High Adaptability Factor and Over-Stratum

E. Forrest Christian Change, Theory 3 Comments

In his discussions of building dams with the Navajo as a young white man in the 1930s (West of th Thirties), E.T. Hall describes how he had to adapt to the ways that were culturally acceptable to the them. As a white manager, and as a young man, he started off coming onto the site noisily, slamming the car door and generally being “bossy”. The Navajo responded with stone coldness. “I could live or die, and it wouldn’t have made a particle of difference,” he writes.

He then adapted to their culture, coming onto the site quietly, letting workers adjust to his being there, and then talking to them without looking them in the eye. He attributes this to his “high adaptability factor” which enabled him to adapt to the ways of the people he worked with.

He also later became an accomplished anthropologist.

My question: Is high adaptability simply a personality trait or is it also a function of your own time horizon or Stratum? I know that Stan Smith (of Sustainable Organization and Human Patterns) has a personality test to determine whether or not someone can make it in a foreign culture, a function of adaptability. But I wonder if some of the experience is Mode related. I could go both ways right now, arguing either side fairly successfully.

From the one hand, we can all think of people who are “floaters”, who do well in any group. The steel mills here in NW Indiana relied on them to smooth out relations between the various ethnic groups. Ronald S. Burt at the U. of Chicago reports on a network analysis of a high school that found that a single young man was responsible for the connections between the various factions. That seems to indicate a general personality type.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 3

  1. Post

    An understanding of culture and cultural myths is significant in penetrating said culture and mythology. As a consequence the first objective is to build trust and to be viewed as credible. In essence one sets forth in these situations to build relationship, and one requires an understanding that he or she first represents the role and what the role means to the culture. One’s influence as an individual is initially secondary to what they represent in terms of role.

    From your example we might assume that within the culture of the Navajo, the white man is not initially held in high regard; in fact quite the opposite. Embedded within the Navajo culture is the meaning of the white man. This is not unlike what the manager means in a work organization embedded within the distinct cultures of the worker, the supervisor, other management levels, etc. Seemingly, one need not require a trait of “high adaptability”. Any one of us is capable of succeeding at establishing relationships and one need not possess high mode to accomplish this. Rationalizing the theory and the psychology of the cultural group dynamics might best occur employing conditional or bi-conditional logic, however one’s ability to generate relatedness need only require sufficent motive that offers mutual benefit. Man establishes relationship with woman to satisfy physiological, safety and belonging needs. He sets forth to satisfy his amorous desires. Does this require high mode? No! If he is experienced he will understand that he first needs to appreciate her interests, etc. etc. Initially, he might receive a slap in the face or a rejection or two, but hey thus is the nature of trial and error and the acquisition of skill and knowledge.

    In the relationship (most any one) introduce an unneccessary power dynamic and the outcome is apt to be negative.

    What is being referred to here as “high adaptability” is simply skilled knowledge.

    From your assertion that you believe you could argue either side, I would invite you to successfully argue the correlation between high mode and what is being refered to as “high adaptability”. I think your argument would quickly collapse. Without working at it too hard, take Winston Churchill as an example; definitely high mode VIII or IX in terms of CPC, yet he could not adapt to leading Great Britain outside of wartime. His leadership was not adapted and was very much situational.

  2. Please revise article to comment further on Stan Smith’s position and testing.

    Having lived outside of my home country and trained extensively in linguistic and cultural adaptation, I must say that Smith is onto something. There is a kind of adaptation that requires conscious mental capability, distinct from the trait evidenced by people who “adapt easily to others.” In the process of linguistic-cultural adaptation, this is an ability distinct from “knowledge regarding language” and “knowledge regarding cultural myth.” No research citations to support this, but ample personal experience.

    In the context of Smith’s testing, it may be appropriate to understand that while certains forms of adaptability are indeed personality-driven (e.g. affable people, patient people, etc.), others are in fact a “spot-on” application, a perfect illustration, of time horizon and stratum.

    It would be interesting to study returning Peace Corps volunteers in this vein (or perhaps other cross-cultural (+linguistic) workers), compared with a general population of similar age.

  3. Post

    I have to wonder if the LDS church (“The Mormons”) have already done such a study. They seem to have remarkable success with languages and cultures in their evangelistic work. Young people typically spend two years in the mission field, which you may have encountered: those two nice young men in ties on bicycles going through your neighbourhoods. The ones that go abroad often have a good facility with the language. What are they doing? Is it simply a numbers game? Is it the religious fervor?

    I think that State did a study of returning diplomatic posts. And I know that the US DoD has a highly advanced testing process. A pal of mine from San Antonio got bored teaching years ago and joined the Navy. They said that he had a natural ability with languages even though his only one was English at the time. They sent him to Hawaii to learn Asia-Pac languages where he’s done quite well. Of course, that’s not bad duty, either. I’m sure that the study is considered classified for national security purposes.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: