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Author's profile photo Andreas Fellner

Coach’s Corner – How Adaptable is Your Brain?

Throughout my career I have recognized how important it is to adapt to new situations, new customers, new cultures, new teams and new technologies. Adaptability is the key to mastering our everchanging environment.

My name is Andreas Fellner and I’m a Program Manager and Certified Professional Coach at SAP. For more than 20 years I have lead and delivered global SAP implementation projects as a CIO and IT Executive.

As part of our coaching education and experience we gain insights into the functioning of the human brain. Adaptability is in an interesting field of tension within the brain where it directly competes with our ability to quickly judge a situation. The way our brain works is fascinating and dominated by our primal instinct of survival. Within half a second or even less we are typically able to assess anything around us. This assessment is deeply rooted in our subconscious, triggered immediately by new incoming information and is based on patterns that we have learned and refined throughout our life.

Our brain matches situations to those patterns and we use them to predict was is happening next. Based on the assessment of a situation and our internal prediction we tend to react in certain ways that we have also developed over the course of many years and reiterations of similar situations.

When we hear part of a familiar song we know and predict the next tunes. If a train drives into a tunnel we know that it will disappear from sight at some point. When we turn the key in our front door we will next push down the handle to open the door. Most of our daily routine activities follow patterns.

Interestingly our brain recognizes immediately when something deviates from our predictions. If the handle on the front door was changed from a round knob to a square we would know immediately. If a piano player doesn’t hit the expected next key for a known song we would recognize.

Using patterns is so ingrained in our brains that it immediately triggers our default reactions. Our ability to adapt to a new situation is directly competing with this way of using patterns. This is the area of tension in the brain and two competing dynamics. Both are equally required in terms of our evolution and survival.

In order to become more adaptable it is helpful to be aware of these processes in the brain. As coaches we like to help our clients intercept the process by taking a moment to realize what the situation is and determine the best reaction instead of triggering the default reaction. We also invite clients to reflect on their patterns, beliefs and default reactions in order to generate new options in those situations. When you encounter an unusual situation try to observe yourself first and describe what you notice.

I’m very curious to hear about your ways to help yourself or others become more adaptable and about your experiences experimenting. You can share your comments below. 

Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner


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      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao

      Thank you Andreas for sharing this insight into how our brain plays such an important part in how we adapt to change.

      Quite a few years ago, a fellow colleague Adrian Westmoreland introduced me to his go-to book for change management, Who Moved My Cheese, and I have not looked back since.  My children even have a kids-version of this book, and it has helped them overcoming many perceived obstacles in their ever-changing lives.

      Author's profile photo Colleen Hebbert
      Colleen Hebbert

      Who Moved my Cheese is one of the best books I've ever had to sit through at work. It sounds bad to say "sit through" but in one of my first professional jobs my boss decided to do a story time. We sat round in a group and he asked us to all take turns reading the book aloud to each other. At first it felt a bit childish but it was a fun group of colleagues and all were willing to give it a go.


      What made this even better is that it was a life lesson he decided to share with us with no relation to work activities. I.e. we discuss adapting to change without simultaneously being told we were being redundant, etc. It's a good reminder to recognise that when we change happens there is always opportunity.

      Author's profile photo Michelle Crapo
      Michelle Crapo

      In general this is something we all should try to do.

      My way to promote change is probably a bit different.  It does depend on the audience.  I'm completely honest.  "You are going to hate this new version of SAP".   Yes, I really said that.  "You'll then learn it isn't that bad."  Once that happens "You'll have requests for changes to the system".

      I think it helped for someone from the "IT" side to tell them they would hate it.   It let them know that I was hearing all the murmurs about the new system.

      Now adaptability - you have a crowd that completely agrees with you.  We usually are the ones initiating the change.  🙂

      I too read - who moved my cheese.  Excellent book.  If anyone hasn't read it.  It's a quick short read.  But so amazingly true.  You can see yourselves and others as mice.  It actually helped me understand different people around me.


      Author's profile photo Jayne Phillips
      Jayne Phillips

      Excellent topic Andreas!  I too am a peer coach and find so much of what we need to grow is to gain clarity of understanding and to view situations from different perspectives.  You take this to even greater levels though, because even considering a new perspective we default to our "programmed" understanding or responses to similar situations.  It takes deliberate intention and focus to explore new thoughts and approaches.

      I am also an Anusara yogi and over the years have found so much value in the Anusara practice - way beyond just the physical benefits.  Nearly every element of our practice can be translated into our life experiences.  When we take time to really focus on one aspect of our practice, it enlightens us to surrounding or related aspects that we would not otherwise notice.

      So we must take time and value the deliberate act of noticing.  I will be thinking about this one a lot more!

      Author's profile photo Rob Dielemans
      Rob Dielemans

      Interesting read.

      I've always been very adaptable, open to changes, and welcoming to new (food) experiences. I also reconsider my standing when confronted with new pieces of information.

      To enhance this, I endeavour to fill my social circles with interesting people with vastly different (political) opinions. This is very important for personal growth and unfortunately this is not seen as common sense amongst the populace in my part of the world. It can only lead to good things, either you become more vocal in defending your beliefs and opinions, or you find out that what you thought was true had little to no merit at all.

      Another useful tool was attending an 8-week mindfulness course, this helps a lot by forcing you to first stay in the moment and see what is there and what you're feeling (literally, as in sensory) before jumping to conclusions.


      To help others become more adaptable it is necessary to understand that what motivates you is not the same as what motivates them. Through understanding personality traits, I've had training in Briggs-Myers type indicators but will have to get some more training on the more recent Big Five (book tips are welcomed), you know that you have to change your language fitted to the individual in order to make them change themselves.

      Cheers, Rob.