Adapt or Perish

If you asked me what the single most important skill is in 2019, I would have given a bucket full of abilities. However, if you asked me the same question two years later, I would answer it’s the skill of adapting. Imagine companies refusing to let their employees work remotely, or schools and colleges refraining from shifting online. If not COVID-19, this stubbornness would have initiated an apocalypse.

The only reason we are here today, able to read this article, is that we all acclimated to the new normal at our own speed. Adapted to being imprisoned within the four walls of the house, adapted to studying the intricacies of Zoom, adapted to covering half our face for the outside world, adapted to keeping an arm’s length from our own family, and the list goes on.

There’s an element of learning when you see companies that have followed the path of growth in the last two years instead of licking their wounds. With travel at a halt, it seemed inevitable that Airbnb would suffer a setback. The cloud of uncertainty was hovering over their business with no sight of immediate recovery. The scenario presented Airbnb with two options: sit back, tighten its seatbelt, and expect to emerge triumphant from the turbulence, or confess that their business is of little to no use in the current market, modify their aims and objectives, and hope to succeed with this risky strategy. They opted for the latter. They switched their use case from accommodation and tourism operations to homestays, giving tranquilly and joy away from the shadow of COVID-19. Only time will tell how well this plan worked for them or whether there was a better option to what they did, but adjusting to the new sentiment is what kept them afloat. Airbnb hasn’t stopped. Their choice to temporarily lodge 20,000 Afghan refugees for free in order to assist them relocate throughout the world demonstrates their conviction in adapting to the new reality rather than following the route defined by hundreds of individuals who anticipate the company’s financial results.

On the flip side, travel aggregators like Ola and Uber are regarded as necessities in India. Yet they didn’t have it easy. People started getting paranoid about the virus, fearing catching it on a cab ride back home. Ola might have waited for herd immunity to extract it from the cobweb, but they knew better. Ola devoted a total of Rs. 500 crores to the Ride Safe India initiative, in which taxis were fumigated every 48 hours, sanitised before and after each ride, and using technology, they launched selfie authentication both for the rider and the driver to guarantee a mask was on at all times. Demand had slipped, cash flows were frozen and employer payrolls were piling up, nevertheless Ola realised its customers’ long term trust outweighed the temporary outlay.

While COVID-19 propelled immense opportunities for a segment of the population, it has been a nail in the coffin for many. For most of us, Skype had been the de facto app we used, to keep in touch via video. According to a study, Skype owned a commanding 32.4% of the market in 2020 before losing 25.8% of its market share in a single year. Zoom grew 22.3% and Google Meet grew 20.2% in that same time. After Microsoft acquired Skype, they were so caught up in redesigning the product to make it more appealing that its core functionality was never touched upon. While Skype stagnated, Zoom took the world by storm and stole the crown that should’ve belonged to Skype.

Beyond the corporate world, we’ve all faced the stark choice of adapting or perishing. India reported its first case of coronavirus, on January 30 yet on the evening of 24 March 2020, the Government of India imposed the first nationwide lockdown for 21 days. The virus had spread rapidly by the time our administration became aware of the impending threat. It was the government’s failure to adapt to the shutdown that caused India to fail its migrant workers. It was the government’s failure to adapt to this unusual scenario that led to the death of the leading seer at the Kumbh Mela.

Adapting appears to be a highly uncomfortable task that pushes you to leave your comfort zone and enter an unknown territory. The sad reality is that we can’t avoid this talent, no matter how painful it is. To remain relevant and competitive, it is widely accepted in the business world that C-Suite leaders should be replaced every 6-7 years. It holds true in our personal lives as well. The abilities required to live three years ago are not the same skills needed to survive in the future. The moment we achieve one milestone, the goalpost moves farther away. A person with hard skills will be in more demand one day. The next day, people expect you to have excellent communication skills in order to sell your tale. With the ever dynamic world, we must learn to make peace with change. If we do not adjust to these requirements as they occur, we will fall far behind the herd.

While there is much discussion about the need to adapt, one aspect that is sometimes overlooked is uniqueness. When we modify our methods to accommodate the external world, we frequently lose touch with our ethics and fundamental beliefs that distinguish us from others. It is more vital than ever to realise that changes are only figments of our imagination that keep the world turning. Staying loyal to ourselves and our values is the only thing that distinguishes us from one another, and we should never blur that line.

In a nutshell, the art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings without losing sight of our values.

– Janvi Gupta

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