Do You Adopt or Adapt?

What About Bob? is one of our favorite family movies. A memorable scene has a mentally troubled Bill Murray (Bob) telling his psychologist, “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.”

Bob provided me with a good laugh, but he also taught me a principle about how our minds have a natural propensity to sort people into one of two categories. For example, consider how often you have been asked variations of these questions:

  • Are you single or married?
  • Do you prefer the big idea or taking care of the details?
  • Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Did you grow up in the country or the city?
  • Are you pro or anti-vaccination?

While these generalizations may not always be accurate, we use them because they help us make sense of our world. In today’s blog I’m going to reveal one of my sorting secrets – determining if people are adopters or adapters. Here is how it works.

In our day-to-day lives we often encounter new ideas. Sometimes you discover something so helpful that you want to use it in your own life or organization.  Here are a few examples of how this occurs (I’ll bet you have experienced more than two of them):

  • You hear of a successful exercise program that could help you lose that extra weight.
  • Someone tells you about a new business book that will help you solve a business challenge.
  • A conference speaker provides an example of a successful change they made and now you want to do it as well.
  • A friend invites you to join a multi-level marketing program that is guaranteed to be a cash-cow.

I believe that peoples’ responses to situations such as these can be sorted into two buckets:

The Adopters

Adopters can be summarized by the word practice. They look at others, find what makes them successful and then work to develop the same practice(s) in their own lives. The hope is that they can experience the same benefit that someone else did by using their winning formula.

The Adapters

This crowd can be summarized with the word principle. Like adopters, they also look at others and find what makes them successful. However, instead of cultivating the same practice, they seek to find the principle(s) which underlie their success. Then, they determine how they can uniquely apply this principle to their own lives.

My students recently spent time studying an idea called organizational contingency theory. This concept espouses that there is no best way to organize a corporation, to lead a company, or to make decisions. Instead, the optimal course of action is contingent (dependent) upon the internal and external situation. To put it differently, contingency theory means that those who adopt the organizational style of others are less likely to succeed than those who adapt a style to fit their own needs.

Contingency theory is the driving force behind adapters. They realize that you and I can do the exact same thing and yield different results.  Adapters realize that their body does not respond the same way to exercise as yours. Or that your conflict resolution method may not work for them because it involves two totally different people. Adapters are different because they search for the principle behind the desired result. When you discover the principle, you can then adapt it to work in your uniqu situation.

We all fluctuate between adopting and adapting. My goal is to strive to adapt more and adopt less. That’s my sort-secret. Well, it’s one of them…


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

“The best leaders know how to keep moving forward in ambiguous situations” (Johnson).

If you play board games you may have heard the term ‘analysis-paralysis’. It refers to people who feel compelled to consider every possible scenario. As a board game enthusiast, I find it painful when I play with people who have analysis-paralysis. They cause the game to drag and often focus on things that are of little significance. This concept also spills over into our work lives and we have all spent time with people who suffer this syndrome.

The heart of this problem relates to how we deal with ambiguity. Patti Johnson notes that, “Any leader facing high levels of ambiguity needs to do two apparently paradoxical things: First, get comfortable with the idea of not having all the answers, and second, take steps to reduce the uncertainty”.

  1. Develop comfort with the unknown: Life in the information age means that we have access to more data than we have ever had. Therefore, wise leaders develop a means to wisely respond to a glut of information. Research has dubbed this skill ‘ambiguity organization‘, the ability to contextualize the things which are important and quickly adapt when the results show that you are wrong. Leaders must possess the soft skill of being comfortable enough to act when operating in these grey areas. As access to information continues to increase, I project that people who possess this skill are going to be regarded as gifted leaders in the decades ahead.
  2. Reduce uncertainty: Conversely, there are things we can do which can help minimize uncertainty. Brian Cornell, the CEO of Target, had to determine what to do with their financially troubled Canadian chain of stores (Johnson). Studies revealed that they would not be profitable until the year 2021. As a result, he made a decision to close all Canadian operations. Did he understand every implication of this huge decision? Not at all! Rather, he used the information he could to reduce the uncertainty and then bravely made a decision.

An individual’s ability to work amidst ambiguity is also affected by their environment. Personality tests sometimes refer to this condition as how we behave under ‘norm’ versus ‘storm’ situations (storm refers to difficult or stressful environments).  Some of us demonstrate consistent behavior whether we are in normal or stormy situations. Others use different styles than they do normally. For example, I have discovered that I slow down decisions during times of high stress. I have observed others who do the opposite and make much quicker decisions in storm situations (e.g. – firefighters). To combat this, leaders must first understand their norm versus storm behaviors (as Socrates once said, ‘know thyself’). Then we must develop a plan to help with this imbalance when necessary. As an example, I try to have an inner circle to help me through storm situations and also set timelines by which decisions need to be made.

