Resilience, Adaptation & Exaptation

We’ve strained our resilience. We’ve adapted. Now we’re in the realm of exaptation.

A dinosaur spreads its wings and flies

Resilience and Adaptation

Resilience is a critical starting point. Resilience helps us stay engaged and to recover from the buffets of our stresses and challenges. There are many demands on resilience in this crisis. However, we can’t rely solely on resilience. Resilience only carries us back to where we were before. This crisis will likely demand more from us. We are a resilient bunch. We will recover.

Adaptation is already occuring. We have quickly changed our ways of working, our lives, our strategies and our businesses to adapt to these new conditions. We will continue to adapt using the capabilities we have and the potential of our people to make things better and to improve our lives. That’s what we humans do.

However, our times are going to challenge us to go further than just adaptation. We are going to need to leverage our potential and the potential of others in ways we never thought possible before. We are going to act out beyond our known capabilities. We are going to get creative with what our potential means and what it can deliver for us.


Exaptation is a term from evolution. It is the development of the function of a trait or feature created for one purpose to support another purpose. The classic example is feathers which may have been an adaptation to provide warmth and insulation, but now enable birds, descendants of dinosaurs, to fly with grace. As an example, my Change Agent colleague, Joachim Stroh, has used the concept of exaptation to describe the way that communities adopt and invent new ways of working on collaboration platforms. Yesterday, I talked about the surgeon working as a nurse using his medical talents as needed by his colleagues now. Last night, I was reading how Archie Rose, a distiller, has now found so much succcess making hand sanitiser that it has rehired all its 20 bar staff to work across packing and customer service line for the new product. Stories of adatation and exaptation are everywhere around us. Capabilities and potential being redeployed in creative new ways to support our goals of surviving, growing and getting better.

We all have capabilities and potential that lie fallow or could be redeployed to new and creative purpose. Organisations that see this environment as a chance to cut ‘dead wood’ or to focus too narrowly on ‘core capabilities’ are missing the potential to leverage these capabilities in new, better and creative ways. ‘Shrinking to greatness’ strategies show the limits of our imagination and our leadership.

People who see one role or career or path shut down will find new ways to leverage their potential and to create new value for themselves and for others. Our role is to aid that process with questions, coaching and support. People will need to mourn but they will also need to dream new dreams to pursue this change.

We can all see what can’t be done at the moment. For those losing activities, business and roles, it feels final. We have to help people to ask “What can I do with what I have?’ We have to ask people to be bold and creative in tackling this question. If they do, the process of adaptation and exaptation will lead people to new imagination and new dreams. For some, it may be enough to change their lives and their businesses for ever.

Dinosaurs didn’t go from the ground to flight with a single step. They developed that change over a range of smaller adaptations and exaptations, building their capabilities and the functions to succeed as they go. Small changes accumulate. Capabilities build. New things become possible. New successes can be found if we hold our hope, dream, experiment, and try. We too need to look for the little step-by-step changes we can make to leverage our potential, make use of our capabilities and move forward to a better future.

Post script:

Frankly I’d swap it all my exaptation for a little exaltation. However, the magic of hope is that I continue to dream and I continue to act step-by-step, then I know that the exaltation of success (or the exaltation of an end to this) is coming too.

Getting Better

Curves flatten. People recover. We mourn our many losses and eventually restart our lives. It is not a case of ‘this too shall pass’ for each of those outcomes requires human action. We want better. We have to act to achieve it.

The nature of the human spirit is to seek to realise our potential. We will get better. Our drive for improvement occurs unless we (or others) quash it. The only question is when and at what scale. The answer to that question depends on our actions.

Start Small. Start Now.

In the heart of our troubles, now is the time for action step-by-step.

We can sustain what we can of our lives. We can stay at home. We can wash our hands. We can support those in need. We can reach out to others to make sure that they are OK. We can offer to help. We can start planning the recovery and what will be different. All of these critical actions make life better, for us and for others.

Our losses are obvious now. Lives upended. Jobs lost. Incomes cut. Health threatened. Our gains from these actions are diffuse, but they are still there. Every physical contact cut is one less pathway for the crisis to spread. We are saving others. We just don’t know who. We are making it better now.

We will make it better together

We can’t predict the future. What we can predict is the human spirit. We will get better. Where there is life, there is the will to not simply exist, but to become something more. Something better.

We are beginning that recovery process now. We are thinking about what needs to change. We have tidied our homes, changed our diets and our habits. We are now debating changes to the role of social safety nets, our corporations and government in times of crisis. As we move forward we need to ensure we don’t get in our own way.

