Adaptive Learning and Leadership

When the world is predictable you need smart people. When the world is unpredictable you need adaptable people.
— Henry Mintzberg

Workshop Description

The path to progress is never easy. Whenever you’re trying to orchestrate change, implement strategy, respond to a disruptive event, or improve a process, you’ll inevitably run into challenges along the way.

Not all Challenges are Created Equal.

As you face these challenges, it’s important to recognize they all fall somewhere on a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum we find routine problems. A routine problem isn’t routine because it happens regularly, but because we have a routine for dealing with it – a protocol, a process, or an expert on which we can depend for a reliable fix. A routine problem may be irksome and expensive, but at least we’re in familiar territory and know what to do about it.

Adaptive Challenges

At the other end of the spectrum we find a very different kind of problem: an adaptive challenge. When facing an adaptive challenge we’re in uncharted territory, where there are no proven routines, protocols, solutions, or experts to look to for ready answers. To successfully negotiate an adaptive challenge we must work with others to navigate the alien terrain.

Your Leadership Challenge

All the problems we face in life fall somewhere between these two distinct poles. From a leadership perspective, it’s important to know the distinction between routine and adaptive issues because they each require a profoundly different problem solving approach. For a routine problem a bias for action is appropriate. We have a routine, we know what to do, so as Nike suggests, we should “just do it.” But for an adaptive challenge – where there is no clear routine, no proven process, and no ready expert who can save the day – a bias for learning is essential. Why? To navigate our way over unfamiliar ground we must roll up our cognitive sleeves and work with others to figure out the best way forward. Leaders must orchestrate, in other words, a process of adaptive learning.

Learning Outcomes

This workshop focuses on strategy and challenges – what you’re up to as an organization and what you’re up against. It provides simple but powerful frameworks to help you clearly identify where you’re going as an organization, the specific types of challenges that you’ll face along the way, and we explore how to engage your team and to address those challenges in a focused and productive manner. Participants will explore the answers to the following questions, and more:

  • What are the adaptive challenges facing your team or organization?
  • How do you avoid the common traps that derail a team’s ability to do adaptive work?
  • How can you mobilize your people to do the necessary adaptive work?
  • How can you help people adjust their thinking to fit an adaptive problem rather than interpret a problem to fit their routine thinking?
  • What are the leadership behaviors that encourage everyone – no matter their station or status – to constructively engage the major challenges facing the organization.

At the end of the session you’ll identify key places to work and practice, update your Personal Plans and Team Plans

Complementary Workshops

This popular workshop is commonly combined with these courses:

To learn more check out

Leaning Into Difference: The Key to Solving Tough Problems

Length: 2 hours +

Format: Virtual or in-person