Full disclosure, I made up the term ‘versatility score,’ but I’m thinking one will be invented soon. As we all move into the next phase of life in a pandemic, we’re not doing anything the way we used to do it, and it doesn’t seem that we will be ‘going back to normal’ – ever. However good you had gotten at whatever you do, you need to be adapting and assessing your capacity to keep adapting. This is true on a personal, individual level – but also on organizational and systemic levels.

Some things will have changed forever because the opportune moment has passed: the number of unrealized 2020 moments for achievements in business, sports, entertainment and arts cannot be calculated. We have to just let go of those aspirations. Sad, but true.

Some things will change forever because we’ve discovered, in the midst of this pandemic, that there are better ways to do some of the things we’ve always done: meetings that were a waste of time can now be accomplished with a fraction of the waste – there’s a silver lining!

Some things will change forever because the agile among us have already started innovating, feeding our insatiable appetites for ‘new and improved.’ As one who has long agreed with the notion that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, I applaud the capacity of people – and the organizations they lead – to navigate through this very unusual time and create competitive advantage for the future. So, I raise the question: What are the attributes that lead to a high versatility score? Courage, curiosity and grounded in values; these all seem likely and well-understood concepts. But here are a few more I’m thinking about.

Throughout the length of careers, people balance the pros and cons of ‘specialization’ versus broad ‘generalization’ of their skills and their organizations. There is a level of differentiation that comes with specialization; whether in sports or business, gaining a reputation for doing one specific thing very well can be valuable. But when the game changes or the business shifts priorities, the need to adapt can sometimes trap a specialist into a dead-end. Being good at something no longer highly valued happens over and over again in work life and in the marketplace. So, we balance the pros and cons – balance is probably a key attribute of versatility.

Situational awareness is another attribute that seems essential for these times. Even as organizations and markets are reeling in the context of the pandemic’s impacts, introducing ‘change’ is as fraught an exercise as in calmer times. For all the great commentary on change management, I still like to go way back to Machiavelli’s observation in the early 16th century: “… there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.” Understanding when and how to bring an organization’s people along to a future of new realities is another bump in the versatility score, I’m thinking.

Finally, I’ll throw out a perhaps surprising one: malleability. In ‘normal times’ we think about this as a person probably lacking in confidence: their thinking can be altered by persistent advocacy of their colleagues. But the notion that even the most accomplished and confident leaders might need to be willing and capable of ‘re-thinking’ core beliefs and strategies strikes me as essential in times like these. The speed, scale and scope of transformations in our lives seems to me to be deserving of such leadership humility.

What’s your versatility score?

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