I saw a tweet on the weekend about a Consulting thoracic surgeon in the NHS who has volunteered to work as an ICU nurse to allow tired nurses a rest. Stories like this one are everywhere as retirees return to the healthcare system, people add shifts, solve for shortages, invent new devices and work in new & creative ways. It is not a heroic story. It is a small story about one gesture in a large crisis, but is an example of someone focusing on their potential and not role, or status, or power, or income. In all kinds of ways, people are discovering what they are capable of doing and doing it. Answering the question ‘What can I do now?’ is a powerful guide to the next step in any realisation of our potential.

The next step of our recovery is changing lives. First the lives of those who must recover from their losses. Then all our lives as our society works to make things better. That’s a lot of work. We will only achieve it together. It will take us all to focus on our own potential and the potential of others. We will need to ask ourselves ‘What can I do now? What can we do now together?’

What can you do now?

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet


Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Lao Tsu
The foggy journey ahead

Faced with an uncertain path, we can still step forward. Step-by-step we will make our way through what lies ahead. Where we end is unknown, but our dreams can lead us forward a step at a time.

Passing through

Days always pass. We don’t need to worry about the relentless rush forwards of time.

The challenge in this uncertain, novel and difficult environment is how we act through all the uncertainties. The doubts and questions surround us. Will there be more shutdowns? Will there be more illness? What will happen to my job, my colleagues, my contacts and so on? Speculation can consume your entire capacity to act. That is if action is not yet entirely overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of terrible news of loss from around the world.

I have a mantra that has been part of my crisis toolkit for many years. It is my weapon against feelings of loss, frustration and powerlessness. We all would like to wish we weren’t in the situation of a deadly global pandemic. However, we can’t wish that away and mourning our losses takes us so far. It is situations like these that I remind myself:

Some times the only way out is through

We have to go through this. We don’t have to go through it alone, but we have to go through this.


When things are dark, complex and uncertain, it can come down to putting one foot in front of the other, step-by-step. We get out the other side by solving the challenges in each step, in each day and so on until we are done. That is the way through.

We don’t need big leaps necessarily. We need thousands of people taking the simple steps to look after themselves and look after others. Washing hands regularly. Staying at home where they can. Simple steps. One after the other. No heroics just simple steps.

For those trying to manage work and life in this complex domain it is also an exercise in focusing down on the road immediately in front. We can and should still dream of far horizons, but there will be few leaps in this climate. Progress might seem belaboured. It will be. However, we can just focus on the next task and the next task as step-by-step we move closer to our goal.

What’s your next task? What can you do now?

A good traveler has no fixed plans 
and is not intent upon arriving. 
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants. 
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts 
and keeps his mind open to what is

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone. 
He is ready to use all situations 
and doesn’t waste anything. 
This is called embodying the light.

Lao Tsu

Three Key Roles for Yammer in a Crisis

We are all working now in unfamiliar and unprecedented times. As we adjust to disruptions and working from home organisations are facing new needs to engage, coordinate and inform their people. Leaders need to lead remotely some for the very first time.

You know your Yammer network is a way to communicate openly with the organisation outside the small and closed working groups that might operate in Microsoft Teams. Here are three extra and important roles that Yammer can play in your organisation at this time:

Provide Context

As humans, nothing happens without a context. We use the context to understand messages, to interpret goals. to do our work and to make sense of changes. We need that context to be shared widely if we are to understand each other, communicate efficiently and collaborate. Organisations and employees don’t work well if they are constantly sorting out issues of missing context.

Yammer is the outer loop of your organisational communication. It is a place employees can go to pull context and to improve their understanding. It is also a place they can share their context. When the world outside is changing fast they may know more than you. Make sure your leaders are sharing their organisational context widely on Yammer. More importantly, ask each of your teams and employees to do the same. Working out loud, sharing working in progress with relevant others, is a great way to give people context on the work underway. When things are changing rapidly, continuously sharing context is more important than ever. This is the Share stage of the Collaboration Maturity Model in action.

Over-communicate context. Use Yammer to foster a questioning culture where people ask for context. Make it acceptable to clarify and understand deeply before racing into action.

Managing Coordination

In times of crises, hierarchies intensify their efforts at coordination. Improving coordination down a silo is important. However, coordination between silos becomes critical to preventing unnecessary waste and failures.

Coordination between silos is rarely best managed from the top. These issues arise when the top down plan fails in execution in specific locations or specific customer contexts. This is a time that the Solve stage of the Collaboration Maturity Model needs to be leveraged to bring people together across silos locally to address issues and develop new ways of working that fix the problem.

