The Adaption Advantage: Let Go, Learn Fast and Thrive in the Future of Work

In his forward to Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley’s landmark book, The Adaption Advantage (published recently by Wiley), Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, writes about the shift “from flat to fast to smart to deep.” He calls “deep” the word of the year, citing “deep mind, deep medicine, deep war, deep fake, deep surveillance, deep insights, deep climate, deep adaption.”

He also writes, “As the world has gone from flat to fast to smart to deep, it is overturning and melting traditions, foundations and bonds in every realm of our lives – how we work, how we communicate, how we learn, how we educated, how we conduct business, how we conduct trade, how families communicate with each other and how governments control their people – to name but a few. In my opinion, this inflection point may be understood as the single most important inflection point since Guttenberg invented the printing press. And you just happened to be here. And it’s not over – in fact it is just getting started.”

McGowan and Shipley’s book is a must-read for those who continually strive to understand how life is evolving, and who understands the fundamental power of education, reflection, and life-long learning. I am honored to be among the business leaders interviewed and able to share my experience – our experience given the thousands of people I’ve had the privilege to work with – as part of the section in the book on digital transformation.

Here is an excerpt:

We spoke at length with David Walsh, an entrepreneur, investor and business operator who served as CEO at GENBAND (which merged with Sonus Networks in 2017 to form the publicly traded Ribbon Communications) and has gone on to found cloud communications platform company Walsh witnessed firsthand many evolutions and adaptions in telecommunications over his 35-year career in that sector. Speaking specifically about the leadership required for transformational change and continuous adaption, he says, “Change in organizations is very hard. People cling to the skill they learned and the culture they built around it. This is particularly true in technology companies. People hold onto the original technology that made them successful often long past its usefulness. They ignore the change happening around them until it’s too late to pivot, as others have already made the shift and the opportunity is gone.”

Timing, it turns out, makes all the difference when navigation change. Walsh makes this particularly insightful observation:

Often companies at their peak of profitability are at their greatest risk of failure, which makes it even harder to accept that change is needed. I’ve found that being a benevolent dictator helps drive change in the early stage of the pivot. Bringing in talent from outside the organization with different skills and experiences is key. To reduce resistance, it’s also important to repurpose talent from within so people believe they can be part of the future. In order to pivot, the mission has to be clear, the goals have to be well defined, and everyone has to be bought in, from the Board all the way through the entire organization. Then you align your troops along a narrow front and attack with overwhelming force, landing, and expanding until you succeed. The people you pick for the mission not only have to be able, they need to believe in the mission. Placing the talent into a separate division or establishing a new brand helps send the message that something new is happening and helps unite the team around its mission. I’ve done this a few times, pivoting from voice trading to electronic trading, from making hardware and software to a business connecting them together and from using the software of a company to build an SaaS business out of it. All of these pivots required a different culture and business model and the ability not only to fight externally for customers but to fight the “enemies from within” who resisted change at every pass.


The Adaption Advantage is a profound book and perfectly timed as we all “go deep” to understand what is happening around us, whether a global pandemic, broken government systems, upheaval in the financial markets, political polarization, civil unrest, climate change and more.

At times like these, I often turn to books, to newspapers and journals, to quality media broadcasts, and to friends I admire as part of my lifelong learning journey. As difficult as this year has been, we’ve been through difficult times before – for me, this included losing literally hundreds of friends and colleagues on 9.11. What I find most fulfilling is the continuation of relationships over decades, and the unstoppable creativity and determination of friends, colleagues, and family which lights the way forward, especially in the darkest times.

The ideas in this brilliant book, the stories told by strong people, the guidance contributed by the wise, are ideal for this moment.

We used to say, “Innovate or Die” but today the rallying cry may be “Adapt and Thrive.” Check out the book (you can buy it here on Amazon) and let me know what you think.