A reason I enjoy board games is that I can experiment with strategy. I can try new things and the only consequence is losing. However, the stakes are higher when we apply this to our personal or work lives. It is different when you are moving your family across the country, taking a new promotion or risking budget on a new idea. Therefore, effective leaders can paradoxically manage analysis-paralysis by reducing uncertainty and developing comfort with the unknown.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Patti Johnson (Mar. 11, 2015). Avoiding decision paralysis in the state of uncertainty. Harvard Business Review On-line.

Psychic Salary: What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Once a year, Amazon employees get an interesting opportunity.  They are offered cash to quit working at their company. The first offer is worth $2,000. Each successive year it increases by $1,000 up to a maximum of $5,000. This creative idea began at Zappos, a company known for their innovative approach to organizational culture.

So why do organizations pay employees to leave? The premise is a simple one, “unhappy people make for unhappy companies” (Harvard Business Review). We have all worked with Poisonous Peter (or Petra). They can suck the life out of the best job. As Jeff Bezoes, CEO and founder of Amazon states, “Great companies are great precisely because they stand for something special, different, distinctive. That means, almost by definition, that they are not for everybody. It takes a certain personality type to thrive…if there isn’t the right fit, it makes perfect sense to quit” (Harvard Business Review). Paying employees to leave can serve the purpose of weeding the organizational garden.

But there may be an even more important reason. Pay-to-leave incentives make employees regularly review a very critical question – what gets you up in the morning? Because work is personal, we need to be motivated to perform our best. The pay-to-leave offer makes employees re-examine their motivation each year.

At a recent event hosted by the Coachella Valley Small Business Development Center we heard an example of this concept. Jennifer Di Francesco serves as the Spa & Sports Club Director for Toscana Country Club, a prestigious country club in our region. Each spring Jennifer has an interesting challenge. Due to a high population of seasonal residents who winter in the desert, she has to lay off almost all of her staff for five months during the slow season. Despite this challenge, she notes that almost every staff member chooses to return.

While she does not offer pay-to-leave incentives, her unique situation provides a different version of this concept. Instead of pay-to-leave, her employees are faced with a decision of pay-to-stay. Similar to the Amazon model, it makes her employees examine what is important. Jennifer believes that an employee’s decision to return is rooted in the value of their ‘psychic salary’, an idea promoted by Holly Steil in her book Neon Signs of Service. Psychic salary refers to the amount of non-financial value that an employee derives from their job. She realizes that there are more reasons than just money that keep employees happy. Similar to Amazon, Toscana Club employees must re-examine what gets them up in the morning on an annual basis.

Wise employers figure out what contributes to their employee’s psychic salary and intentionally build it. Jennifer notes that club prestige and a healthy work environment are two things which help her foster this. For your team, it may be the location of your business, the boss they work for, scheduling flexibility or organizational culture.

Research by the Gallup organization reveals that only 30% of Americans say they are engaged at work (Why We Hate Work: Issues of Engagement). This means that most of us are not creating the psychic salary that employees need to feel engaged. Peter Drucker summarized it well; “culture eats strategy for lunch”. If we fail to make our employees examine their motives, salary doesn’t matter.

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Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a strategist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Bill Taylor (April 14, 2014). Why Amazon is copying Zappos and paying employees to quit. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review.

The Changing Face of Higher Education – Part I

Ironically, the ivory towers of education are regarded by many to be slow learners. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are slow at change, not learning. The Education Design Lab recently released an insightful white paper that provides an overview of where the challenges of post-secondary education lie and where future change is likely to occur. This is part 1 of a 2 part article.


“Numerous factors are causing deep disruption in the current higher-education system: public institutions are having their appropriations cut by governments, private institutions have raised tuition but many have been unable to increase net revenue, collective student debt is now greater than credit-card debt, and colleges and universities are seeing sudden and potentially catastrophic drops in enrollment. Moody’s Investors Service, the credit-rating agency, has had a negative outlook for at least part of the higher-education industry since 2009. It reiterated its negative outlook in July. Outsiders have been forecasting for years a sudden demise of the traditional higher education system” (Education Design Lab).


It’s not that change has not occurred. Rather, the focus of change efforts have been skewed towards efficiency more than effectiveness. The Education Design Lab has outlined three major phases of educational change over the past two decades. The third phase is just beginning and holds the most promise of helping us move towards a learner-effectiveness model.