Despite the sense of crisis, in fact because of it, you will need to allow your employees the psychological safety and degrees of freedom to make these changes and to help the whole organisation to adjust. Your Yammer network can enable you to role model, reward and celebrate this effort openly and widely.

Build Community

People don’t make it through crises. Communities do. Managing a crisis draws on deep reserves in our organisations and in its external networks. You are likely to need support from customers, suppliers and others in your change journey as you manage the situation.

Use Yammer to build a shared sense of community across the many teams in your organisation. Share stories, share dreams, share successes, share challenges and more. Remember community doesn’t only depend on good news. Communities come together because the obstacles are the work. Your employees will discover their reason for working as they tackle these challenges. Give them the chance to share that.

A community is not a leader standing at a lectern supplying a sense of community to others. Community arises from the little every day gestures of concern, of care and of collaboration across your organisation. Use Yammer to foster this activity from the ground up across your organisation. Your community managers can find champions to lead the way using their existing Yammer activity (& Swoop Analytics profiles if you use that tool). Importantly you need to ask frontline leaders of all kinds to role model these behaviours and encourage others to contribute to community in this way. Nobody needs a training course on what community means. They just need an invitation to practice it. Community is innately human.


After sharing this, Matthew Dodd of Engaged Sqaured, another leading exponent of the Collaboration Value Maturity Model pointed out his similar post with great suggestions on using your network. Here is that post

On twitter, Jon Husband asked if the same approaches apply for other enterprise social networks and platforms. My answer is ‘of course, yes’. Many of my followers are Yammer users so I have framed it in those terms. Any other open platform will enable employees to take the lead in understanding context, creating coordination and building community. That same opportunity doesn’t happen in closed chat channels or tightly controlled platforms that don’t allow users degrees of freedom to initiate, to share or to work. This is not a communications challenge. This is a collaboration opportunity. The openness empowers employees and that’s where our focus needs to be at this time.


‘Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant’

Victor Frankl

When the reality is oppressive, we need dreams. Dreams are the stories that help us remember our potential. Dreams can be our guide to change

We don’t expect dreams to come to life as they are. They are not a roadmap. Dreams are a story of how things could be. They are a signpost to new and better things. Nightmares are signposts to paths we want to avoid.

Dreams don’t lead us into the trapped of a fixed pursuit of a goal or an overly optimistic deadline. Neither of these are suited to our time. They both are likely to lead to disappointments. We need hope but we also need a cold calculation of where we stand today and how we can act.

The value of dreams is that they are not a simple mission statement. Dreams come as full stories whether they are the ones we have when we sleep or the lives we imagine while awake. We can share these stories to inspire ourselves and others to new hope and new action together.

Our dreams guide our sense of purpose and shape our attitude. Never has it been more important than to take care of our attitudes, acknowledging the lows and preparing for what comes next.

We can choose our attitude. We can choose our dreams. We can act today if we can. That maybe all we have. That is enough for now.

The Raw and the Cooked

The Raw

These days are raw. Emotions well up. The real world is overwhelming us quite literally.

Exponential change is not our normal world. Exponential change happens slowly at first then suddenly becomes large and all consuming. People will be surprised by the rapidity of changes. The later we respond the more drastic the action required. It’s now that time.

Drastic changes mean that we are forced to react and react to our reactions. Before we are settled on one new set of rules the changes come again. At the same time we are dealing with stories we never imagined in our modern life. We are coping with fear, panic and losss. We struggle to make sense of how the world works now. No wonder things seem raw.

The Cooked

We need to recognise that the stories we hear, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other fit into a larger system. These stories come from community and they are suffused with culture. Now is the time to sustain these connections, even in our isolation. Especially because of our isolation.

Community is what enables us to realise our human potential. If we are ever to convert our talents from their raw state to something more valuable it will be because of, supported by, and for our communities. Purpose does not lie in us. It lies in our contributions to others. The harder it gets the more important our contribution is. The obstacles are the work.

We feel raw because we care. We care for ourselves. We care for others. Human beings are inherently social. Care, culture and community is what has enabled and sustained our society. In raw times, we must not abandon these critical enablers. We must redouble our commitment to them. They are our path forward together.

Care, culture and community help us to look beyond today. We feel today like all we can see is the loss. We may yet lose very big things like jobs, incomes, wealth, status, and more importantly the lives of ones we love. What we don’t lose is our potential to recover, to rebuild and to renew. We will mourn our losses together at some point in the future but we will go on and make something new and better again together. We cannot see it clearly now but we can make the next phase better together with care and community.

