NQ11: Agility

By Jarrod Shappell

Tuesday, July 18th 2017

FITLIGHT is a wireless light system used by trainers of the United State’s best Marines and the NBA’s MVP.

Here’s how it works.  Small light emitting discs, on stands, scattered around the room, flash a color. That color directs the trainee to respond. In some cases they have to touch the light. Other times turn away from the light. In other cases they may only need to acknowledge they see the light. All of this, while maintaining their focus on a core task (like shooting a basketball or driving a tank).

The process is used to increase what scientists call neurocognitive efficiency. The goal is to connect what the eye sees to what the brain thinks and how the body reacts. The goal is to create physical and mental agility.

Today’s organizations are desperate to learn this degree of responsiveness. All organization assessments we conduct return laments of too many priorities and too little focus; too much information and too little communication; far more commitments than can reasonably be accomplished, and no ability to make informed tradeoffs between those competing commitments. Most organizations’ capacity to respond to internal or external stimulus is painfully impaired.

On one end of the maturity spectrum, established businesses that have become successful structure themselves around those successes and you end up with tenured management focused on maintaining the core business – repeat the success and don’t disrupt the ability to exploit it. The unintended consequence of this stability is that the organization is unable to respond to dynamic shifts in the market. These organizations are feeling bombarded by technological advancements they’d long denied any threat from. They are perplexed by finicky consumers whose lack of loyalty they resent. They are overwhelmed by the number of new entrants into their industry. They are perplexed by how to keep Millennials retained and engaged. And their cry to us is to help them become more agile to meet all of these business challenges.

And on the other end of the maturity spectrum, though agility may seem easier for a start up or entrepreneurial organization, their speed and hyper-responsiveness (“faux-gility”) could be masked impulsivity serving as a distraction from the core business they need to build. The typical mayhem seen in the startup environment is hardly a display of agility. It’s just a different strain of an inability to focus.  Organizational agility is much more than the ability to move quickly. It’s the ability to move wisely.

As humans, and as organizations filled with humans, we are comfort-seeking machines. Homeostasis is our true aim despite our claims to want to grow and adapt. When our predictability is disrupted, we don’t like it. And yet, disruption is the new normal. The market place is replete with painful stories of organizations who denied disruptions hurling at them for years before their demise. And the unemployment ranks are filled with once-talented people whose skillsets failed to evolve despite many warnings of the need to do so. The great news is, agility can be learned and enjoyed.

Over the next quarter, we are going to be writing about what it means to be an agile organization and an agile leader. We hope that our posts can serve as the flashing lights helping you learn the ways you can be agile strategically, structurally, relationally, and emotionally.  


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