The Better Adapted You Are, the Less Adaptable You Tend To Be


The Better Adapted You Are

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

I was skimming Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully and I came across this nugget:

“…Many years ago, Sir Ronald Fisher noted that every biological system had to face the problem of present versus future, and that the future was always less certain than the present. To survive, a species had to do well today, but not so well that it didn’t allow for possible change tomorrow. His Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection said that the more adapted an organism was to present conditions, the less adaptable it tended to be to unknown future conditions. We can apply the theorem to individuals, small groups of people, large organizations, organizations of people and machines, and even complex systems of machinery, and can generalize it as follows: The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be…”
Source: Gerald M. Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting (New York, Dorset House Publishing, 1985) pp 29-30

Along the same lines, I was scanning Lean Software Engineering and came across this nugget:

“… When it comes to large-scale, creative engineering, the right processes for all the various teams in an organization depends on both people and situation — both of which are constantly changing. You can’t just adopt a particular process and be done with it.  So really the only “bad process” is one that doesn’t provide framework to reflect and permission to adapt…”
Source: Avoid Dogma When Herding Cats

This reminded me of a quote from Hereclitus“Nothing endures but change.”

I’m a fan of adaptability and continuous improvement.  I think adaptability is a key ingredient for effectiveness.  I regularly reflect on and test how adaptable is my mindset? … my approach? … my tools? … my teams? … my organization? … my company? … etc.

Photo by lu lu.


  1. it sets limit for perfection, which is good. It loosens the other end too 🙂 – the mediocre… But i believe quick check for results would set a low limit too, right? 😉
    Eddie Murphy would say “What have you done for me lately?” 😉

    And I’d say “What have you got me lately?” – LOL!

  2. JD, great post! This is exactly where I am at lately, rather than resisting again,..I am adapting, learning from the lessons and even if that means stopping in the midst of something to regroup, realign it is much better than continuing just to say I completed what I started. I want to focus on ‘value’ and ‘effectiveness’ also.

    I am moving into the unknown and catching the groove for experimenting! 😉 looking forward to some fun exciting change over here soon! thanks for the inspirational boost and reassurance here today! have a great Easter /I saw this quote the other day and I loved it!
    Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life. ~S.D. Gordon

  3. Hey JD
    Yes adaptability is a major key to our personal growth. I think a big part of this is also self awareness, the more self aware a person is, the better they will forsee when adaptation is coming along and to take action steps accordingly to work with the adaptation versus the resistence. Nice post here with valid points !

  4. I hate to say this, as someone who is getting older (38 OMG) but I feel that the older you get, the less adaptable you tend to be. Perhaps the secret of those who manage to stay young at heart is that they keep their flexibility and adaptability.

  5. Hey JD,
    What interesting books you are scanning! Gerald Weinberg used to be one of IBM’s top consultants a only while ago.His famous quote -“Once you sort out problem number one,number two gets promoted” made history. Adaptability and change are so relevant. What can I say? It is never late to reflect on these most important issues.

  6. Well, wow, this goes against what I might have thought.

    Be prepared to change and we’ll be better off. That is good!

    Hey, maybe Hubby and I should NEVER finish our house remodel, maybe this is keeping us more than young at heart, as Vered says. 🙂

    And you won at my blog (again!) Not just ONE — but TWO permanent links on my “18 Reasons To Love This Blog” page, as you’ll read in my “Texas Friendly” post. But no surprise — you’re a perma-winner.

    Happy Easter! hope you get those peeps. 🙂


  7. Hi JD .. absolutely right .. the only reason we’re here today is because we, and our many companions .. mammals, insects, birds and the bees .. have all adapted as nature takes us along: we cope today, but need to be prepared for tomorrow and be ready to take the best step forward.

    Constantly weighing up options but remembering the present as the most important & the constant for that moment ..

    Love those quotes and thoughts .. Our land is about to change – Spring cometh .. wonderful flowers, English countryside at its best, – just enjoy the wait and watch everything slowly blossom out.

    Have a good Easter – all the best Hilary

  8. “Nothing endures but change.” I am writing this one down in my quotes journal. Your posts are short, sweet, “make you think” and to the point now. Seth Godin’s style.

