Published on March 10, 2014
2 Introduction 4 Agility and change 6 Personal agility 8 Emotional agility 10 Acceptance and commitment therapy 12 Habits 14 Flexibility 18 Relationship agility 20 Resilience 22 Agility at scale 26 Organisational agility 27 Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity 28 Leadership agility 31 Strategic agility 34 Portfolio agility 35 IT Agility 36 BYOD and BMAD 38 Agile absoption 39 Innovating after failure 41 Spotting opportunities (and dangers) 44 Conclusion 45 Reading list CONTENTS.
IntroductionGrowing Agility In ancient Greece, people told stories about a fantastical creature known as a centaur: half-man, half-horse, with the strength of both combined. It’s thought that the myth was born when people saw horseback riders for the first time. Because they’d never had the idea to tame, train and ride a wild horse themselves, the concept of a person on horseback was inconceivable. The centaur was their attempt to interpret what they saw. Why are we talking about a Greek myth? Well, the figure of the centaur taps into the heart of why agility is important. It’s about recognising and seizing opportunities that others simply can’t see. INTRODUCTION. In business, you can’t predict and plan for every eventuality. What you do have control over is how you will respond. That’s what growing agility is about: becoming more flexible in your behaviour, and developing your ability to dodge, jump, tackle or even pick yourself up after being hit by those curveballs that work throws, whether it’s getting feedback that’s hard to swallow, losing out on a promotion, or a failed project. 2 The ancient Greeks in our story who invented the myth of the centaur weren’t agile. But the horseback riders, the centaurs, were. They made a mental leap and realised that they could harness the strength, speed and stamina of the horse for their own needs, even though it hadn’t been done before. And as a result, they ended up being elevated to mythical status by their less innovative peers.
IntroductionGrowing Agility 1 Design Your Day, Nokia, http://nokia.ly/DYDebook 2 Mobile Mastery, Nokia, http://nokia.ly/MMebook, 3 Teams That Flow, Nokia, http://nokia.ly/TTFebook Centaurs reappeared many years later in the 1990s, with the invention of centaur chess, where players brought their sport to new heights by playing in partnership with computers. Amateurs were able to defeat grandmasters by combining the analytical power and vast memory of a machine with the human capacity for creative decision- making and mental dexterity. Both kinds of centaurs show the rewards that can be reaped by being agile enough to spot the opportunities offered by new ideas, emerging technology or change, and taking advantage of them swiftly. In our working lives, we should all aim for the kind of agility exemplified by the centaurs. Growing Agility is the fourth book in Nokia’s Smarter Everyday series: in Design Your Day1 we looked at how to employ design thinking to improve your productivity; Mobile Mastery2 was about how to forge a mindful, purposeful and playful relationship with the technology in your life; Teams That Flow 3 was about how to collaborate more efficiently; in Growing Agility we will build on all these themes. Over the course of this book, we’ll look at how you can become more agile on a personal and emotional level, and also at how you can scale those ideas up to teams and whole organisations. Introduction3 Agile For some, agility will always be synonymous with agile software development. While what we’re talking about in Growing Agility has plenty in common with agile, it’s not the same thing. While agile provides an approach to project management and team structure, here we’re looking at ideas to increase your personal agility, the agility of your team, and the agility of the organisation you work for.
IntroductionGrowing Agility 4 Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder At present, the pace of change feels relentless – new technology has changed our working lives beyond recognition and disrupted whole industries. Many of us like to think that change is rare - we feel like it should be a one-off event, with a beginning and an end. The reality is that change is a constant state - nothing stays the same forever. If this seems daunting, agility is your friend. Knowing that you are agile - that you can react quickly and accurately - makes change less intimidating. Agility is liberating and makes you stronger. With agility, the things you can’t see over the horizon, the obstacle in your path, the new discoveries, are sources of opportunity and excitement, rather than things to fear. Agility and change. Change is the catalyst for agility. Without change throwing obstacles in our path, there’s no need to be nimble, light and able to react quickly. 4 Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term ‘antifragile’ to describe this quality of being strengthened by change. In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder he writes: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors, and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”4
IntroductionGrowing Agility 5 Emily Lawson and Colin Price, ‘The psychology of change management’, McKinsey Quarterly, http://nokia.ly/1guJceG But becoming more agile is a change in itself. So how can you make change easier to swallow? McKinsey suggests that the following four things can make change easier on a psychological level: 1. Purpose When you act in a way that doesn’t fit your beliefs, you experience something called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Cognitive dissonance is an enemy of change, because it means you don’t fully believe in what you’re doing. To make change stick, you need to have a ‘story’ that rings true to you about why you should change. In this book, we’ll try and tell you a story about why becoming more agile is a change worth making. 2. Reinforcement and reward You’re more likely to adopt a new behaviour if it is rewarded and reinforced through things like goals, targets and rewards. However, we like novelty too, and over time rewards and reinforcements get boring and become less effective. Coming up with new goals and rewards will help you maintain a change over time. 3. Time and practice We can’t change instantly, it takes time and practice. To change, you need to absorb new information in chunks, test it out, and integrate it with your existing behaviour. 4. Role models Having role models around you, particularly at work, can help changes to stick, by providing tangible proof that change is possible.5 “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt Introduction5
PERSONAL AGILITY. Agility starts with you, and personal agility is your ability to react to the world around you in a timely and appropriate way. Being more agile on a personal level has a number of advantages. It leaves you better able to react to change, take advantage of opportunities and protect yourself from threats. It can also make you feel happier and more satisfied, because being agile is about taking control of situations that might otherwise leave you feeling powerless and stressed. In this section, we’re going to look at how to achieve this. We’ll cover: • Emotional agility • Habits • Flexibility • Relationship agility • Resilience
