Common Purpose / 15 May 2023

Changing, Evolving, Thriving: What’s The Real Difference Between Agility & Adaptability?

In your working career, you’ll deal with change numerous times. This is inevitable. But there is something in these changing situations that is entirely within your control: How you deal with it. Enter agility and adaptability.

Agility vs adaptability
Both of these traits are crucial when it comes to not only navigating change but thriving as a result of it. But don’t mistake one for the other – while these two A’s might seem similar from the outside, there are actually some core differences between the two. Let’s explore those.

One often comes first

Think of the chicken and the egg scenario, but replace it with adaptability and agility. Unlike the chicken and the egg, we can easily determine a point where one A comes before the other: Agility is often the proactive, first trigger that sparks some kind of change or adaptation of behaviour. Meanwhile, adaptability is being able to respond and navigate that change successfully.

This means that agility is often associated with being innovative, forward-thinking, and experimental. Meanwhile, adaptability is associated with being resilient, determined, and versatile. Both core skills are crucial to success in the workplace – particularly in industries that are changing fast.

One means fast-moving, one means fast-learning

Another way to distinguish agility and adaptability is the ways in which both can be tangibly identified. Agility sparks new ideas and methods that will result in change – often fast change. For example, a company-wide restructure which sees multiple teams reorganized will look noticeably different.

In this circumstance, adaptability will look like the people within this company responding well to the changing circumstances – thriving even.

One looks forward, while another looks back

If agility had a CV, its top line should be, ‘Works well under pressure’. Being agile involves the practice of making fast, effective decisions based on new information, or critique, and then quickly actioning them. By doing this, you’ll be looking (and moving) forwards constantly.

Adaptability on the other hand is the ability to look back at past setbacks and failures and identify what went wrong, all while still being able to work through them. These setbacks are a gift for the more adaptable among us, because not only do they force us to reconsider our thinking, but they make us more resilient to failure.

In effect, both adaptability and agility are extremely important in the workplace, and by practicing both regularly, you’ll find that even the most confronting of changes are manageable.


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