The Benefits of Adaptation

We all need to be able to adapt in certain ways; living creatures have been doing it since the beginning of time to survive.

I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.
— Yogi Berra

When I was very young (perhaps 2 or 3 years old), my grandfather noticed my left-handed tendencies. He was quick to insist that my mom should force me to learn how to perform tasks with my right hand. “It’s a right-handed world,” he told her. “Doing things left handed will only hold him back.”

My mom didn’t put a lot of stock in my grandfather’s parenting ideas. She considered them archaic and felt it made more sense to let kids develop naturally. Of course, her style is more widely accepted today and was probably good for me. But I can’t deny my belief that my grandfather was not completely out of line with his concerns.

While my mom never pushed me to do things one way or the other, in many cases I seem to have adjusted to my circumstances as necessary. Today I would not officially be considered either left handed or right handed, but rather mixed handed. Also referred to as cross-dominance, this trait is even less common than being truly left handed (less than 5 percent of the population, versus 10 percent). It is also slightly different from being ambidextrous (less than 1 percent of the population), because I perform some tasks better with one hand and others with the other, as opposed to being able to do things equally well with either hand.

There may be genetic reasons for cross-dominance in a person, but I believe that, for me, much of it was brought on by adaptation. I distinctly remember early school days when we would be working on art projects and the students would use scissors supplied by the school. Although we had about 30 kids in the class, only two or three pairs of left-handed scissors were available. I was forced to use a right-handed pair so often that I quickly learned to cut with either hand, and before long, the right-handed scissors was my preference because I knew it would always be available.

Because I grew up with seven older siblings, much of my learning, particularly that which involved outdoor play, was guided by them and their friends. Leading by example the best they knew how, they taught me to throw and to hit a baseball right handed. Conversely, though, I learned the game of billiards at my left-handed neighbor’s house, and probably not coincidentally, it’s the only “sport” that I play predominantly left handed. However, while I definitely favor one side or the other in various activities, I have shown to be above average in each with my non-preferred side. Perhaps using both so frequently has trained me to be more adaptable overall.

I share this experience of my own adaptability this month because International Left Handers Day is celebrated on August 13 (of every year). I’m not quite sure how such a day should be celebrated or if I, not being strictly left handed, am even allowed to. But we all should celebrate adaptability.

Maybe I had an unusual way of learning the importance of adaptability. We all need to be able to adapt in certain ways; living creatures have been doing it since the beginning of time to survive. Charles Darwin (who was left handed) incorporated the mechanism of natural selection in his evolutionary theory, discussing the need for a species to adapt to compete and survive. While his ideas were “big-picture,” similar ideas apply to everyday life.

One of the challenges we face in manufacturing is the ever-changing business climate. If the industry is strong, it’s much easier to do well. Perhaps we take advantage of the opportunities around us and bring in more personnel or capital equipment to continue to grow. But as the cycle inevitably shifts to slower times, the fittest of us will adapt to these circumstances as well. Often, this might mean focusing more on ways to optimize production or refining employee skills in preparation for the next upswing. Unfortunately, it might also mean trimming staff or benefits that are more easily afforded when business is strong.

We also adapt to the needs of our customers by making necessary adjustments to how we do business. These changes may involve bringing in different types of equipment, which, by the way, is ever changing to comply with the demands of an evolving industry. Adaptation is all around us.