7 With greater emotional agility you can maximise your confidence, turn negative emotions into positive thoughts and access humility that you might not know you’re capable of. Emotional agility isn’t just valuable in your personal life though; it’s one of the most valuable business skills that you can possess. Traditionally, a lot of people think of the workplace as somewhere where emotions shouldn’t come into play, and some of us even pride ourselves on being emotionless at work. However, work is emotional - success in business can feel just as great as it does in your personal life, and failure and disappointment can be just as bitter. The answer isn’t to block out these feelings - it’s to approach them in an agile way. Every decision you make throughout the day is motivated not just by the things you observe, but also by your unique subconscious inclinations, the so called ‘gut feelings’ that have defined many great business leaders. Sometimes gut feelings can be trusted to point the way, and other times the best course is to ignore those feelings and focus on the facts. That’s when emotional agility comes into play. At its core, emotional agility is about knowing yourself, and developing a greater level of control over your feelings and reactions. 7Growing Agility Personal agility Emotional agility. 9.00 18.00
6 Susan David and Christina Congleton, ‘Emotional Agility’, Harvard Business Review, http://nokia.ly/18o3bc8 In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Susan David and Christina Congleton outline a simple method for evaluating your level of emotional agility: 1. Choose a situation in your working day that would normally challenge you. This could be anything from public speaking to negotiating contractual terms - any task that makes you feel under pressure. 2. Identify the thoughts that come into your head in that situation - for example ‘I’m going to make a mistake’ or ‘I’m not being respected’. 3. Identify the associated feelings that come with those thoughts - for example ‘fear’ or ‘anger’. 4. Ask yourself how much you try to make that thought and the associated feelings go away - a lot, or not all? 5. Ask yourself the extent to which you buy into and believe those thoughts and feelings - a lot, or not at all?6 Personal agilityGrowing Agility 8
9 Personal agilityGrowing Agility 9 Look at your answers to these questions. Are you trying to ignore your thoughts and feelings? Are you buying into them? If the answer is yes, you could benefit from being more emotionally agile. Being more emotionally agile means being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and addressing them in a purposeful way, rather than ignoring them, or obsessing over them. When you achieve emotional agility, you’ll find that it can help to cut your levels of stress and improve your performance at work. The trick to being emotionally agile is not to try and suppress your inner thoughts and instincts, or to accept them unquestioningly. Instead, when we display emotional agility, we are analytical, goal-focussed, and in possession of total clarity - unclouded by the inner monologue of ‘I’m not good enough to do this’, or ‘my colleagues are ignoring me’. It’s normal and healthy to feel emotions at work - trying to ignore those feelings is counter-productive. Emotions are the result of the situations we find ourselves in; rather than suppressing your emotions you should make an effort to acknowledge them instead. Take a brief pause to listen to what your brain is telling you, and then take action accordingly. If negative thoughts dominate your mind, rather than forcing yourself to ignore them you may benefit from a brief pause to realign your perspective. Consider how much of that emotion is based on objective facts, rather than assumptions, and how much of the matter is within your control. Try to see the reality of the issue more clearly, and approach it with calm, assured logic. Being able to take the reins of your emotions and swiftly check any negative patterns before they take charge will allow you to be more productive, driven, healthy, and above all, happy in your daily life.
Personal agilityGrowing Agility 7 Robert Zettle, ACT for Depression: A Clinician’s Guide to Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy One approach is through the use of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT is a kind of behaviour analysis that uses mindfulness, acceptance and behaviour change to try and teach people to better control their thoughts and feelings, and aims to promote psychological flexibility. According to ACT, when we’re emotionally distressed it’s the result of being too rigid psychologically. If we’re too unbending in our behaviour, we get ‘cognitively entangled’ - bogged down in negative emotions, constantly revisiting our mistakes and setbacks, unable to move forward. Acceptance and commitment therapy. Let’s have a look at how we can put emotional agility into practice. 10 According to the ACT model, most problems are caused by mental behaviours at a root level. These mental behaviours are explained by the acronym, FEAR: • Fusion with your thoughts. • Evaluation of experience. • Avoidance of your experience. • Reason-giving for your behaviour.7 The positive alternative to FEAR is ACT: • Accept your reactions and be present. • Choose a valued direction. • Take action.
Personal agilityGrowing Agility 8 Dr Russell Harris, ‘Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’, Psychotherapy in Australia, http://nokia.ly/18o2K1w The six core principles of ACT which can help you develop the psychological flexibility you need to be more agile in your working life are: 11 1. Cognitive defusion Learning methods to reduce the tendency of making abstract thoughts, images, emotions, and memories more real. 2. Acceptance Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them. 3. Contact with the present moment Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness. 4. Observing the self Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness that is unchanging. 5. Values Discovering what is most important to one’s true self. 6. Committed action Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.8 Being mindful about repetitive mental behaviour that result in unproductive loops is the primary goal. It’s not about ignoring setbacks or forcing yourself to be cheerful in the face of adversity, but rather conditioning yourself to recognise the way that you are feeling (e.g. regretful or embarrassed), rationally determining a path to move beyond that feeling, and then beginning the process of doing what needs to be done. In times of difficulty, the hardest thing is often doing anything at all, as problems can be like sticky flypaper for the brain. The sooner you can pick yourself up and begin something anew, the sooner you can leave past mistakes where they belong - confined to the past.
