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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

The Adaption Advantage by Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley~8 minute read

I finished this book in July 2021. I recommend this book 10/10.

This book will show you how we are moving from the third into the fourth revolution of work. It will show how the machines are coming and how "The new works style" will rely on what the machines can't do, but where humans will accelerate at the workplace.

In the future of work, we need to be able to learn, unlearn, and adapt. We need to let go of our titles and throw job descriptions out. Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  1. The future of work, for both individuals and organizations, relies on rapid learning, unlearning, and adaptation.

  2. To successfully learn and adapt, we have to be willing to let go of "the way we have always done it" and equally, if not more difficultly, "who we think we are."

  3. Navigating a world of rapid learning, unlearning, and adaption requires that we become comfortable with ambiguity and vulnerability, allowing us to become champions of human potential in learning tours filled with unknowns.

P17- Key ideas:

  1. While technology is moving at a breakneck pace, shifting social and cultural norms are actually moving faster and impacting us more deeply than the widespread adoption of quickly emerging technologies.

  2. For many, individual personal and professional identities have been disrupted by some of these demographic, social, and cultural changes. For those experiencing an identity crisis, it is almost impossible to learn and adapt to change.

  3. Psychological security will be dependent on our abilities to define, own, and embrace the fundamental aspects and values of our complex selves undeterred by external changing norms.

P35- Key ideas:

  1. As we adopt new technologies, we are augmenting our human capabilities often without even realizing it.

  2. Technologies impact work in three ways—augmentation, atomization, and automation—and each of these has implications for the future of work and requires that we up-skill and re-skill regularly as part of work.

  3. We have already begun to adapt. Our ability to do so with agility and without fear is fundamental to our future productivity.

P47- Key ideas:

  1. The slowest pace of change you'll ever experience for the rest of your life is happening right now.

  2. To gain advantage from change. organizations must make the shift from "scalable efficiency" to "scalable learning."

  3. Effective learning requires organizations to tap into information flows, capturing the most emerging knowledge from sources inside and outside the company.

P48- Why the optimism? Because the antidote to speed isn't slowness; it's learning and adapting. Do you remember what it was like to pack your lunch and get ready for the first days of a new school year? Those were exciting times in our childhood. Most everything about the days ahead was up in the air, Would we like the new teacher? Who would be in our class? What new subjects would be on the syllabus? Sure, there was anxiety, but there was also this one clear fact: the start of the new year was a clean slate. Imagine what it might be like to tackle each workday as if it were the first day of school, but without the starchy new clothes. That idea—that every day is a new learning day—is at the heart of the adaptation advantage. Individuals and organizations best able to take in new data, read the situation, and pivot to a new opportunity are the ones best prepared to respond to—and even embrace—continuous change.

P50- The lesson here: if we disrupt ourselves at our peak, we'll be well prepared to surf the next wave of innovation, and we'll own the timing of our transformation; that is the adaptation advantage in action.

P64- Key ideas:

  1. Our deep connection to our occupational identity challenges our ability to navigate change, but we can rewrite our narratives for a richer purpose.

  2. Defining yourself, your skills, and your knowledge beyond the scope of your job is the fir]st step to thriving in the future of your work.

  3. To maximize human potential, we need to put humans at the center of every value proposition. If we focus on developing uniquely human skills, we"ll continue to build value for ourselves and the organizations that engage us.

P65- Key Ideas:

  1. Whether voluntary or otherwise, people are changing jobs, and even industries, more frequently than ever before.

  2. Our tight tether to occupational identity makes it even more challenging to adapt to a rapidly changing future.

  3. To navigate change, we must rewrite the narratives that form our identities to avoid getting caught in an identity trap and to build our adaptation advantage.

P79- No matter what your identity, your chosen path, your "what do you do," you will one day need to learn and adapt. Whatever you do now, unless you are closing in your target retirement years, is unlikely to be your last job. If you have been at the same job for five to seven years without a change, brace yourself; change is coming. If you lean into change, follow your curiosity, continually update your skills, nurture your network, and with a market mind continually assess the landscape for an opening for your abilities, you will be just fine. You've found your adaptation advantage.

P83- Key ideas:

  1. Know why: Understanding what you do, or even how you do it, pales in the comparison to knowing why you do what you do.

  2. Let go: Defining yourself, your skills, and your knowledge beyond the scope of your job is the first step to gaining your adaptation advantage.

  3. Embrace failure: Sometimes, your "worst" setbacks are your best carrier boosts.

P99- The S-curve is a macro process in two phases: Exploration followed by exploitation or, in other words, value creation followed by value extraction. Within these two macro phases are four stages, not unlike many design thinking processes.

  1. Explore. Begin by exploring the problem or opportunity space to frame the challenge.

  2. Experiment. Then experiment with possible solutions to the framed challenge.

  3. Execute. Once a viable solution is identified, introduce the solution to market.

  4. Expand. Then, finally, expand the market and extract the maximum value until this solution is replaced with a new and better one.

P100- "If you want something that grows, changes, explores, pushes boundaries, there's just nothing in the fields of AI that does anything like that right now." she told us. "There's no machine learning I can build that can explore. That's the unique value proposition of humans."

