Technical Problems and Adaptive Challenges

The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems. What’s the difference?

Technical – may be very complex and critically important but there are known solutions that can be implemented by current know how.

Example: Replacing a piece of hardware due to complete failure.

Technical can be resolved through the application of authoritative expertise and through the organization’s current structures, procedures, and ways of doing things.

AdaptiveCan only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.  Through adaptive change people experience loss.

Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew.

Let’s think through this…

You have a relative in good health at the age of 80 who lives alone and still drives at night. You begin noticing each time he returns home, there are new scratches and dents in his car.  The determination has been made that he is no longer fit to be driving.

Is this Technical or Adaptive? BOTH

Pay for cabs
Find alternative rides
Loss of independence
Remove part of her identity


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