The rules of the game are constantly changing. Smart leaders accept this and embrace it in their businesses. 

Business leaders today need to be able to adapt, and anticipate and respond to disruption. In Futureshock, Alvin Toffler wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Toffler was correct. 


Adapting is not negotiable, which means you need to be open, curious and willing to question dogma. It requires that you understand what it is that needs to be learnt, unlearnt and relearnt. 

However, it’s easier to write about the attitudes and actions you need to adopt than to actually put them into practice. And for leaders whose position, status and reputation hinge on their knowledge and experience, it is often easier to defend their hard-won position than to embark on journeys of new learning and discovery with the inevitable failings and wrong turns. 

For the most of us, the security of certainty, predictability and measurability trumps the insecurity of uncertainty, experimentation and questioning. And while there is a lot of talk about innovation, little is said about the environment needed to sustain any meaningful innovation. The idea that tomorrow will resemble yesterday has dominated many businesses mindsets as can be seen in the structures, strategies and measures to be found in most large corporations But this is all changing. 


In your business you are likely to experience disruptions on almost a daily basis. Technology, institutional shifts, demographics, environmental awareness and concerns and shifts in societal values are five significant disruptions that are changing the ‘rules of the game.’ 

As a leader you will increasingly find yourself in situations where you ‘need to know what to do when you don’t know what to do.’ To lead here requires that you become ‘future fit’ and requires a mind shift that translates in your behaviour. Tackle this as much as you would getting physically fit through persistence, discipline and hard work. 


Smart leaders understand that asking the right questions is more important than having all the answers. They know that engaging all the stakeholders in identifying and understanding disruption is far smarter than thinking they need to do it all on their own. 

Finding the motivation and courage to embark on this journey becomes easier when you understand that change is needed. Today’s business leaders have to learn how to adapt. 


Distinguishing between technical problems and adaptive challenges is the essential first step for you as a leader. Technical problems are identifiable, the solution is known and your task is to introduce the solution to the problem. Technical problems can be complex but the challenge can be defined and there is a solution. In contrast, an adaptive challenge requires diagnosing: the problem is not immediately identifiable and diagnosing the problem will in itself require new learning. This is why being comfortable with questions, and being open and curious are essential leadership mindsets. In any adaptive challenge the solution will require ‘new learning’ and the engagement of all the stakeholders. 

Many of the leadership challenges you face will have both technical and adaptive elements. The key is separating what part of the challenge is technical and what part is adaptive. To engage an adaptive challenge with a technical approach invariably means digging the hole deeper and faster than ever! Many leaders are doing precisely this in response to the unfolding and disruptive future they encounter. 

In this age of adaptation there can be no set play, no cast-iron strategy, and no clear-cut endgame. There is only what comes next and how to respond, shape it and live in it. Smart leaders understand that if the organisation that they lead is to survive and ultimately thrive, they need to be open and curious, and they need to be willing to constantly challenge dogma. 

This could be the best news yet for leaders – or the worst news ever. However, for leaders everywhere, one thing is certain: being future fit is simply not optional.


Keith Coats – A Founding Member of TomorrowToday (Your Business – Volume 19 No 5)