If you could make a change in just one area of your life – what would it be? 

This may be either a personal or professional change goal.  Perhaps something you’ve struggled with in the past and are now ready to boldly tackle it head-on.

To help prime the pump, let me give you an example from my own life. 

This past year my professional goal has been to build my business systems and infrastructure.  I’m pleased to say I’m about 80 to 90 percent there.  It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.  I’ve learned to embrace the motto “80% is good to go”.

As Winston Churchill said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

This goal required me to focus and direct my attention on doing something I find tedious and frustrating.  It was frustrating because I had to do something I don’t know how to do. In order to accomplish this I had to learn some new skills, new technologies, and hire expert help. I managed to achieve this goal by channeling my passion for my work using this as my motivation to stick with it.  I must say, it feels really good now to have this behind me.

It also serves as a great example of a “technical” goal.  Technical goals or problems are usually fairly easy to solve.  In general, most technical issues can be solved by learning something new or doing something different.  These changes are straightforward and quick to implement. 

People often solve technical problems by hiring an expert for advice, they make an assessment of the situation, and provide some learning or skills-based solutions.  If this works for you then congratulations you’ve just solved your “technical” problem or achieved a “technical” goal.

In the case of my professional goal, I was dealing with a technical issue. I used a combination of learning new skills and hiring experts to help me.  There was some modification to my scheduling necessary to make room for this project, but the end result was achieved through technical means.

But what if you’ve tried the “technical” approach and you still haven’t been able achieve your goal or solve your problem?

According to leadership expert Ronald Heifetz M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of the Center of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, who pioneered adaptive capacity building in organizations and leadership.  Heifetz’s identified two distinct types of change challenges leaders face.  One is a “technical” problem and the other is an “adaptive challenge”. 

This same distinction holds true whether you’re leading a company or living your life.  Knowing which one you’re dealing with makes a world of difference in how you approach a goal or managing a change initiative. It’s like knowing whether it’s best to attempt opening a watermelon with a hammer or a knife.  Both may work, but which one will get you the best results?

Chances are if you’re not making any lasting change stick you have an “adaptive challenge”  on your hands. This requires more than gaining new knowledge and information about your situation.

“Adaptive challenges” are much harder to identify and even more stubborn to change.  The fact is “adaptive challenges” require more than simply learning new skills and doing new things, they require a shift in our thinking and being.  Adaptive challenges require a shift in perspective about the situation, person, and/or system. They require us to become a new and improved version of ourselves in order to make real significant change stick.

According to Harvard educators Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey, creators of the Immunity to Change process, “Many if not most, of the change challenges you face today and will face tomorrow require something more than incorporating new technical skills into your current mindset. They actually require a complete transformation of your mindset”.

Kegan and Lahey go on to say that according to Heifetz, one of the biggest mistakes most leaders make is that they try to solve the problems they face using “technical” approaches rather than “adaptive” change solutions.

Many workplace training programs are designed using a “technical” approach.  They tend to apply technical “knowledge-based” training and competency models to solve performance challenges.  The same holds true for most diet and exercise or wellness programs.  The long-term effects of these solutions depend upon a number of factors.  The bottom line is if the goal was achieved or the change initiative a success, then the issue may have been merely a “technical” one. If you keep bumping up against the same issues over and over, with little or no forward movement, you undoubtedly will want to take an adaptive approach in order to improve the situation.

To borrow another example from my own life, my personal goal for the past two years has been to commit to exercising on a regular basis consistently.  This is an adaptive challenge for me.  I have been known to express my disdain for exercise.  Oddly enough, I grew up being active and athletic. In my adult life however I’ve found it exceptionally difficult to ‘consistently stay committed to exercise.

By identifying and eventually overturning my Immunity to Change around exercise.  I have maintained a consistent exercise regime for two years now.  This change required a transformation in my mindset about exercising.

So, if you’ve been struggling with a change goal, there is hope for you too.
Thanks to experts like those mentioned above, there are tried and true, evidence-based methods for working with adaptive challenges. One of the techniques I use in my coaching practice is the Immunity to Change process.  

If you’re ready to spend the time and effort necessary to tackle those pesky, stubborn, hard-to-move “adaptive challenges” once and for all, then I invite you to get started with “Just One Thing.”

I’m currently facilitating workshops to help you hone in on that Just One Thing you’d really like to make a lasting change with. In this workshop you will learn how to identify if you’re dealing with a technical or an adaptive goal – and how to go about designing an action plan to help you make great strides in reaching your true potential.

For more information contact jennifer@consultBWN.com

Jennifer Silverstein, CPC
Bottomline Results Coach
Leadership Development Consultant