Adapt-your-ability - Part I: The adaptability mindset

July 20, 2016

The adaptability mindset is a winning mindset, a thriver’s mindset.

What is adaptability?

The legendary basketball player and coach John Wooden is credited with saying, “Adaptability is being able to adjust to any situation at any given time.” Piggy-backing on Wooden's idea, I would like to introduce the term "adaptability mindset," which I consider to be the willingness and readiness to adjust to any situation at any time. The adaptability mindset is a winning mindset, a thriver’s mindset.

Human adaptability is well-documented through the ages. We have adapted to live successfully in searing hot and brutally cold climates. We have learned how to domesticate animals for labor, protection, and companionship. We have become the masters of our environments with advances in agriculture, housing, and civil infrastructure. We have stabilized our societies through democracy and capitalism. In response to external change, we adapted to survive, and in response to human-driven change, we have, I believe, unquestionably thrived. The result of human innovation and adaptation has been greater prosperity.

Industrial adaptability - lessons from history

The first industrial revolution (1760–1840) transformed England from a largely agricultural society into an industrial society. The invention of machinery, steam power, and new production processes increased productivity far beyond what was achieved using manpower and hand tools. The textile, metallurgy, mining, agriculture, transportation, chemical, and glass-making industries saw advances in technology that led to increased production output and improved quality. Although Industry 1.0 didn’t improve lives overnight, as the decades passed, arduous human labor decreased, wages grew, and living conditions improved. 

During the revolution, skilled craftspeople such as weavers found their skills were being replaced by machine innovations, like the Spinning Jenny, which increased a worker’s productivity eight-fold and required far less technical skill to operate. With so many innovations, artists were slowly being replaced by operators. All of a sudden their long-cultivated skill was no longer valued and their competitive advantage was lost. On the flip side, these easy-to-operate innovations gave many unskilled workers an opportunity to work and add more value than before. And over time, machines and higher production volumes created new occupations as they introduced the need for maintenance, quality control, increased supervision, and leadership roles. These new roles required new skills.

Back to the future

Although today’s industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, is being fueled by different technology and digital advances, the outcomes on the workers and jobs will be similar to those experienced during Industry 1.0. Some jobs and skills will be diminished or replaced by technology, and new jobs with new skill sets will be created. We will experience significant change.

Indeed, we are already experiencing change. In my previous post, I mentioned the Adidas Superfactory in Germany, where custom shoes are now mass-produced in a fully automated environment using the latest robotics technology. In Andrew Kinder’s article "IIoT in Manufacturing: Are We There Yet?" he mentions that “Research conducted by IDC estimates that by 2020, 40% of all data will be machine-generated, with 20 to 50 billion devices fueling that growth. And a recent survey commissioned by Infor revealed that 52% of manufacturers globally see IIoT as a business priority, and one in twenty claiming it is the biggest priority.” We can already see the growing use of these technologies. 

I think it’s safe to predict that over time, more companies, where relevant, will become connected to the IIoT and will leverage big data and machine communication and learning, advanced robotics, 3D printing, etc. The benefits of increased productivity, reduced waste, improved quality, and new revenue sources will prove to be too compelling to not pursue. 

The future of jobs

What is the potential impact on our current jobs? The World Economic Forum (WEF) paper "The Future of Jobs" suggests there will be a net loss in manufacturing and production jobs from 2015 to 2020. On a positive note, the report suggests that industrial professionals may have more opportunities than professionals in other fields to reskill or up-skill and work with technology in new ways to be more productive. 

We may see reductions in operational positions as robotics increase process automation, but on the flip side, we may see an increase in maintenance and engineering roles to sustain robotic performance and reliability. Machine communication and learning may eliminate some decision-making tasks from current manufacturing roles and may eventually some replace some roles completely. However, with an ever-increasing volume of machine-generated data, we can confidently anticipate a growth in jobs related to data analysis and reporting.

The future of skills

The WEF suggests that by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets for most occupations will comprise skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today. That’s significant. If you’re not shocked yet, consider this WEF assertion: “By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering elementary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” If you’re still not shocked, then you are probably already preparing for this change, and if so, bravo.

The WEF is suggesting several changes between now and 2020 to the 10 most important higher-level skills to prosper in Industry 4.0. These underlying skills, including critical thinking, creativity, and cognitive flexibility, will support workplace adaptability. Apply them in a focused way to your role and see what changes could result.

Time to act

One of the most important tasks that we can all do RIGHT NOW is to think hard about the implications of Industry 4.0 on our profession and our skill set. I urge you to ask yourself:

  • How might my current role change?
  • What skills may I need to learn to thrive?

This action will put you ahead of the curve. Even if your own predictions aren’t 100% accurate, the process of thinking and acting by learning new skills will absolutely boost your resume and increase your job security, and you will be working to develop a habit of the adaptability mindset. I mean this as a hopeful message, not a doomsday one. Take action and take control of your professional future.

For those willing to share your findings, please write them in the comments section below. Please also share your job title to help give context. Thank you in advance for taking this action and for sharing.

This post is part one of a two-part focus on adaptability. In part two, we will discuss avenues to reskill, up-skill, and super-skill.

Thanks again for joining this conversation and investing in yourself.


Tom Furnival

IIoT in Manufacturing: Are We There Yet?

About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

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