Agility – An Approach for Our Time

Many people lament the passing of a time of "stability" - where jobs were predictable, project outcomes more controllable, and life more stable. Is this really a new reality, and if so, how can we cope?

This question is based on the assumption that things used to truly be more stable, controllable, and predictable. But is that really true?

One place to look is what leaders in the field were thinking in prior eras. One of my favorites was Dale Carnegie, with his courses in public speaking, sales, and management. Specifically in his book "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" he gave a lot of techniques for dealing with instability, predictability, and control-ability. I remember one particularly.

Dale Carnegie told the story of a friend that, when things are going absolutely crazy around him, took a little walk to the library and went right to the history section. He closed his eyes, picked out a book at random, opened it to a random page and began reading. After a short bit of reading - and being reminded of how tough time gone by were! - he felt better and returned to his current "crazy" situation, refreshed and renewed in perspective to deal with his now seemingly benign problems.


The point is that the desire for stability, predictability, and control-ability is not new. Nor are the challenges new. But today there seem to be more variables, tighter time frames, more frequent change - but still against the same human issues that have always faced people.

Here's how I see this playing out in these three "abilities":

  1. Control-ability of Projects
  2. - It used to be that you could use the waterfall method and plan out a project from beginning to end, soup to nuts, and then just execute with confidence. However, today we do not have the luxury in all cases, especially in areas closely related to technology, to plan it all up front. We need to deliver value early and often - not just at the end. And we cannot risk that the value we thought might be realized at the end would fall short.

  3. Predictability of Jobs
  4. - It used to be that you could enter a job and realistically think you could advance without major disruption within the same company for your entire career. Today, you need to be agile enough to change positions, industries, functions, and more! In the end, if you are willing to be an agile professional, you'll actually come out ahead in the end!

  5. Stability of Life
  6. - It used to be that you could choose to enter a job that you could count on for the long term - but increasingly this is rare! But there is another way - to take an agile approach and embrace the change and grow along the way. In short, if you have the right attitude - and "agile" attitude - you can make your own stability!

This all reminds me of a friend of mine - Wing. Wing started out about 10 years ago in a career and location that he thought he'd continue for his whole career. Changes ensued, and he had to adapt, and eventually relocated. In a couple of years, change happened again, and he had to adapt and found an opportunity overseas. After another couple of years, he had to make another move and relocated to another job in yet another location. Wing reports that he has gained much more experience and knowledge - and is more valuable - than he would have been had he followed the simple and stable course he had envisioned at the beginning.

The key is to picture yourself as adapting...and succeeding. It's only fear of change that can hold you back. Being agile take a a little effort. It requires you to be proactive. But isn't that a natural condition of life itself?

An agile mindset is an approach that can win today. It's a natural. It does take a little courage...but it's a much more natural prospect than the type of temporary stability that so many people experience in yesteryear. Like the Dale Carnegie example above, you must develop the perspective and resilience to deal with uncertain and erratic situations with steadiness. In short, it take agility!

What can you do to adopt an agile mindset?

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