Sanjeeva Narayan
6 min readNov 19, 2020

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VERSATILITY OR ADAPTABILITY –AN UNDER APPRECIATED VIRTUE

Recently while bringing myself abreast with the happenings in the world of soccer, I happened to read the comments of Brazilian Football Coach, Tite , on the soccer star Neymar, who in the course of the World-cup qualifiers had become the second highest goal scorer for Brazil, in the process surpassing Ronaldo and standing behind only the Legendary Pele. Commenting on Neymar with whom, in his own words he has a “relationship of Truth and loyalty”, he very touchingly remarked –

“But what can I say about Neymar- he is both “bow” and “arrow”;

He assists and finishes”.

Simple yet pertinent words, recognising and appreciating therein the true essence of the talents of Neymar in his versatility to adapt to changing circumstances thereby multiplying manifold his utility and value to the team and also conveying a profound message. While the depth of talent and the extent of Neymar’s prowess and talent has been in public knowledge ever since the dawn of his career, with encomiums abounding on the issue, the insight with which Coach Tite has been able to unravel, optimize and utilize them to the fullest is reflected in his words and which also bring to fore his real value as a player and contribution to whichever team Club, Provincial or National he has been a part of .

By being able to switch roles from assisting in setting up the pieces to enable his teammates to score, to being the pivot of an attack by creating appropriate chances and penetrating the opposition to strike at the goal, by being the “bow” and the “arrow” as the circumstances require, the ability to, at the spur of the moment and in a split second to switch roles, alter thought processes and translate them into action is what distinguishes him from the rest. And indeed is a quality which distinguishes the greats and legends from the ordinary, the also rans from the winners, and separates the achievers from the pack.

Versatility or adaptability represents the ability to embrace a variety of subjects, fields or skills and transforming with ease from one thing to another. Being versatile (I would use it interminably and interchangeably with adaptability, ignoring the nuanced and subtle underlying difference) brings with it a ready and complete willingness to respond to ever changing and rapidly mutating external dynamics by acquiring requisite skill-sets, opening up new frontiers of knowledge, unravelling mysteries, going beyond the sheltered cocoon, accepting reality and, as far as possible, being ready to embrace change before circumstances alter unrecognisably to render you obsolete, inefficient and, maybe even, useless.

However, versatility which may involve a constant readjustment to one’s surrounding should not be mistaken to being the fleeting, intangible or even illusory “will-o’-the-wisp”, akin to a chameleon wherein ideas and thought-processes change, not with a view to adapt but to suit your needs so as to be able to exploit, in an intensely negative and even ulterior sense, the changed circumstances. Such actions reflect not the commitment to a task but somewhat of a turn — coat approach wherein the goal is not achieving a defined goal or to contribute to the team or organisation of which you are a part, but only short-term selfish personal goals, the gains of which are invariably short lived. Versatility in its purest, truest and most beneficial avatar brings with it the joy and challenge of doing different things, a newness and freshness of approach and keeps your mind, body and soul perfectly oiled and fighting fit to not only embrace but also anticipate change .

The need is to adapt to the environment, the pace of change of which has in recent times multiplied manifold and has the tendency to leave even the most nimble footed and so-called intelligentsia behind, unless in the least they are able to adapt to it before it overtakes them. It requires the foresight to be able to forecast it before hand to avoid the veritable ignominy of being waylaid and consigned to the infamous category of defeatists and also rans. As the “Wizard of Westwood” Legendary Basketball Coach John Wooden while exhorting his players very famously said:-

“Adaptability is being able to adjust to any situation at any given time”.

I may hasten to add here that while the example of Neymar is what caught my eye recently he is neither a solitary example nor the sole beacon or versatility — the trait of adaptability or versatility is common among all success stories not only on the Football field or other sports but also across varied fields of human endeavor. The ability to adapt and be versatile is the hallmark of achievers across all fields of human endeavour — sportsmen ( as exemplified by the redoubtable Neymar cited above),politics (moulding responses and actions to changing needs, and public perceptions and needs),research and academia (by being responsive to alternate thought processes and by adapting at every stage to visible results and actual ground situations) — nowhere better exemplified by space travel where, in spite of the most minute planning and instructions, the dynamics of space and its vast hidden recesses amplifies the need to be versatile and respond to any situation with a quick-witted, speedy and open-minded approach (watch the series “AWAY” starring Hillary Swank as the astronaut leading an International expedition to Mars-streaming live on Netflix to witness it real time) — and one will realise the virtues of versatility.

To take an example of versatility from closer home and to which we can readily relate, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, who began his career as the “angry young man” has constantly innovated and adapted himself to the ever-changing times, the needs and desires of the cinema — goer and of course his growing age, to deliver countless performances stretching across almost five decades to exhibit adaptability in its most vibrant and evident form. In fact, his amazing levels of versatility has turned what was initially thought to be a liability, his deep-throated baritonic voice, for which he was initially rejected by All India Radio to be amongst his biggest assets and even delivered songs in his trademark style — versatility or adaptability wherever you might call it — at its peak. In fact the range of performances that he has delivered over time is evidence, in no uncertain terms, of the magnitude of his versatility which acting in concert with his undisputed talent has been the spring board for his unqualified success, unsurpassable longevity and universal acceptability.

Even in the fields of business and commerce, it is only those organizations which have adapted to changing times that have not only survived but also expanded and thrived. Kodak which was once the staple of the Photographic Industry with its bouquet of analogue cameras had to file for bankruptcy protection in 2012 in the United States — all as a result of its inability to provide a nimble-footed response to the emerging digital scenario — evidence of the lack of versatility and failure to adapt to changing technological developments and, in turn, to respond proactively to consumers’ sentiments, needs and demands. Similarly companies such as Sony (which ignored the shift from Hardware to Software thereby leaving the market open for rivals such as Samsung and Apple) or Yahoo (which ignored the relentless innovating march of Google at its own peril) lost their iconic status not just because of complacency but also failure to embrace and adapt change.

While the above is just a sample, history is replete with instances of persons, organizations, institutions and even Nations falling under for their sheer and evident inability to react proactively and timely to the external environment or, as we may, say fail to adopt a versatile and adaptive approach.

As is my habit before closing, I would like to quote the following words attributed to H G Wells, the Legendary English Novelist, Writer and Historian on Versatility:-

“It is a law of nature, we overlook;

That intellectual versatility is the compensation

for change, danger, and trouble”.

Infact versatility also underlies the need to continually adapt and reinvent oneself the underlying thirst for knowledge and pursuit of skill sets to prevent decay into redundancy and provides the requisite wherewithal to deal with adversities of nature and other mostly uncontrollable external circumstances.

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