Summary of Adaptive Space

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8 Overall

9 Applicability

8 Innovation

7 Style


Each year, CNBC announces its Disruptor 50 list, a compendium of the world’s most innovative private firms, about half of which are in Silicon Valley. These bold corporations exploit marketplace niches and transform their individual industries and, sometimes, society at large. Disruptive firms set the table where their competitors – that is, the ones that don’t get disrupted into bankruptcy – must eat. These agile companies cultivate an internal “adaptive space” – which is an unfettered creative environment, not necessarily a physical place. They encourage the exploration and free flow of ideas in four dimensions: “discovery, development, diffusion and disruption.”  As the marketplace certifies, their openness to fresh thinking enables them to transform themselves radically into something newer and better. Organizational dynamics professor Michael J. Arena explains what adaptive space is, why your organization needs it to nourish agility and how you can foster it.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why agility keeps firms healthy,
  • How to use the four dimensions of “adaptive space” to build agility into your organization and
  • How to follow the five principles of adaptive space.

About the Author

Michael J. Arena, PhD, is the chief talent officer at General Motors. He teaches in the University of Pennsylvania’s organizational dynamics program and spent two years as a visiting scientist within MIT’s Media Lab.



“Adaptive Space” – The Prerequisite to Agility 

Agility is the contemporary secret to long-term business success. The strongest corporate innovators rely on adaptive space – that is, a kind of open culture – that fosters the free exchange of ideas. Adaptive space – which is a relational environment and not necessarily a physical place – breeds innovation. Adaptive-space organizations encourage the unfettered exploration and exchange of ideas. They know innovative ideas need freedom, connection and corporate energy to thrive.

Adaptive space concerns the interactive discovery and development of innovative ideas and the diffusion of these ideas throughout an organization. Adaptive space is the creative nexus between an organization’s “entrepreneurial pockets” and its “operational system.” On the surface, establishing an adaptive space environment seems straightforward, but achieving a free flow of ideas is a challenge. An unfettered flow requires liberating your employees, and many corporations are uncomfortable with the necessary degree of freedom.

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