Adaptive Intelligence: 5 Tips

Whether it’s an emotional, social, intellectual, or creative mode of intelligence, what makes it adaptive and practical is how it's shaped in moments of reflection. It may be nothing more than a brief mindful pause in the rush of a business day, or it may arise from the incubation effects of a good night’s sleep. But if there is to be anything novel and noticeably better than our prosaic repetition of past practices, some freshness in perspective is needed.

This reflective function can occur within individual minds or within the collective mind of a group. The intelligent actions it primes are a vital role of leadership. It signals confidence and readiness to go where we have not gone before. These qualities of attitude are both cause and effect in adaptive intelligence. They're contagious and release the potential to lead in others. We can observe the catalytic effects of adaptive intelligence in certain paired leadership actions.

Reflective Pairings

But let’s first distinguish the mere doing of activity from the intentional pursuit of ends which we properly call action. Further, let’s note that these intentions are not fully formed at inception. They’re are born as approximations of ends, often accompanied by a fringe of the yet-to-be-determined. Indeed, it’s only in reckoning with that residuum of uncertainty that we learn to act with adaptive intelligence.

In each of the following pairings, the first term represents an attitude of reflection. The second term characterizes a forward-looking theme for ongoing action. The role of the leader is to prompt the attitudinal shift which facilitates reflection and adaptive change. 

Being Present and Purposive. Relaxing the pull of forward-leaning action, reconsidering the ends we have in mind, and revitalizing purpose.

Being Inclusive and Assertive. Opening to others’ thoughts, feelings, impressions, to notice where they converge and diverge, and resolving what to do through discussion and debate.

Being Attuned and Interactive. Attending, reflecting, and validating what we hear, and adjusting pace, frequency, or quality of interaction to sustain adaptive action.

Being Principled and Pragmatic. Sharing our felt sense of values and evaluation, along the way, and noticing needs to reconcile means and ends to ensure timely action.

Being Authentic and Congruent. Being real, sincere, noticing mismatches or incongruities - verbal/nonverbal, words/tone, assertions/actions - and working through them.

When we ask ourselves as leaders and as teams, “How might these practices of reflective action be relevant and useful for us?”, we can find ways to enhance our intelligent action. It also promotes engagement, especially if we allow time for attitudinal shifts to open doors.