Today you have the simple choice. You will be raw in your experience of this threatening world. Forgive yourself for the rawness, the pain, the regret and the loss. They are real. Give yourself also the time to reach out, to care for others, to share stories and to embrace the culture and community within which we live. Others need help more than ever now. Your contact and concern could be the most important gesture in their life today.

Push Back

When the world pushes, you push back.

Finding Resilience

Events prompted me yesterday to look up an Albert Camus quote that I have always loved:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

This quote has always been part of my defences in the rough and tumble of work and life. I am fascinated by Camus and have read much of his work in translation. I particularly love The Rebel, as someone who identifies as a change agent. However, I have always clung to this quote as a call to resilence and to rely on my internal and enduring strengths in times of challenge. It helps me to remember that though times may have changed, I have not.

As I was reading, I found a longer version that I had not seen before and I love even more:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back

Albert Camus


We need more than resilience. We can’t just accept the buffeting of the world as it is. We all have dreams for something better and something more. The human condition is to be agent of change, to be an agent of transcendance of the world. Tim Rayner shared this comment recently on a thread on existentialism.

We have lots of ways to found our push back against the world. The nature of our human existence depends on it. Rayner mentions imagination. I’d add that our imagination enables us to levearge purpose, compassion, yearning and love as other elements of our inner ‘invincible summer’. We can reach beyond where we are now and see what might be for us and for others.

As the storms around us get darker, as our isolation grows, we can feel that we are beset and besieged. As the losses in our lives grow, we can start to feel that the harsh world has won. We need to cherish the flame of our imagination. We need to continue to believe in a better world for us and for others. We need to explore our agency to make changes big and small to bring back control to our world and to live our human potential.

It’s human nature to seek to realise the potential of our rich, vibrant and social imagination. We inspire others with stories, myths, visions, calls to action and plans for the future. We encourage them to push too. We solve big problems together with imaginative leaps. We need to spend time with our imagination more than ever.

Leaps of imagination can be frightening when the days are dark. We need to remember that the leap is not the source of the delight, fear or confusion that we may experience as we contemplate action. Those emotions all happens before the leap. The leap is the response to those emotions and brings new emotions of exercising our human potential.

The world always pushes. Engage your imagination. Push back.

People are People: Swoop Analytics Teams Analysis

Yesterday Swoop Analytics released its first comprehensive analysis of Microsoft Teams use across the Swoop client base. I am a big fan of Swoop Analytic’s work and it is great to have data now to back up the observations and expectations we had of use of the Microsoft Teams platform and its adoption across organisations. I am not going to summarise the report in this piece (others have and will do that). I strongly recommend that everyone interested in collaboration, teamwork and Microsoft Teams reads the full report. It is full of gems and requires further thinking. Even Swoop Analytics highlight that there are areas that there analysis needs to develop either because behaviour is still new and maturing on Microsoft Teams or because the data APIs don’t yet exist (though they have worked with clients on some creative workarounds for the API gaps).

However, here are my major takeaways:

People are People: Over and over again the insights in the report are that people are people. The way they have conversations is driven by human relationships. The way they organise teams is driven by culture. The way they do work is driven by culture, habits and the available solutions. Swoop Analytics’ user personas from Yammer are the same as Microsoft Teams because the users are the same (and mostly they demonstrate the same behaviour on each platform). If you want to bet on anything in Microsoft Teams ask yourself first, ‘Would a real human do that?’

Microsoft Teams is about Teamwork (in all its myriad flavours): Teams are complex. They come in many different kinds and have their own unique dynamics. Swoop Analytics have done a great job of summarising the way teams mature and what that means for the maturity of Microsoft Teams and your organisational culture. Don’t assume one size fits all. It doesn’t even fit most. Allow different teams of different types to explore their own uniqueness.

There’s no magic technology: Swoop Analytics highlight that the usage of Microsoft Teams varies widely. In many cases, that seems to depend on from what solution you are migrating. It also depends on the team culture. Like every other highly capable platform that wants to earn a share of people’s work, Microsoft Teams requires support and adoption work. Engagement is good but that is not the end of the value story for organisations.