Personal agilityGrowing Agility Habits. Up to 40% of our actions are performed without conscious decision on our part9 - they’re the result of habit. In neurological terms, a habit is a cycle of repetitive actions created over time by consistent reinforcement of patterns in the brain. It’s a shorthand your mind uses to repeat conditioned tasks while conserving as much mental energy as possible. We can perform tasks like making a cup of coffee or walking to work without having to think too deeply about what we’re doing, because they’ve formed as habits. This can be an advantage in many situations - delegating easy tasks to your subconscious frees up mental capacity for other things. But approaching some areas of your work like this - just following your normal course of action, without thinking, without looking for new ways of doing things - is the opposite of being agile. Agility is all about being ready and willing to take an unexpected course of action. It’s important to think about times when following your normal pattern has caused you to miss out on an opportunity, and what habits you need to break (or at least be more aware of) so that it doesn’t happen again. 5 Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience 12 7 David Neal, Wendy Wood, Jeffrey Quinn, ‘Habits - a repeat performance’, Current Directions in Psychological Science http://nokia.ly/1d9JL8e
13 Personal agilityGrowing Agility 10 Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life And Business Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life And Business, writes that habits are a loop made up of three steps: 1. The cue The cue is a trigger that sparks the ‘habit loop’. It could be a location, a time of day, an action, or a person or people, or a feeling. 2. The routine This is the action that is triggered by your brain responding to a cue. 3. The reward The reward is the benefit you get from your routine.10 Try to identify the habit loops that stand between you and greater agility. What are the cues that spark a negative pattern of behaviour - being challenged by a colleague, unexpected changes, or your annual appraisal? What is the routine you fall into - do you feel angry, upset, do you criticise or doubt yourself? It might seem like there’s no reward to these negative behaviour loops (there certainly isn’t on a psychological level) but on a physical level, there is a reward - adrenaline. Your subconscious mind experiences these threats in the same way as it would if you were being chased by a lion across the savannah, and it gives your body a bump of adrenaline to help it cope. To break these negative habit loops, try to respond to the cues with a different routine. The six core principles of ACT that we discussed in the previous chapter may help you approach a difficult situation in a new way, and achieve a happier outcome and a fitting resolution, rather than just unpleasant emotions and an ultimately unsatisfying jolt of adrenaline. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
Personal agilityGrowing Agility However, many of us are hooked on the idea that we have a particular personality type that dictates how we act. This kind of thinking is the enemy of flexibility and agility, and absolves us of responsibility over our actions. In their book Flex: Do Something Different, Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine suggest that we have three kinds of habit: 1. Habits of perception How we make sense of the world. 2. Habits of attitude Our biases and prejudices. 3. Habits of behaviour The things we do. We go through many situations on autopilot, relying on these three kinds of habit and past behaviour patterns to decide our course of action. Flexibility. Improving your emotional agility and changing your habits both rely on developing flexibility in your behaviour. 14
Personal agilityGrowing Agility So rather than our behaviour being the result of a personality type, it is more the result of always doing things the same way.11 And that isn’t a good thing: 15 “On the face of it, it just doesn’t make sense for a person to behave the same way in all types of different situations. The world is constantly changing, families are dynamic, people die, jobs change or are lost, finances grow and shrink and these changes call for adaptability and different responses. The more fixed a person’s personality is, the harder they’ll find it to adapt to the new. The more vulnerable they will be to stress. Life is so varied and so changeable that there isn’t one personality ‘type’ suited to it. How can a person make the most of what life throws at them if they have fixed ways of being? If they approach today’s situations with yesterday’s strategies?.” 12 Fletcher and Pine suggest that the answer to this is to flex - to try and make your behaviour less predictable and more spontaneous. The way they suggest doing this couldn’t be easier: it’s as simple as doing something different. It can be something very small and seemingly insignificant. Some of their suggestions include: • Don’t wear your watch for the day. • Sit in place you’ve never sat before. • Tell a stranger a joke. • Go for a walk and take pictures of the things you see. • Pick up some litter.13 The theory is that doing something different, something that you wouldn’t normally do, can help spark change by making you more flexible. Try one of the ideas above and see what happens as a result. 11,12, 13 Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine,v Flex: Do Something Different
DON’T WEAR YOUR WATCH FOR THE DAY. SIT IN PLACE YOU’VE NEVER SAT BEFORE. TELL A STRANGER A JOKE.
GO FOR A WALK AND TAKE PICTURES OF THE THINGS YOU SEE. PICK UP SOME LITTER.
Personal agilityGrowing Agility Your personal and emotional agility play an important role in your working relationships in two ways. Firstly, if you have a high level of personal agility you will find it easier to work and collaborate with your colleagues. This isn’t about always giving way to others - that might not always be the right course of action. What it’s really about is being able to be flexible in your behaviour and reactions. Those unpleasant thoughts and difficult emotions that we discussed in the ‘Emotional agility’ chapter are often the result of our interactions with others - if you can be mindful of your reactions, move beyond negative thoughts and find a way out of a challenging situation with a colleague it will help strengthen your relationship with them. Relationship agility. Relationship agility refers your ability to be flexible in your interactions with other people. 18 The second way personal agility can help is in affecting the mood of the whole team. Emotions can be contagious - in the hive-mind of a closely-knit group a bad mood can spread quickly, affecting morale and productivity. This is particularly true if the negative thoughts and feelings are coming from the leader of the team - if the leader is feeling good, then so does the rest of the group, but when they let negative emotions take over, it spreads like a virus, affecting every aspect of the group dynamic. This can happen without us even realising it.