P103- Our Iceberg Model has four basic layers. Explicit skills and knowledge rise above the surfaces, are visible, and are understood. Enablers, sometimes called soft skills, sit at the waterline; they are those things that make us better at our job and relationships but are rarely the abilities for which we are explicitly hired. An agile learning mindset lies below the surface and enables us to continuously learn and adapt. At the base of the iceberg, a resilient and adaptive identity connects our motivation and our purpose.

P117- Key ideas:

  1. We need to value our own intelligence—the uniquely humans ways we learn, adapt, and create new value that we call organic cognition—over artificial intelligence—what we call silicon cognition.

  2. As technology advances and consumers more routine work, the value of work requiring organic cognition increases. If we focus on developing uniquely human skills, we'll continue to build value for ourselves and the organizations that engage us.

  3. To maximize human potential, we need to put humans at the center of every value proposition, augmenting human capacity with ever more capable tools and staying mindful of those most vulnerable to technological unemployment.

P129- Today's job market favors those who have the skills to be good team players. Social skills reduce the cost of coordinating with others.

P132- Skills battleground of importance:

  • Problem-solving

  • Leadership

  • Collaboration

  • Adaptability

  • Creativity+Innovation

  • Emotional intelligence

P145- Key Ideas:

  1. New times call for a new approach to leadership. Let your team know who you are and what you care about to establish your moral authority and to make clear why your team is following you.

  2. The best leaders are constant learners unafraid not to know and open to being wrong in pursuit of increasing their capacity.

  3. Psychological safety is the greatest determinant of high-performing teams. That safety starts with the leader and their willingness to be vulnerable and build trust.

P153- What makes a modern leader:

  1. Model the way: Establish principles around how others should be treated and how goals should be obtained and create interim milestones when a goal is too far out or too complex.

  2. Inspire a shared vision: Create a future state that others both believe in and desire to help realize.

  3. Challenge the process: Change the status quo by including experimentation and learning from failure.

  4. Enable others to act: Foster collaboration and build spirited teams based on mutual respect and trust.

  5. Encourage the heart: Celebrate accomplishments and make team members feel like heroes.

P162- Leadership is not about you having more talent than each of your direct reports; rather, it's about your ability to integrate and orchestrate their talent toward your goals. This leadership style is the essence of the adaptation advantage because it enables talent to learn, expand, and reorganize in preparation for as yet unseen opportunities.

P171- Leaning into scalable learnings rather than relying on scalable efficiency, you will be better positioned for the pivots and continuous adaptation in accelerated change.

P173- Drop the cookie. Forget the super chickens. Be vulnerable and tell your people what you care about so they can align with your values. Establish safety, trust, and accountability. Check your blind spots and mind your gab by committing to your own learning plan. Own it and apologize when you fail and get up every day with the goal of making your company the one that your team will look back on and say, "That was the best place I ever worked."

P175- Key Ideas:

  1. The most important tool of the adaptable company is culture. Culture is the context in which a company exercises and expands its capacity to learn, from, and identify and capture new opportunities.

  2. To adeptly adapt continuously, organizational leadership must focus on inputs (culture and capacity) rather than outputs (brand, products, and services).

  3. Coupling culture and capacity is key to becoming a scalable learning organization and gaining the adaptation advantage.

P176- As we cross the bridge to a digital economy, we need to shift from measuring output to optimizing throughput. In other words, the condition in which we create and produce will matter more than the product itself. That may sound like a radical idea, but consider this: the things we produce—because they may be transient—are a product of our organization's capacity to identify and rapidly respond to new opportunity and capture new value. Products and services will be short-lived. Rather than optimizing for specific production, our best work will be in establishing the condition that enable continuous and continually shifting methods of value creation. These conditions result in an agile, learning, and adaptable company able to thrive in a new realities on the other side of the digital economy bridge.


P182- "It's not about how efficient you are, it's how effective you are. We need to have the policy to reflect that. Unlimited paid vacation seemed like it supported that value, but almost no one was ever taking a vacation. If we actually cared about the value, we had to have policy that reflected that. We now have a minimum of two weeks of vacation. We track the time, and if someone works too many days in a row, we force people to take time off. we had to fine-tune that one."

P205- The best leaders don't hire for skills alone; they hire for mission and mindset while being open to candidates who make them a little uncomfortable because they think differently. They hire for cultural fit, knowing that many skills can be learned, but culture has to be felt, and mission needs to be shared. What matters is whether the candidate can be "one of us," where "one of us" means someone who can think, adapt, challenge, change, and grow. These abilities are paramount in the workforce that needs to find and frame problems not yet known. For that, we need diverse and divergent thinking, creativity, curiosity, and talent that asks probing questions even when it makes us a little uncomfortable.

P215- The best leaders are incorporating learning post-mortems into the feedback loops of every step of every project. At Unreasonable group, for example, Epstein takes regular occasions to ask his team to provide feedback. He invites project participants to answer three seemingly simple questions: What worked? What could be better? What would should we celebrate? Participants in turn share in a format of "I liked," "I wish,"—and "reason to dance." In a quick round-robin, Unreasonable group identifies and affirms what is working and commits to do more to reinforce that good work, identifies what could be better and immediately follows through to affect change and improvements, and finally gives team members a moment to feel joy and share appreciation for one another and their work together.

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