Embrace Ambiguity – creating legacy with the agile mindset
This article was previously published in the July 2016 edition of Entrepreneurs and Innovation Magazine (a UK publication) and just in case you missed it, the full article is below;
‘Change’ is occurring at a pace unprecedented in history. By example, the Roman Empire essentially used the same military strategy to create its empire over 700 years with little modification, a successful model that had longevity. By contrast military technology today is changing at lightning speed, it is not that long ago that ‘drone warfare’ entered our vocabulary, the ability of a ‘pilot’ to sit in an office in Arizona and fly missions anywhere in the world. The next step will be ‘drone warships’, obviating the need to have crewed ships.
‘Change’ is no longer a matter of choice. If you fail to change you will be left behind. Amazon is currently developing the capacity to deliver parcels by drone. The recipient will spread out a receiving mat in the backyard and the drone will land and leave the parcel. Is the courier industry contemplating this development with their fleets of vans? It is easy for an industry to miss the wave, who goes to a video store any more? Movies are delivered to you, streamed over the Internet.
No industry is immune to ‘change’. In fact ‘change’ is probably a wrong descriptor, it sends the message that this is a momentous exercise that once completed will provide breathing space till the next ‘change’. An unnecessary impost imposed by a new management regime to make its mark. Preferable sets of descriptors to ‘change’ are ‘evolve, adapt and mitigate’ with ‘agility’. ‘Evolve’ indicates you have read the winds and your business is at the cutting edge, leading the pack. ‘Adapt’ is reading the metadata to tell you what is likely to happen, not what is happening, making sure you do not get left behind by the evolutionary businesses. If a company is reading the traditional ‘measures of performance’ it is probably at risk of missing the next adaptation. ‘Mitigation’ is something you want to avoid; it means you are peddling hard because you missed the wave to ‘evolve and adapt’ – you lacked ‘agility’.
To ‘evolve and adapt’ is a 24/7 event; it requires an organisation to be ‘agile’. Everyone in the organisation needs to be ‘agile’, not just those defined as managers. This universal requirement reflects the one critical change from the 20th to the 21st Centuries. ‘Knowledge and information’ in the 20th Century were largely controlled by a limited number of people. Teachers, for example, were ‘knowledge and information experts’, a position attained by their education, experience and what they had read in books; there was a ‘monopoly’ on knowledge and information and its dispersal. Now there is no limit or control on the access to knowledge and information, it is no longer a monopoly or a ‘top down process’. The Internet potentially make everyone an ‘expert’. Managers should no longer be appointed on what they know, it should be on their agility to consume and interpret new information and reformat it to define how the organisation needs to evolve or adapt.
The term ‘disruptive industries’ has entered our vocabulary. Essentially people thinking with ‘agility’ outside the box to deliver an old service in a new way. Disruption is really just evolution, turn an industry on its head and become a monopoly supplier is a smart strategy to making significant revenue quickly. Why enter a business sector and mirror the way it currently operates, taking the small, start up margin you can eke out while you establish your business? Shooting to undermine the margins of your competitors by a new way of operating makes more sense, agility at its best.
Established businesses operate with a mindset that the counter to ‘disruptive players’ is to ‘change’. This is usually an expensive and disruptive process. It can impact on the ‘bottom line’; the assumption is short-term pain for long-term gain. Unfortunately most change is premised on what is happening now, or in the immediate future. ‘Change’ rarely discriminates between previously ‘good and bad practice’; everything goes. Change is usually based on an embryonic understanding of the future and a large dollop of experience of the past, however, what if the past experience is invalid for the future? Surely it makes more sense to continuously ‘evolve’ with ‘agility’ as the accepted best practice. Sequential ‘change’ is a hangover from the 20th Century.
‘Agility’ is an organic process. It is a mindset that needs to be embedded in the operating style of everyone in an organisation. It is the only counter to the increasing number of ‘industry disruptors’ and dynamic change. The key features of this organic and agile process are:
- It shouldn’t involve expensive, time consuming and disruptive change and restructure
- It should ensure that everyone is empowered to be an ‘agile contributor’ to the evolution of the organisation
- It should be non-hierarchical to ensure that a master-servant attitude does not stifle creativity
- It should encourage networking, knowledge accumulation and sharing – it should encourage self research and the contribution of ideas
- It should value knowledge, ideas and ‘out of the box’ solutions’ by demonstrable reward
- It should encourage free thinking and support education
- It should value ambiguity and uncertainty and celebrate ‘jumping on the next wave’
- Most of all – it should value ‘agility’ in personal contribution, structure and investment decisions
Importantly the mandating of ‘agility’ to the people in an organisation should not be open slather. There is ‘good and bad agility’. ‘Bad agility’ is the actions of rogue traders in the financial market, while making money for their company and themselves it is done unethically. ‘Good agility’ is framed by ethical standards and clearly enunciated values and principles that are understood and persistently reinforced.
The business world will increasingly become ambiguous – the only solution is to embrace ‘agility’ and to join the team pushing the ‘evolutionary’ envelope.