  9. I think a better of thinking about this is that, sometimes, evolutionary processes falls into a local maxima or a local minima. There is a trick in the wording of, “The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be”, since “adaptation” was redefined in the second part of that statement. If you’re so well adapted to the current situation such that you fail to adapt to future, hypothetical, unknown situations, then what you’ve really done is hyper-specialized and stop responding to change. This is no much that one adapts to well so much as one got comfortable and *stopped* adapting.

    In terms of practice, it means someone stops being mindful of the task on hand and starts performing his tasks mindlessly. The present moment is always surprising, this principle of adaptation is not.

  10. Sometimes I used to wonder how the animals on the street manage to survive and live a nice life in harsh conditions. (In my country, Turkey, there are many cats and dogs living by themselves on the streets) Later I found out that they’re able to “adapt” in wonderful ways. The cats in particular, some of them seem to eat whatever you throw at them, they eat ordinary and stale cakes; that’s surprising for a species known for eating meat only.

    And dogs, some of them walk on the sidewalks so carefully that they consciously refrain from stepping on the asphalt and monitoring the cars passing by. Almost like a humanç That’s a wonderful example of adaptation.

    And lastly I remember the saying: “When you see that you cannot change the world, you start to change”

  11. @ Jenn

    Way to be! I like your energy. It’s all about flowing value for yourself and others … and letting things go. If you saw the movie “Up”, it’s like that.

    Happy Easter to you too!

    @ Baker

    Thank you. I agree — self-awareness is the key. It’s like Kenny Rogers … know when to hold ’em … know when to fold ’em.

    @ Vered

    I think you hit the key to young at heart … staying flexible and adaptable. It’s like in Young Guns … you’re growing or dying … there’s no in-between.

    @ Michael

    Weinberg has an incredible way with words. He has the gift of putting into words, what you know to be true … a real truth-unleasher.

    @ Jannie

    Well thank you!

    I think your house remodel is a wonderful thing … a part of your life. It’s definitely the journey.

    Happy Easter to you too!

    @ Hilary

    Flexibility really is the key to paving a path forward. My world got a whole lot better when I finally realized life’s not static.

    I love when Spring cometh. I’m a weather person and a season person.

    Happy Easter!

    @ Lana

    Thank you. I try to switch it up a bit. As one of my mentors taught me, you gotta periodically surprise people.

    @ Ho-Sheng

    Local maxima or a local minima is a great way to frame the thinking.

    I like the way you really spelled it out … and being mindful is one way to stay adaptable, or at least making deliberate decisions and choosing your path.

    @ Omero

    I love your point about the dogs wandering the sidewalks like people.

    The dogs in my neighborhood hang out … it’s like a gang. Somehow they know to go find each other, play for the day, then go home for the night.

  12. Hi J.D.

    I’m with you on this. Adaptability gives a person high marks in my book.

    I don’t want Vered to think all folks with years are inflexible. There are plenty who are — but not all. 🙂 heehee.

    Change actually excites me. I love to think on my past and play with the memories — I have so many good ones. But to me there is adventure and romance in the possibilities that lie in the present, and that promise the future.

    My values and beliefs are solid. But practices and technology do change… and I’m up for it. 🙂

  13. JD, I really enjoyed reading this today and it’s along the lines of something I’ve only recently been able to admit: I don’t know what I don’t know, and that equals a lot. Even how I view other people — what I think I “know” of them (and do we really ever know anyone else, or are we only perceiving them through the filter of our experiences, thus making what we see highly subjective?).

    This is great, and I loved the photo — I’ve been doing more of those poses lately to help me become more flexible physically, mentally & emotionally!

    Have a beautiful weekend!

  14. J.D., thanks for another thinking post. I agree about the importance of adaptability – the willingness to be open to the idea of change. We tend to run into roadblocks and frustrations when we fix our goalposts – they are ever-changing. A typhoon might blow them over, or a tsunami drown them. If we cling to them at that moment we are lost, too. We need to sense and accept when it’s time to let something go and run for the hills. That’s how we survive to grow again. Please stop by again to share your S-M-I-L-E in Japan. Greetings from the mountains – Catrien Ross.

  15. […] Agility. Stay adaptable.  Flexibility is your friend.  See The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be. […]

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