  • Phase 1 – Learner management systems. We began to use integrated databases to consolidate
    processes and enhance learner experience. This has ranged from enterprise data systems to digital
    Education Change Projectionslibraries to on-line grades.
  • Phase 2 – Courseware tools, data analytics and dashboards, and software platforms. This phase focused on enhancing the pedagogy of learning with on-line learning platforms, and software which began to blend virtual and physical classrooms. It also began to provide consolidated data and the means to track history, trends and make more accurate future projections.
  • Phase 3 – Learner-centric education. Both of the previous phases have largely focused on how the institution can do its job better. Phase three will focus on products and services  which will ‘reach out to individual learners, define pathways for their success and travel down that path with them (Education Design Lab).


There are five major categories in which change can occur: cost, accreditation, credit-hour structure, pedagogical innovation and meeting employer needs. In part 2 of our article next Tuesday, we will examine 8 ideas which will change how we educate.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a strategist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Martin Van Der Werf. Education Design Lab (2015). The ed tech revolution is about to become the learner revolution.

Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga (March 3, 2015) . Sweet Briar College to close because of financial challenges. The Washington Post.



Do You Work or Co-Work?

“The whole idea of co-working is to bring bright, creative people together and let ideas collide”.

Co-Working (noun – kōˈwərkiNG) is the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, typically so as to share equipment, ideas, and knowledge.

11 Incredible Coworking Statistics That Will Make You Leave Your Cubicle (Infographic)In the months ahead you will likely hear this word on a more frequent basis. The following infographic was crafted by Officevibe. It provides you with a quick overview of some of the facts and advantages of co-working

Anthony Morinos from Grind, an organization which creates co-working spaces in New York, provided his views about co-working during a recent co-working webinar. He noted that, in this era, “everyone is used to sharing resources and not just owning everything. This has crossed over into the work-space world where people want to be part of a community and not just a company”. He believes that the current generation is used to working in more flexible modes and co-working helps facilitate this (you can access the full webinar at the bottom of this blog). Co-working is also an extension of the sharing economy which has become popular through services such as Uber and AirBnB.

Most of us will associate this as a work solution for independent contractors, consultants, start-ups or entrepreneurs. However, I believe that these groups are simply the innovators and early adopters of this movement (see Everett Rogers overview of the Diffusion of Innovation if you are not familiar with this idea). If the concept is sound, there are many advantages of co-working that mid and large companies can also take advantage of.

Here are a few questions for you as you consider co-working for your environment:

  • How do you already see co-working occurring where you live?
  • What are limitations of co-working?
  • Why would you want to co-work? Are these reasons shared by others you work with?
  • Why would ‘typical’ companies resist arrangements which would allow their employees to co-work?
  • Does the sharing economy of co-working compliment or contradict the need for competitive advantage?

I believe that many of us co-work in small ways without realizing it. Coffee with a colleague, working at Starbucks for a few hours or a working lunch are all activities that have some relation to this idea. Education is also harnessing part of the power of this through learning cohorts, wiki’s and group projects. My gut tells me that we are seeing the early stage of an idea that is here to stay.

Perhaps I need to get out of my home office to see if it is true!

(Remember to scroll to the bottom for the full webinar video)


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman



What Happens in an Internet Minute?

Most of us acknowledge that the internet has become the hub of our lives. But have you considered what actually happens in an average internet minute? TechSpartan recently answered that question and compared our activities between 2013 and 2014. Here’s what our play (and work!) looks like in 60 seconds:

Internet Minute3



The March issue of WIRED magazine presented another interesting phenomenon that we are not tracking yet – Internet Minute2screenshots. You have likely observed many conference attendees raise their phones above their head and take screenshots of slides. We also snap photo’s of events, of notes, of texts or things we want to remember later. These screenshots can be both humorous and incriminating and their use is also increasing. This trend is demonstrated by Evernote users who saved 45% more screenshot in their notes than they did a year ago (WIRED).

Some believe that screenshots will help improve productivity and group learning. For example, an individual recently tweeted an article link and received 109 retweets. When he reposted it as a readable screenshot he received over 4,200 tweets (WIRED). So far, the screenshot trend is not occurring through a centralized app but it is plausible that we will see an app claim this market in the upcoming months!

Years ago The Eagles wrote a song about A New York Minute. It appears that even the city that never sleeps can’t even keep up with the internet anymore!


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Clive Thompson (March 2015). Screenshot effect: Display your display. Wired Magazine.