One way to look at the world is to divide it into adaptive and technical challenges and solutions.

For example if I am a teacher using a math textbook that is outdated, I can solve that problem with a technical solution, a new textbook.  If, however, my challenge is not just my textbook, but that I have always thought I was not good at math and thus conveyed to kids that there are just some people who are “math people” (good at math) and then rest of us just have deal with math until college, than what I really need isn’t a new textbook, but a new attitude about math.  My challenge is an adaptive challenge.

Adaptive challenges are challenges that lie in the beliefs and values of individuals.  An adaptive solution though, isn’t really a solution in the traditional way we think about solutions.  We like to think of solutions as one and done (and love checking them off our to do lists!).  To address adaptive challenge on the other hand, we have to continuously work at and redefine our answers.  These are the fixes that live in our culture, our relationships, and are never really done.adaptive-planning


And here’s the kicker:  to combine two trends in the world of leadership, some adaptive changes might be polarities.  Polarities are issues where two things, that might appear to be opposite are true (Caution: this is the quick definition of a complex way of thinking).  You can use the language of BOTH/AND instead of EITHER/OR.  


For example: It both true that teacher autonomy is valuable and that vertically aligning a curriculum can provide teachers with better resources.  There’s no right answer, only a tension that needs to be carefully balanced.


Got it?  Okay, here’s the take-away.  Once you start to see the world through adaptive vs. technical lens, you can change how you approach these different types of issues.  If you try to fix an adaptive challenge with a technical solution, it won’t end well (even though there’s a new math book, I still don’t like math). I bet you can think of other examples to prove that point.


Once you have the world divided try this (a tip I learned from an amazing PD run by the folks at Two Rivers in DC): try to make ONLY ONE adaptive change per year.  If a school, organization, or even individual trys more than that, it’s a receipt for little meaningful change.  So what will be your one change?

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