I remember vividly “playing” with my mother’s manual typewriter. It was yellow, with a cool cover that attached to the body. I can still hear the sound the keys made when they struck the ribbon and feel the “click” and “zing” of the return arm.

Fast forward a few decades and I am browsing in a store known for their innovative displays. And there it was! A typewriter exactly like the one I played with and learned to type on in the 1970s!! It was serving as part of the artistic display. A young girl around age 8 asked her mommy “what is this?” It was amusing to watch the mother try to explain something so unfamiliar to this computer-age child.

During workshops, I’ve often asked participants what would have happened to them professionally if they refused to make the jump from their often beloved and familiar IBM Selectric typewriters to computers during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And the answer is ALWAYS the same, they would not have a job. A willingness to adapt was necessary to survive in the professional world.

And, while it is highly unlikely any administrative assistant still has an electric typewriter hidden away (trust me…. people did that), the ability to stay adaptable is still as relevant today as it was then.

Adaptability is the ability to be flexible and adjust to changing factors, conditions, or environments. Administrative assistants can enhance their adaptability with a few key behaviors.

  • Ask high-quality, clarifying questions. Asking questions does not mean you weren’t listening or didn’t understand the first time. Asking high-quality, clarifying questions shows you are engaged and willing to adjust to the current circumstances. An example of this type of question is “what else can you tell me about xxx?”
  • Be willing to take smart risks. Be willing to try new things even if you won’t be perfect the first time. Think about the first time you used new software or a new app. Perhaps the end result wasn’t “perfect” or perhaps you realized that you had a lot to learn before fully understand how to use the new tool. However, don’t let the fear of failure or not being perfect keep you from trying. The key is to be smart about it. View every attempt as a learning experience with lessons you can take forward.
  • Be willing to STOP. Sometimes we become so focused on what we need to start doing in order to adapt, that we forget that it is equally important to look at what we need to stop doing. For example, in order to fully adapt to the computer age, people had to stop using their electric typewriters. One of the reasons people hid their typewriters was because in the early days of computers some tasks were very tricky to figure out on the computer. It was easier and faster to just do things the way they had always done them. But, by relying on the typewriter for those tasks, they delayed learning how to do them on the computer. What do you need to STOP to free yourself up to fully start?

Adaptability is more important now than ever before. The rate of change and innovation is getting faster and faster. The top-notch admin makes it their goal to stay adaptable in order to thrive. What key adaptability behavior will you choose to focus on?