Personal agilityGrowing Agility It’s human nature to mirror the feelings and behaviours of those around us. If the person we’re talking to smiles, so do we. If they are sad, our own faces will shift to a frown reflexively. If the members of the team (and the leader in particular) have a high level of emotional agility, it can make a huge difference in terms of keeping it happy and productive, as everyone makes an effort to keep their negative feelings under control and be mindful of the emotions of those around them. Emotional agility is a key factor when it’s time to join a new team. Starting a new job can be daunting at the best of times, and those who make the smoothest transition and fit in quickest will be those that have the highest level of emotional agility. 19
Personal agilityGrowing Agility 14 Laurence Gonzales, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience Resilience is another kind of agility - it’s the speed with which you can adapt to a setback, and return to your normal level of productivity. If a client gives you negative feedback, does it throw you off for the rest of the day? If your boss rejects one of your ideas, how long will it be before you have the courage to pitch another? While you can’t always control your circumstances, at the very least you can strive to control your response, and agile minds find it much easier to climb back on the metaphorical horse after being bucked off. Laurence Gonzales, author of Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience writes about a concept called the “locus of control”. Gonzales claims that people either view themselves as having an internal locus of control, which means they fundamentally believe that they control their own Resilience. Even with a high level of personal agility, sometimes things will go wrong - we won’t react in quite enough time, or we’ll choose the wrong course of action. When things do go wrong and we’re blindsided, it’s resilience that allows us to recover and thrive again. 20 destiny, or they have an external locus of control, and believe that events happen purely by chance. According to Gonzales, those who believe they can directly control their experiences are better equipped to deal with adversity, suffer less stress, and respond better to criticism. The self-assurance that you are in control can result in a more optimistic outlook - it means that your problems are within your power to solve, and nothing is set in stone.14 Resilience isn’t an inborn trait - it’s a skill you can learn. A few small cognitive adjustments can transform a setback into an opportunity, and a major dip in motivation into a drive to better ourselves. The first step is to simply acknowledge what has happened, and carefully allow yourself to recognise two things about the situation:
Personal agilityGrowing Agility 1. The real consequences (and not what you fear they might be). 2. How it has made you feel. For example, let’s imagine that you discover that piece of work for which you are responsible is going to miss its deadline. Firstly, try to mentally separate your concerns (‘we’re going to lose the client’, or ‘my colleagues will think I’m unreliable’) from objective certainties. Focus solely on what you know, and what can be done next. In our example, it is a certainty that the client will need to be informed that the piece will be late. It is also a certainty that adjustments must be made to speed up the schedule, and the wheels should be set in motion to facilitate those adjustments. By making these facts overt, you arrive right away at a set of clear actions for your next steps. The greatest threat of failure or misfortune is that it stuns us into immobility - the paralysis of fear that so many of us struggle to recover from. This process is known as ‘strategic acceptance’, and is an enormously useful mental process for situations of upheaval, difficulty, and unpredictability. The key is to not think that a problem means more problems are to come; instead, a problem only means that the way forward is clear. Once the path forward has been illuminated, spare a moment to be mindful of your own wellbeing. Are you suddenly nervous? Are you angry? Any intrusive thoughts will distract you and negatively affect your performance, so hasty progress may not be the best strategy. Being agile isn’t a race; your decisions need to be logically sound. Take a moment to adjust your adrenaline level by taking a walk around the office, or talking to a colleague about an unrelated matter. Set yourself a time frame so that you aren’t avoiding the problem. After fifteen minutes or so, consider if you are calm enough to make an informed choice, and if so, resume work. If not, you may need to take a deeper look at your fears and address the larger issue. None of us look forward to obstacles, but it is important to be prepared for them, so that we aren’t left powerless when things don’t go according to plan. With the flexibly of agility and the robustness of resilience, you should have everything you need to deal with any eventuality. 21
Agility at scaleGrowing Agility One of the greatest challenges to the agile mind-set is that agility becomes harder to achieve the larger your company or greater your personal success. Growth and success pose a challenge to staying agile and being able to react fast - there are more connections and implications that make you feel like you can’t move quickly or make dramatic changes in direction. When an obstacle appears in your path, you can feel like a juggernaut - your only option is to slow down and hope the obstacle will go away, or try to crush it in your path. But the kinds of changes we’re facing in our era aren’t likely to just go away, and they’ve already derailed plenty of businesses that tried to carry on regardless. It’s the time to learn how to be agile at any size. It’s beneficial to make agility part of your DNA and part of that of your organisation - make sure AGILITY AT SCALE. An agile organisation begins with agile people. The measure of business agility is how successfully personal agility can be scaled up to an organisation as a whole. 22 that your people feel that they have the ability and freedom to be agile, and that this attitude can scale up to teams and the whole organisation. It’s also time to start rating agility as highly as growth; building your ability to change and adapt should be just as important as growing in size or reaching business targets. Nokia started as a paper mill, then moved into rubber, then cable and electronics, then radio telephones, then mobile phones, following changes in society, adapting to and innovating new technologies over the past 150 years. The former maker of rubber galoshes, tires and TVs introduced multitasking mobiles with basic web-based functions in 1999, and is poised to start a new chapter, once the planned acquisition by Microsoft of the Devices and Service business (the part of the business that develops, manufactures, sells and supports smartphones and mobile phones) is completed, which is expected in the first quarter of 2014..15 15 ‘The Nokia Story’, Nokia, http://nokia.ly/17mxiwT
Agility at scaleGrowing Agility 23 The ideal to strive for is an organisation that’s agile through and through - where each individual’s personal agility combines to make the whole organisation agile. Agility gaps can occur at any and every level of a company, from the executives to the rank and file. In the second half of this book, we’ll look at how to build on the ideas discussed in ‘Personal agility’ and roll them out to an entire company. “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” Peter Drucker Twitter was the product of a hack day at a podcasting platform called Odeo - it became apparent that actually this side project had more potential than the primary product did, so the company refocused and started again, with huge success. Blockbuster struggled because it failed to adapt to the way people’s viewing habits were changing due to new technology. Meanwhile companies like YouTube and later Netflix saw the opportunity and took it. Netflix hasn’t stopped there either - it’s now making TV companies nervous by producing its own content, and securing the rights to show the kind of hot-ticket programmes that would previously have been reserved for big networks.
