Adopt an agile mindset to thrive in uncertain times.
Ever been caught in a whirlwind of change during your career? While the pandemic may seem like the cause of rapid shifts in the global economy, the modern world has long been a playground of flux for professionals. Now, more than ever, it’s being fueled by disruptive forces like technology. The question, then, isn’t so much about how to recover from change – but about what you can do to adapt and thrive on inevitable transformation.
Mental agility is your compass in this dynamic arena. This goes beyond quick thinking – it’s a nurtured mindset for riding complexity, seamlessly pivoting between ideas, and soaking in the thrill of learning.
You’ll discover the power of an agile mindset through five fundamental tenets: building resilience, navigating cognitive twists, cultivating a growth-infused outlook, fine-tuning emotional intelligence, and kindling meaningful connections.
Become more resilient
Let’s be honest: change has been the name of the game for decades. We’ve got tech revolutions, societal shifts, and economic roller coasters all playing their part in the grand evolution of work. This is why resilience will always matter – it’s the first line of defence against the crazy twists of the modern work world.
To be more resilient in uncertain times, you need three things in your toolkit: confidence, adaptability, and mastery.
Confidence is about believing you can conquer the curveballs thrown your way. Think of it as that moment when you tackle a puzzle – you’re not sure how you’ll solve it, but you know you’ll figure it out. For inspiration, just look at how Spotify thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. Relying on advertising revenue from free users, the company faced a pandemic-induced budget cut crisis. To reclaim control, it swiftly shifted gears, introducing original content akin to Netflix, striking exclusive podcast deals, and orchestrating radio shows. Despite unclear solutions, Spotify’s strategy hinged on an unwavering belief in its ability to identify and tackle challenges.
Next up is adaptability. This is an enormous ninja skill because it enables you to turn slipups into stepping stones. Elon Musk, the feedback guru, swears by this. He embraces tweaking and twisting things based on feedback from others until they work like a charm. Beyond seeking feedback, Musk relies on self-questioning – adapting his thinking and behaviour to enhance outcomes – and an unwavering commitment to continuous improvement.
Finally, mastery allows you to remain calm during any storm. Remember how Lego pulled off its jaw-dropping comeback after facing a 30 percent sales drop and $800 million debt in 2003? Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s appointment as CEO marked an astounding turnaround. He refocused on core strengths, such as harnessing insights into children’s play habits and embracing low-risk innovation. The arguably instinctive move to go back to basics enabled Lego to reclaim its status as a global powerhouse by 2015.
In short, these pillars of resilience aren’t acts to perform in a silo. They go hand in hand, so you can stay undeterred in the face of market uncertainty. You’re building a toolkit – now use it as you prepare for the future of work.
Now that you have the blueprint for resilience down pat, it’s time to mentally prepare for the chaos by ramping up your cognitive flexibility.
Increase your mental flexibility
Crafting a mindset for success isn’t just about wearing a power tie or having the fanciest gadgets. It’s about taking advantage of your brain power for success amid uncertainty.
Enter cognitive flexibility. To be mentally flexible, you first need to fine-tune your mental orchestra and adjust its strings to rev up your motivation and work performance. So what does it take to maintain cognitive flexibility and readily embrace uncertainty? Here’s a two-step strategy.
First, prioritize mental agility. Merely understanding how the brain works isn’t enough to help you prepare for and leverage the uncertainty ahead. Mentally agility means being able to recognize ideas, seize opportunities, and elegantly handle shifts – and then manoeuvre between the three seamlessly. It’s not about having all the answers right away; it’s about developing the confidence to pivot elegantly as soon as you need to. So commit to mental agility as a default mindset. In doing so, you’ll shape your brain to adapt, excel, and surge forward across any and all career changes.
Now for the second, more radical step: embrace failure as an opportunity to continuously learn. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But failure isn’t the antagonist – it’s a crucial supporting character in the story of professional triumph. Embracing stumbles and mishaps at work as stepping stones for better opportunities will ultimately lead to success.
Consider Steve Jobs’s tumultuous journey. After being fired from his company, Apple, he didn’t stop and dwell on his misfortune. Instead, he quickly cofounded NeXT, a computer company that Apple would later buy and rehire him to head. By welcoming failure with open arms, you turn it into an intermission rather than a complete stop, which allows you to rewrite your script to success.
When in doubt, turn to the ABCDE model – which Michael Jordan embodied when he didn’t make his high school basketball team. Instead of wallowing, he defied disappointment by choosing productive beliefs and actions. Here’s how the model worked in his case:
A is for “activating event” – the coach’s decision not to include Jordan on the team.
B is for “beliefs” – Jordan believed he could prove the coach wrong.
C is for “consequences” – his determination led to hard work and making the team.
D is for “disruptive thought” – Jordan intended to keep proving the coach wrong.
E is for “effective new approach” – he showcased progress and demonstrated his competence differently.
They’re big shoes to fill (literally!) – but try following in Jordan’s footsteps. Applying the ABCDE model to your work life will help you increase your cognitive flexibility and lead to lasting results.
Believe you can grow
Imagine you’ve just stepped out of a job interview, feeling good about how it went. The position seems like the perfect fit, and you’re excited and hopeful. But a week later, the recruiter calls with the news: you didn’t get the job. Why? They chose someone with more experience.
