Activity: Identifying Your Adaptive Challenges

Try this big thinking exercise to help you question long-held assumptions and identify a persistent adaptive challenge at your organization.


Activity Objective

  • To re-examine the foundational assumptions that have led your organization to success in the past, in order to see if they need to change — because they may no longer reliably predict success.
  • To identify a major, persistent, and difficult challenge — an adaptive challenge — that your organization is facing, in order to move forward and prototype a new pathway.


Download the accompanying worksheets here.

Download: Identifying Your Adaptive Challenges


This activity is for a small group of people from your organization. This group might include executive staff or administrators, artists involved with your programs, and a variety of staff at all levels of your organization and from multiple departments. The group must be prepared to do deep questioning at the organizational level, and include a diversity of voices.


First, read the context on the first page of the worksheets, to better understand the need for questioning your assumptions and identifying your adaptive challenge.

Next, use these 4 worksheets (included in the downloadable PDF packet above) to tackle the process of identifying your organization’s adaptive challenge:

  1. Identifying Your Vision of Success
  2. Questioning Your Organizational Assumptions
  3. Developing Bold New Directions
  4. Describing Your Adaptive Challenges

Additional Resources

Check out these three video tutorials, led by EmcArts President Richard Evans, who walks you through the key steps of identifying your organization’s adaptive challenge.

Video #1: Introducing Two Principles Underlying the Business Unusual National Challenge (3 mins)
Video #2: Questioning Organizational Assumptions and Developing New Directions (4 mins)
Video #3: Identifying Your Adaptive Challenges (3 mins)

Watch the video tutorials


  • What big assumptions about success are held within your organization?
  • What obstacles did you encounter as a group when acknowledging those assumptions, and identifying a persistent challenge that your organization is facing?


In the comments section below, we encourage you to share something that you learned or something that surprised you while doing this activity.

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.