Nokia started as a paper mill, then moved into rubber, then cable and electronics, then radio telephones, then mobile phones, following changes in society, adapting to
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility 26 A McKinsey survey found that nine out of ten executives ranked organisational agility as being critical to business success and as growing in importance over time. The survey also found that businesses that were more agile had higher revenues, more satisfied customers and employees, and improved operational efficiency.16 In order to make your organisation truly agile, as well as agile employees, you need several different kinds of agility to come together, and we will look at each of the following kinds of agility in more detail in the rest of this section: ORGANISATIONAL AGILITY. Organisational agility, also known as business agility, is the speed with which a company can make decisions, take action, and operate internally. • Leadership agility • Strategic agility • Portfolio agility • IT agility • Agile absorption 16 ‘ Building a nimble organisation’, McKinsey
Organisational agility Originally derived from military terminology, it is used in business as a framework to analyse changes, opportunities and challenges: • Volatility Is the change fast or slow? Are there any external factors that could speed it up or slow it down? • Uncertainty Is the situation predictable? How likely is it that you’ll be surprised? • Complexity How many different factors and forces have an impact on the situation? • Ambiguity How clear cut is the situation? Is it likely that you could misread it? Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. We mention it here, because times of change, opportunity and challenge are when agility really comes into play. Remembering the acronym and thinking about these four qualities can help you to ask the right questions and choose the right course of action. You should also remember to use it to analyse the risks associated with not making a move, as well as the risks that come with making it. “If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will wilfully ignore the future that is likely.” Seth Godin Growing Agility 27
Growing Agility 17 David Wilkinson, The Ambiguity Advantage: What Great Leaders Are Great At If you want to thrive through change, having a leader who exemplifies agility is a huge advantage. An agile leader will increase your chances of having the kind of agile strategy you need. (We’ll discuss strategic agility more in the next chapter.) Leadership agility really comes into its own when there’s a change or obstacle on the horizon - in the face of that ambiguity, knowing that the person at the top has the ability to react, adapt and choose the right course of action is reassuring and inspiring to everyone involved. David Wilkinson, author of The Ambiguity Advantage: What Great Leaders Are Great At, writes that there are four modes of leadership: Leadership agility. Leadership agility is the ability of a person to command and guide a team or organisation through changes and challenges. It’s a crucial bridge between being agile on a personal level and being agile on an organisational level - the two halves of this book. 28 1. Technical leadership These leaders are averse to ambiguity and risk, and attempt to create certainty in the face of ambiguity. 2. Cooperative leadership These leaders try to explain uncertainty, and build teams around them to mitigate risk. 3. Adaptive/collaborative leadership These leaders focus on making sure there is agreement on decisions, and get the group to look at ambiguity together. 4. Generative leadership These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity, and tend to be life-long learners and prolific innovators.17
Organisational agility The fourth mode - generative leadership - tends to be the most agile mode, because the people who exemplify it welcome change, are comfortable with ambiguity and thrive in the kind of situations that leaders who fit the first mode fear. Some people have an inclination towards agility, and will naturally fall into the fourth mode of leadership. But if you’re not innately that kind of leader, you shouldn’t think that you’re locked into one particular mode of leadership. You can develop your leadership style and grow your agility to meet the needs of your organisation. What will make the difference is a commitment to growing your agility and making it a part of your leadership style. The following five traits are all key to leadership agility - think about how you can develop these skills and characteristics in yourself: 1. Welcoming change and ambiguity The most important attribute is to teach yourself not to fear change, and to look for the opportunities that it offers. 2. Curiosity and love of learning Most of us are curious in one way or another, often the issue is that we feel we don’t have the time to dedicate to following that natural curiosity and learning new things. Make time in your day for learning - even if it’s only reading that interesting article you bookmarked but never got around to looking at. 29
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility 18 http://nokia.ly/DYDebook 19 http://nokia.ly/TTFebook 30 3. Creativity and vision Creativity isn’t inborn, we all have the capacity to innovate. The key is to create the right environment - Design Your Day18 and Teams That Flow19 are both full of tips to help you accomplish this. 4. Emotional agility and self-awareness We explained the importance of emotional agility and self- awareness in the first section of this book, and it is no less important for leaders - it helps you to understand the reasons for your behaviour and decisions. 5. Courage and conviction To make bold decisions, and make them fast, you need no small amount of courage and plenty of conviction in your decisions. To have courage and conviction, you need belief in yourself and the team around you.
