Be Nimble, Be Quick

agility(uh.jil.i.tee) (as per www.dictionary.com)

  1. the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness
  2. the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly

In business, there are some superpowers that matter more than others. It seems to me that the quality of agility, for individuals and for whole systems, is one of those that really matters. And yet, as businesses grow and sustain, their ability to move quickly diminishes as layers of decision making and hierarchy and complex communication channels bog down decisive action and movement.

Trevor’s team was struggling with moving quickly enough on their project deliverables. While the culture of his company valued speed, the actuality of movement had become increasingly difficult as 11 different team members contributed 11 different ideas and sought buy-in and approval from at least that many key stakeholders. How best to increase their team’s ability to move fast while steering clear of rushed, hasty, or unformed solutions?

In Trevor’s case, the answer was practice. Through a series of playful but practical experiences, Trevor provided his team the opportunity to gather information, draw conclusions they felt good about, and act, first as individuals, and then as a group. In particular, he worked at putting them in situations where there was no easy answer, and the outcome was ambiguous, requiring each member to occupy the space of not knowing FOR SURE that their thinking was right, but proceeding anyway for the explicit purpose of agility.

Most of us do not like living in the grey space of ambiguity. We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt how something will turn out before we fully engage or begin. We seek data, analysis, confirmation from others, and validation that our thinking is solid before we move, all of which reduces our ability to be agile.

Last summer, a dear friend was visiting and we went with our kids to a riverside spot where we could jump from 30 feet up into the cool water. Everyone did it but me. I found myself holding back, and surprised myself that I wasn’t willing to plunge in full bore. Days after the experience, I reflected as to why I hadn’t jumped, when usually my adventurous heart went with both feet. I realized that my brain had talked me out of it because I had not known quite what the impact would be. I couldn’t walk below the jump spot to check out the angle and reassure myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was “all clear.” My need to know interfered with my need to do, and I still regret not sharing in the joy of the jump with everyone that clear summer day.

To be agile we must let go of knowing. Or at least of knowing “for sure.” At work, as leaders, and as companies, we must be able to, at times, choose action based on the information we had, rather than wait for the information we don’t have.

How might you deepen your ability practice this month?

Moe Carrick