Microsoft Teams is not the only answer: A consistent theme throughout the report is that Microsoft Teams exists in an ecosystem of solutions in the organisations. It is not the only answer. The usage of Tabs highlights that while some users are getting benefits pulling some solutions like Excel, OneNote and Planner into the Microsoft Teams single pane of glass that is not universal yet. It is also important to note that the report indicates increased collaboration when Microsoft Teams and Yammer are used together to accelerate within team engagement and work (Microsoft Teams) and to connect, share, solve and innovate with the wider organisation (Yammer)

Don’t Kill the Golden Goose: You can love Microsoft Teams to death. The high end numbers of Microsoft Teams use in the report are actually more than a little frightening. Instant messaging and flying threads is not always the best way to think and to work. You can have too much engagement for reflection and work. At the other end of the spectrum, IT can over love Microsoft Teams too with too many controls, too many rigorous how to guides, too much training, too much turning stuff off and locking down all the team structures.

Love the Features. Use the Features. Don’t Rely on Features: Features are just features. They aren’t even use cases. Microsoft Teams has an amazing array of powerful features. Don’t rely on them alone.

Bet on the Grass Roots: If you want the value of your Microsoft Teams implementation to grow and develop it needs to integrate into, adapt to and evolve with the work of the organisation and its teams. That will only happen if the wider grass roots workers in the organisation take to Microsoft Teams and make it their own. Swoop Analytics has a strong model of both team and organisational cultural dynamics to underpin that maturity but you have to let your people do that work and support their journey.


Who knows what’s ahead?

The anxieties are real, but anxiety describes the future. Now is where we are. Now is when we must act.

The human brain doesn’t do exponential well. We are built for a more linear and gradual world of change. The exponential growth of a novel global pandemics are more than enough to overwhelm our ability to understand and manage any situation. Add potential disruption to our health, families, colleagues, travels, businesses and futures and the situation means we are more than likely to be grappling with complex concerns.

The thing about anxiety is that its grip is real now, but the events haven’t happened yet. We are worrying now about an uncertain future. The threatening future events that grab our attention may never happen. They are just one path among many. We all hope the toilet paper hoarders are embarrassed in weeks to come. We all hope governments find better ways to lead us and work with us to mitigate the situation. We all hope for better. We all hope now.

We need to stay present today. We can’t allow our anxieties to paralyse our ability to accurately perceive the world, to connect and share concern for others, to manage our present situation and to choose our paths forward. We need to acknowledge our concerns, mitigate our risks and use the motivations, but we can’t let them overcome us.

Today we can still act and shape the kind of future we have. Today is the only day we can act. We’ve lost our chance to act yesterday and we can’t act tomorrow yet. Anxiety is not a reason to wait. It is a reason to act now. We can only have a bias to act now. The challenge is to find and do the most constructive actions.

That is our work now. That is the work we can do together. Let’s start now.

What do you want to do today?

Leading Remotely

I’ve seen a lot about working remotely of late. However as we work remotely our leadership challenges increase. Many managers will be leading remote teams for the first time in this crisis. Leading remotely requires leaders to be deliberate and proactive.

Here are a few suggestions to manage the challenge better:

Increase the context: we often rely on informal communication in the workplace. People hear conversations, see whiteboards and have a good context for their work and engagements. In remote working, leaders need to help teams to create that context. People want the big picture. Encourage working out loud, over share, use your ESN and chat platforms, and start conversations with introductions and background. People can’t understand each other without shared context. In fast moving situations, it is more important.

Add one-on-ones: one-on-one conversations are a great routine in regular cycles. They are even more important in remote work. Have multiple conversations scheduled for coaching in the week. These will be replacing informal chats, provide a focus point for problems and feedback and ensure nobody feels lost or out of touch.

Delegate projects not tasks: remote working doesn’t support micromanagement. Give people the autonomy to tackle whole projects and the ability to manage their delivery around what else is on in their work environment.

Coach, not Answer: teams that are used to getting answers from their leader will be a little lost with remote work. Now is the time to give them the challenge of solving problems with others. Your role is to coach that process, not do the work.

Build team connection: working remotely is isolating. Build the team’s connection to each other and to others across the organisation. Celebrate wins, share positives, thank people publicly and keep the cycle of interaction moving.

Listen: Just as your communication is impaired, so will your team’s. Listen carefully, question deeply and don’t jump to conclusions. People may be struggling to get an issue to your attention.

Manage energy levels: You can’t see the work but you can sense the energy. Manage tension in the team. Set challenges and encourage people. That means extra checkin and group calls and chats.

Overindex on Care: These are challenging times. Focus deeply on your people’s needs and concerns. They matter and it’s not good for them to be alone with anxieties.

Don’t do it alone: Look after yourself. If you don’t have the coaching and support you need, buddy up with a peer to get help.

Leaders are there to help teams through challenges. This is a chance to show your support.