Organisational agility Strategy and agility might seem incompatible at first glance. Strategy is seen as slow, laborious, monolithic, whereas agility is fast, nimble, small. However, strategy can be agile, and agility is actually an advantageous strategic quality. It gives you a greater chance of “spotting and seizing game-changing opportunities,”20 to quote Donald Sull, a professor of management practice at the London Business School. In his book The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World, Sull explains the importance of being able to make fast decisions through the example of Mittal Steel. Lakshmi Mittal, the founder of the company, embraced turbulence and grew a single steel mill in Indonesia into one of the most valuable companies in the world at a time when other steel companies were struggling. One of his seemingly most risky but ultimately shrewd decisions was the purchase of one of the largest steel mills in the world in Kazakhstan, Strategic agility. Strategic agility means approaching your strategy in an agile way, as well making agility a part of it. despite the fact it was in a state of disrepair, running at half capacity, was susceptible to earthquakes, and came with the responsibility of running an orphanage, hospital, trams, schools and a newspaper in the neighbouring town. Despite all these potential issues, and the fact that he had little knowledge of Kazakhstan as a country, Mittal acted fast and bought it within a month, and it proved to be a hugely successful endeavour.21 Growing Agility 20 Donald Sull, ‘Managing in uncertainty: competing through organisational agility’, McKinsey Quarterly http://nokia.ly/1kDcncQ 21 Donald Sull, The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World 31
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility 22,23 Professor Yves Doz and Mikko Kosonen, ‘Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game 32 Nokia has also experienced success by being strategically agile; in the 1990s everyone else saw mobile phones as a professional service, but Nokia correctly predicted that mobile phones would be a consumer product with near-universal reach and acted accordingly.22 In their book Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game, Yves Doz, professor of strategic management, and Mikko Kosonen, a former CIO at Nokia, write that there are three key dimensions of strategic agility: 1. Strategic sensitivity Being aware of new trends or developments (and their implications) early on. 2. Collective commitment The ability of leaders to make bold decisions quickly. 3. Resource fluidity Having the internal ability to reconfigure and redeploy resources fast.23 These three factors provide a good framework within which strategic agility can occur, because together they mean that you have the awareness of opportunities (and risks), can make decisions about what action to take quickly, and then spring into action with equal speed. “Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” Malcolm Gladwell
Organisational agility When an organisation has agility hardwired into everything it does, from the way it communicates, to the decisions that it makes, it’s only natural that the same logic be applied to the business that they do. Being confident that you know your field inside and out is, without question, the hallmark of any market leader, but that doesn’t mean your business should be tethered to just one type of activity. Involvement with a broad range of interconnected yet independent streams of business is a concept known as ‘portfolio agility’. This is most likely the domain of the most senior managers in any company, but being able to spot opportunities and keep an open mind for diversification is the true test of agile management. Portfolio agility. Portfolio agility is a company’s ability to move resources between different areas of a business in a timely and efficient way. Great ideas can come from just about anywhere, so those at the top of the chain need to be prepared to spread attention across individual departments, not just the grand direction of the company as a whole. Growing Agility 33
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility 34 Donald Sull writes that the way to avoid running into difficulty with portfolio agility is to systemise executive power within each department. Without the ability to control their own fate, more isolated departments can frequently be neglected or starved of resources, especially within larger corporations. By granting more power at lower levels, you reduce the strain on higher-tier management by removing the need for them to pay attention to minutiae, and you empower every branch of the business with the opportunity to grow their own success.24 20 Donald Sull, ‘Managing in uncertainty: competing through organisational agility’, McKinsey Quarterly http://nokia.ly/1kDcncQ
Organisational agility IT agility is a valuable quality, because having the right technology helps people do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently, and also provides an opportunity to get ahead of the competition. VUCA (the acronym we introduced at the start of this section) is particularly relevant for IT agility, where the rapid pace of technological change can amplify volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Bearing VUCA in mind as a risk assessment of sorts, the following tips could help you to boost your IT agility: 1. Look for new opportunities In order to be truly agile, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to knowing what new tools, devices, software, devices and trends are emerging. (See the chapter on ‘Spotting opportunities’ for ideas on how to do this.) 2. Make time for playtime Make time to try things out and experiment with new technology. A small budget of time and money to invest in new tech IT agility. IT agility is about is how quickly you are able to discover and adopt new technologies into your working processes. ‘toys’ for your office could lead to brilliant new discoveries. 3. Try a pilot scheme If a new piece of technology passes the play test, or if there’s something that people are clamouring for, but you’re not ready (or able) to take the plunge and roll it out full-scale, you could try a pilot scheme to see how viable the idea is, and highlight any problems or benefits early on. 4. Work on your flexibility Being reliant on one single tool or piece of tech is a risk, and will ultimately make it harder you to be agile. Look for new opportunities today to avoid being caught with all your eggs in one basket tomorrow. Growing Agility 35
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility A number of businesses have introduced a BYOD (‘bring your own device’) policy, where workers bring their own smartphones, tablets, and even laptops to the office. The BYOD trend has grown rapidly over the past years, and workplaces where BYOD isn’t an official policy find that it happens anyway, because people notice that the tools they use at home will also be useful at work. (Although there may be an element of wanting to show off the latest must-have gadget too!) One step further than BYOD is BMAD (‘buy me a device’), where the business takes requests and buys staff the tools that they say they need. With both BYOD and BMAD there are advantages and disadvantages: BYOD and BMAD. Another way to increase your IT agility is to put your staff in charge. 36 Pros: • Opportunities for agility and innovation - you tap into the opinions, knowledge and ideas of more of your staff through the tools they bring to work or ask for. • Productivity - making sure people have the right tools for their individual needs makes them more productive. • Satisfaction and trust - showing that you trust your employees enough to choose their own tools can help to boost employee satisfaction. It sends a great message to the outside world, and to potential employees who are really passionate about technology too. • Cost-savings - allowing people to bring their own devices rather than buying them has obvious cost benefits.