It’s a heavy blow, no doubt. And if you have a fixed mindset, you might think, “Well, I guess I’ll never be good enough in interviews. I just can’t shake my nerves.” But that’s like putting up a mental wall that tells you your abilities are set in stone – that you’ve hit your limit.
Now, picture your response with a growth mindset – a game-changing concept coined by Carol Dweck. Upon hearing you didn’t get the job, you respond with curiosity and a desire to learn. You see it as an opportunity instead of defeat. Sure, you didn’t get a “yes” this time – but you’ve got the experience and skills, right? It’s just about refining them and presenting yourself better next time. This shift from a fixed to a growth mindset flips the script, turning setbacks into springboards.
To cultivate your growth mindset, you need to avoid the so-called talent trap. Jeff Bezos, for one, challenges the notion that you can solely rely on innate talents. The Amazon mogul encourages people to celebrate their gifts while acknowledging the role nurture can play. Pride, he suggests, should stem from the effort invested in expanding those talents.
If you believe your skills are a fixed ceiling, you’ll likely fall short of your true potential. But if you believe you can grow, you’ll do more than improve – you’ll also see that abilities aren’t etched in stone and are always moldable.
Remember, nobody’s career journey is a straight road. It’s a winding path through an ever-evolving landscape that you alone have the power to block. By combining your natural aptitude with the tenacity to develop new skills, you’ll be able to thrive as technology reshapes work demands.
Want more proof? Consider the story of Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella. By believing in growth and fostering a “learn-it-all” environment instead of a “know-it-all” mentality, he transformed a stagnant software company into a hub of innovation.
So, believe you can grow – and you will.
Leverage your emotions to fuel endurance
You’re in a room alive with conversations, where unspoken emotions shape every interaction. It’s a hidden symphony of feelings, a dance of connections guided by emotional intelligence.
According to Lisa Feldman Barrett, the author of How Emotions Are Made, emotions are intricate constructs woven from personal history, experiences, and biology. They serve as the lens through which we perceive the world, offering profound insights into our reactions and interpretations.
Unlike a static IQ, emotional intelligence is a dynamic toolkit for understanding, expressing, and forging connections with feelings – both your own as well as those of others. In today’s rapidly evolving work landscape, it’s a skill that can turn relationships into collaborations and uncertainty into opportunity.
So, how can you harness emotional intelligence to master the future of work?
Begin with self-awareness. By familiarizing yourself with your internal landscape, you’ll uncover the nuances that can amplify your performance. Avon’s CEO, Andrea Jung, is a great example. She’s spoken at length about continuously checking in with herself as she navigates high-level decisions and builds genuine connections.
But there’s more: self-management. Ever wished you could rewind a hasty reaction? Emotional intelligence allows you to pause, reflect, and respond mindfully. It’s the countermeasure to impulsive choices, empowering you to see situations from different angles and cultivate better decisions and relationships.
Then there’s social awareness, the art of sensing unspoken currents. When you’re attuned to your surroundings and emotional landscape, you can understand how the people around you are feeling. This skill transforms interactions into positive experiences, fosters empathy, and smooths out collaborations – all of which are necessary for bracing the unknown.
More than anything else, emotional intelligence boils down to effective relationship management. By staying emotionally savvy, you can communicate truthful insights more clearly and chaos-proof your professional relationships – which are ultimately just based on human connection, as we’ll see in the final section.
Unleash the power of connection
Strong connections at work are the bedrock of mental agility. They matter because connecting in professional settings isn’t just about sharing ideas – it’s about achieving success via shared purpose and mutual support.
There are two levels of connection: individual and group. Let’s talk about connecting with others on an individual basis first.
You can find high levels of motivation and engagement in workplaces that prioritize meaningful collegial bonds. A 2019 study by Great Place to Work found that among Fortune 100’s top workplaces, 89 percent embraced cooperative camaraderie. The result? Psychological safety – a space where open discussions, honest feedback, and seeking help are natural. And an authentic environment is a healthy breeding ground for true innovation, even amid uncertain times.
Now, here’s some insight into the power of connecting teams.
Positive interdepartmental connections depend on strong leadership. At the management software company Bento for Business, relationships fuel professional growth. Senior leaders are quick to don the mentor hat – sharing stories, insights, and experiences that transcend traditional roles. It’s more than management; it’s mentorship in action, driven by the company’s mantra, “Be Human.”
HR technology company Workday takes this concept further, championing robust social networks. Why? They recognize the unmatched power of connected teams. Here, the connection is a strategic game-changer – never a buzzword. The executive team at Workday understands that interconnectedness amplifies collaboration, ensures the seamless flow of information, and paves the way for mutual growth.
It’s evident that as work norms continuously shift and take new forms, expertise isn’t the only ingredient necessary for success. Your professional connections can make or break your mental agility during rapid changes. When you have people you can count on by your side, it’s easier to welcome – and thrive in – the future of work
In today’s world, it’s no longer about surviving uncertainty – you have to learn how to thrive in it. And this feat begins with prioritizing mental agility.
When in doubt, remember the five pillars of an agile mindset: resilience, cognitive flexibility, growth appreciation, emotional intelligence, and connection. Armed with this toolkit, you can make the most of any disruptive event or evolving work environment.