Adapting, Creativity, and the Future of Work

May 26, 2022

The world is ever changing. We have gone from mobile phones having only 1740kb of memory to smartphones being able to do everything except bake a roast.

There was a time when store catalogs would arrive in our physical mailboxes. Now catalogs, magazines, periodicals, and more are mostly digital. You can even order groceries through an app and have it delivered directly to your front door. We can definitely agree that things have changed—faster-paced, more options, and acquiring international items is relatively easy.

Due to our global workforce and digitally connected world, many people are finding themselves in new situations that come with new rules and unfamiliar cultural guidelines.

Even outside of the workforce within our personal lives, knowing how to adapt to new environments is a key skill.

 It is absolutely necessary.

In today’s volatile and complex business environment, companies that are not responsive to the emerging opportunities are faced with the surrounding threats of extinction.

Does anyone remember Kodak, RadioShack, Circuit City, Toy ‘R’ Us, and Blockbuster Video? Unfortunately, these companies did not adapt fast enough.

For companies to be adaptable, the people working for the company must be adaptable; and that ability to adapt is highly connected to the underlying foundational elements of creative thinking. Being able to adapt and change our behavior in response to cultural clues will be an advantage in an era of change. This is why ‘Cultural Observation’ is one of the early gems in the 7 Gems of Intercultural Creativity®.

Good adaptation involves self-reflection and observation between one’s own perspectives and behaviors and practices of different cultural groups. It is difficult to modify our behavior in a new cultural setting if we are unable to identify them within our own lives first.

Cultural differences can span across many different aspects. There are differences of interaction within cultural groups. Many of these cultural identifications are on a spectrum and vary with a level of degrees. They include individualist and collectivist cultures, hierarchical and egalitarian cultures, variance in deference to authority, and how cultures build trust.

Since the cultural norms inform us of how we understand our relationships and interact with one another, being culturally aware of these dynamics will help our ability to observe, adapt, and subsequently lead.

Another way to see these identifiers first-hand is in music. Lyrics oftentimes reflect a variety of cultural structures. Take the classic Frank Sinatra song “I Did it My Way.” This is a great example of a song focused on individualistic cultures, which places value on personal independence, achievement, and success.

Within these various types of cultures, people are more likely to see themselves as separate from others. They define themselves based on their personal traits and stress individual goals and the rights of the individual.

An individualist is motivated by personal rewards and benefits and sets personal goals and objectives based on self. They are very comfortable working with autonomy and not necessarily as part of a team.

“We’re all in this together” would be the theme song for a collectivist mindset. This group dynamic values interdependence. Collectivists see themselves as connected to others and define themselves in terms of relationships with others.

A collectivist is motivated by group goals as well as long-term relationships. People in a collectivist culture easily sacrifice individual benefit or praise for recognition and honor of the team’s success. Maintaining social harmony, getting along with others, and meeting social expectations have more weight in collectivist cultures.

We can also see these identifiers displayed in university settings within the U.S.—individualistic universities and a collectivist student—as well as in parental and family attachment styles. These different approaches may be viewed by others as odd—viewing individualistic, self-expression as selfish and disruptive and viewing the collectivist as too cooperative and socially agreeable.

Maybe there is a middle ground where we can reside. Maybe there’s a place (a neutral space) that will allow us to acknowledge and understand these cultural views, create spaces where individuality and special quirks are shared, all while simultaneously being able to thrive when connecting with group goals and organizational missions.

As our workforce becomes more global, and certainly more glocal, these differences will be imperative to understand as we learn to lead and adapt across national cultures.

Let’s explore and take notice of our cultural surroundings! See if you can recognize any of these cultural differences (individualistic, collectivist, hierarchical, etc.), and what creative steps would you take to successfully adapt within cultural encounters.