Organisational agility Cons: • Interoperability and compatibility- devices from different makers running on different operating systems can represent a challenge when it comes to editing, saving and sharing documents between users. • Security - allowing people to use their own devices has obvious ramifications for IT security due to different operating system based characteristics, which need to be addressed. • Support - the more different devices and tools your company is using, the harder the IT team will have to work to support them all. Ultimately, whether BYOD and BMAD will work in your company depends on its particular make up and staff. Both ideas bear exploration though, and could be worthy of a pilot scheme to try them out. Growing Agility 37
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility In the business world, failure is sometimes seen as a dirty word, and few executives would like to admit publicly that they have failed. Yet markets shift, favours are fickle, and the economy is an unpredictable beast. The strongest companies are not those lucky enough to have never been tested, but those that are resilient, those that can be pushed hard and still survive. Nature shows us that the way to survive troubled times is not through stubbornness, but through adaptation and evolution. Whoever is able to adapt to suit their surroundings is able to thrive in any environment, and that requires a unique form of agility, known as agile absorption. Agile absorption is when the fluidity of an agile mind-set combines with the toughness of resilience, creating what might be best described as ‘the ability to take a punch’, and come back stronger. It has a lot in common with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of antifragility, which we discussed in the chapter on Agile absorption. In our section on personal agility we looked at the importance of resilience in circumstances where we are laid low by failure. Resilience is a valuable quality for businesses too; many of the world’s biggest and most successful businesses have had to weather a number of storms throughout their history; the best will have come through those storms stronger than before. 38 ‘Agility and change.’ Taleb writes: “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”25 Donald Sull writes that while agility will allow a company to stake out an early position, absorption will mean it can secure an early lead and reinforce its position against competitors. But you don’t have to choose between absorption and agility - the former is not the sole domain of established enterprises and the latter doesn’t just belong to start-ups. Agility and absorption complement one another, and the balance between them should shift as circumstances change. Getting the mix right, instead of relying heavily on one or the other, increases the effectiveness of these both approaches during volatile times.26 “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin 25 Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder 26 Donald Sull, ‘How To Thrive In Turbulent Markets’, Harvard Business Review, http://nokia.ly/1h3oAHP
Organisational agility Ford It took Henry Ford several attempts to get his company off the ground. His first venture, the Detroit Automobile Company, was founded in 1899 but produced low-quality cars at a high price and was dissolved in 1901. His next attempt, the Henry Ford Company, lasted for just a year thanks to a dispute with his business partner. The third and final incarnation, Ford Motor Co, almost failed too - it was close to bankruptcy, and was only saved by a timely investment. After this last brush with failure, Ford went on to become one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. Microsoft In the 1970s when they were still in high school, Bill Gates and Paul Allen started a company called Traf-O-Data, after finding a way to automate reading the raw data from roadway traffic counters and creating reports for traffic engineers for local governments in the US. The business was initially successful, but ran into trouble when US central government started reading the data and producing the reports for free for the local governments. The company was rendered obsolete and folded. Building on this early experience, Gates and Allen went on to form Microsoft. Rovio The Finnish company Rovio makes the wildly successful Angry Birds games. But in at the start of 2009, it was close to bankruptcy. The company had created 51 different games titles before Angry Birds, but had been selling them on to publishers. At this point, Mikael and Niklas Hed who ran the company realised that this model wasn’t working for them financially, and also spotted the opportunity in mobile gaming. They created Angry Birds, self-published and experienced huge success. Innovating after failure. It is possible for organisations to innovate and succeed after failure, provided that they have the right level of agile absorption. Here are three examples of companies that succeeded after experiencing failure: Growing Agility 39
Organisational agilityGrowing Agility These examples have several lessons to teach us about being resilient to failure: 1. Always take learnings away from a failure The most important thing to do after experiencing failure is to learn something from it. In all of the examples, early failure provided learnings to inform future successes. 2. Don’t let multiple failures discourage you Henry Ford suffered two failures and came close to a third, before finally becoming successful. As long as you’re obeying lesson one, failing more than once is nothing to be ashamed of. 3. What you see as a failure now, might not seem so bad with time Traf-O-Data isn’t a blemish on the record of Microsoft, and no one thinks less of Ford because it was a third try. Instead, these examples are seen as an early sign of promise. 40 4. Be prepared to take the road less travelled Sometimes recovering from failure will mean taking a risk or making a big change in direction. Rovio left behind the prestigious and established market of video gaming and took a risk on the emerging field of mobile games - the decision paid off. “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.” Roger Von Oech
