March 22, 2006

Adaptation

Each morning I drive to the FundingUniverse office via the same route down a street called Canyon Road. The speed limit on Canyon Road is 35 mph. The residential roads that lead from my house to Canyon Road all have a 25 mph speed limit. I leave my driveway from an initial speed of 0 mph.

My trip to the office therefore, increases progressively from an initial velocity of 0, to 25, and then finally to 35 mph. By the time I reach Canyon Road, 35 mph feels relatively fast when compared to the velocities experienced on the residential roads and my driveway. I’ve been driving Canyon Road for years and can usually pin my speed at about 35 mph on gut-instinct without looking at the speedometer.

Last week I left my home state of Utah to visit some relatives in Arizona, an approximately ten hour drive. I drove out of town on the same Canyon Road at the usual pace and 35 mph felt normal.

I had a good visit in Arizona. On the return trip, freeway speeds in the vicinity of 75 mph felt fast-paced to me at first, but I adjusted up to meet the higher demands. Once adjusted, freeway speeds felt normal.

Returning home, I pulled onto Canyon Road again after ten consistent hours at 60-80 mph. I went with my gut-instinct once again and figured I was doing the usual 35, but as I looked down at the speedometer I was doing closer to 50 or 55. My gut-instinct was way off and any residents I blew by must have questioned my torrid pace. From their perspective, I might as well have been flying a MiG (to any of Provo City’s Finest reading this, I disavow any and/or all knowledge of said incident).

From my perspective, I might as well have been saddled up on a yak. The same road that felt relatively fast to me only a few days earlier now felt unbelievably, almost unbearably, slow. I instinctively wanted to maintain the 75 mph pace I had grown accustom to, and it was a burden to have to slow down.

What had changed? – Certainly not the road. The speedometer wasn’t broken, and I’m also pretty confident it wasn’t the fundamental physics of driving 35 miles in one hour. Somehow I had changed. My perspective had changed.

As I leave for work, my frame of reference before reaching Canyon Road is from a dead stop in my driveway. My frame of reference before reaching the same road on my return trip from Arizona was ten hours of 60-80 mph.

This experience may seem insignificant, and a leading candidate for the common sense of the month club. It may even be the winner. For me, however, it was a great physical example and confirmation of a principle I already believed: Humans have an amazing ability to adjust and adapt to different circumstances, changing conditions, and increasing demands.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier- not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased”.

I had adapted. For ten hours before reaching home, my mind, body, and reflexes had adjusted to the higher demands and challenges presented by freeway speeds and curvy highways. The skill set needed to drive at the low speeds and zero curves of Canyon Road seemed elementary when revisited. The nature of the activity had not changed, but my capacity and ability had increased briefly from performing at a sustained higher level.

Life and Business, like driving I suppose, seem to vary at times in velocity. They present uncertainties and have curves. However, that which seems relatively difficult or impossible now may become not only doable, but easy as we look back on it down the road (look no further than world history or your own personal experiences for numerous examples).

Never, I would guess, has the business world been more dynamic than the present. The ability of entrepreneurs, employees, and companies to adapt to change is essential for success and long-run survival.

We all face intimidating challenges associated with changing conditions, environments, and circumstances- it’s just part of the game. While this isn’t revelatory news to anyone I’m sure, this little experience did serve as a reminder to me that when these changes do come, the ability is in each of us to adapt and rise to the level required for success.

And if we fail, the experience we gained can make us stronger for the next round (take this blog entry for example).