what kind of world I want them to inherit. This is the greatest source of inspiration, fostering the adaptability to create a world I want to be proud of.
Adapting to the times
Adaptability may mean the difference between the businesses that expand to new locations and the businesses that close their doors. As Covid continues to challenge small businesses across the US, we see how the general hospitality industry has been negatively impacted. Yet, not all establishments shuttered. Many grew their revenue and gross profit margins and built trust with their consumer base at a critical time, ultimately creating a new series of opportunities. Their adaptability quotient is what separated them. They reflected and adapted to move forward and change their business — and their community.