Spotting opportunities (and dangers) 1. Communicate and avoid striation Communication is a particularly important factor. Open and agile communication enables knowledge and ideas to move freely within a business. A common blocker to good communication and organisational agility is a phenomenon known as ‘striation’. This term, popularised by Dan McQuillan, describes the way in which knowledge and ideas move through a business. Largely due to geographic location and social culture, ideas rarely trickle down the power- ladder, and only very occasionally do they get passed upwards. Instead, the communication networks of each department are compressed into rigid horizontal layers like the strata of the earth - information moves easily from side-to-side between people on the same layer, but it takes tremendous effort to communicate vertically.27 One solution to the striation problem might be to implement a policy of hot-desking, where workers regularly move their workstation around the office. This means that shoulder-to- shoulder neighbours vary from day to day, and new conversations are more likely to spring up. Word of mouth will pass the strongest ideas around, with a minimum of effort. Creating more break-out spaces around the office where people can gather also helps, as does creating opportunities in the day for people to meet and talk. Other ideas include company social networks like Yammer - they allow people at every level of the company to share things they find interesting, and also find out about things they might not otherwise have seen. Finally, making sure that management regularly have time to talk to team members is also vital. (See the section on communication in Teams That Flow28 for more ideas.) Spotting opportunities (and dangers). A factor in achieving agility as an organisation is spotting opportunities and dangers so that you can react to them, rather than collide with them. Here are some ideas for building an early warning system that keeps you up-to-date with the latest developments. Growing Agility 41 27 Dan McQuillan, ’From Free Software to Artisan Science’, Journal of Peer Production, http://nokia.ly/1jSXKV2 28 http://nokia.ly/TTFebook
Spotting opportunities (and dangers)Growing Agility 2. Look outside your organisation (and your industry) Ideas don’t always come from obvious places. It can be hugely beneficial to keep an eye on successes and failures in other companies and other industries. You might just spot an idea that could be applied to your own organisation or industry in a new way. It’s important to acknowledge that you can’t know everything - when you’ve realised that, you can focus on building knowledge networks so that you tap into other people’s knowledge, and filter out the things you don’t need. Social networks can provide you with great access to people and ideas that you might not otherwise have had. As we explained in Mobile Mastery, sociology suggests that weak social ties - your relationships with acquaintances rather than close friends - are responsible for transmitting a lot of information, far more than travels through the strong ties you have with close friends or family. This is because your weak ties are likely to know people that you don’t, which means there is a greater chance of them transmitting novel information to you. 42 Social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn give you the ability to make more of these weak ties and enjoy the valuable flow of information they afford. You can make weak ties with innovators and early adopters that you might never meet in your daily life through social networks, and tap into their knowledge and connections. 3. Be playful Being playful is one of the core ideas in Mobile Mastery, and it’s relevant for Growing Agility too. Play has an essential role in the processes of learning and innovation, and it fosters creativity. Technology is also inherently playful. We treat new devices like a child treats a new toy: we covet them; we get pleasure from using them; we don’t look at them and see functionality, we see possibilities, novelty and excitement. It’s important not to lose this excitement and sense of fun, as play can lead to clear benefits in terms of business and personal development, because of its interrelation with innovation. Being playful gives you the chance to make discoveries that could give you the edge personally and professionally, and also give your business an advantage over less innovative competitors.
Spotting opportunities (and dangers) 4. Allow time for experimentation Sometimes people need time to come up with new ideas, or space to step back and see the bigger picture. This often gets pushed aside in the busy working day, so you need to make an effort to find time for creativity and experimentation. A number of companies do this by allowing their staff a set amount of time for innovation or to spend on new projects. “Chance favours the connected mind.” Steven Johnson Growing Agility 43
ConclusionGrowing Agility We wrote Growing Agility because we wanted to make you think about how you respond to changes, challenges and opportunities. If we accept that change is a constant, rather than a stand-out event, we have a choice of two courses of action: we can ignore it, keep our heads down and try to carry on as normal; or we can take the agile approach, welcome it and look for the opportunities it offers. Ultimately, growing agility is about rejecting the idea of ‘business as usual’ and acknowledging that the world we live and work in means this just isn’t possible. Growing agility starts with you, and making sure that you are agile personally and in your emotions and behaviours. And if you share your ideas and discoveries (and perhaps this book too) with those around you, it will spread into every corner of the organisation you work for, making it better equipped to thrive, make opportunities out of challenges, and become a little smarter every day. Conclusion. Thanks for reading Growing Agility. We hope that you’ve found it useful and that it’s given you some food for thought. 44 To find out more about Smarter Everyday, take a look at: @NokiaAtWork www.linkedin.com/company/nokia http://conversations.nokia.com/ category/nokiaatwork/ www.nokia.com/business Other Smarter Everyday ebooks: Design Your Day http://nokia.ly/DYDebook Mobile Mastery http://nokia.ly/MMebook Teams That Flow http://nokia.ly/TTFebook
Reading listGrowing Agility 45 Susan David and Christina Congleton, ‘Emotional Agility’, Harvard Business Review, http://nokia.ly/18o3bc8 Professor Yves Doz and Mikko Kosonen, Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life And Business Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine, Flex: Do Something Different Laurence Gonzales, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience Emily Lawson and Colin Price, ‘The psychology of change management’, McKinsey Quarterly, http://nokia.ly/1guJceG Dan McQuillan, ‘From Free Software to Artisan Science’, Journal of Peer Production, http://nokia.ly/1jSXKV2 David Neal, Wendy Wood, Jeffrey Quinn, ‘Habits - a repeat performance’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, http://nokia.ly/1d9JL8e Donald Sull, ‘Competing through organisational agility’, McKinsey Quarterly http://nokia.ly/1kDcncQ Donald Sull, The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World Donald Sull, ‘How To Thrive In Turbulent Markets’, Harvard Business Review, http://nokia.ly/1h3oAHP Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder David Wilkinson, The Ambiguity Advantage: What Great Leaders Are Great At Robert Zettle, ACT for Depression: A Clinician’s Guide to Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ‘Building a nimble organisation’, McKinsey Quarterly Reading list
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