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Agile Thinking

October 10, 2011

It’s 1874, and you’ve just invented the telephone. After hi-fives with your friend Watson, you head down to Western Union, then the greatest communication company in the world, and showcase your work. Despite your excellent pitch (a century before PowerPoint), they turn you down on the spot, call the telephone a useless toy, and show you the door. Would you have given up? What if the next ten companies turn you down? Fortunately, Alexander Graham Bell didn’t listen to the folks at Western Union. He started his own business and changed the world, ultimately paving the way for the mobile device in our pockets today.

Bell had an idea. Everyone who has taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out, dries off and does something about it that makes a difference. As Einstein said, We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. There’s no difference between the agile thinking to invent something new and that to reinvent yourself to change direction or to get out of a cul-de-sac when what you’re doing isn’t working. In the current climate of austerity and uncertainty, we think the only solution is hold on tighter to the bar – in other words, let’s stick to what we’ve always done and ride through the turbulence. It’s what we know.

Whilst this is anchor is a natural reflex and understandable human trait, it is fundamentally flawed. You have to respond to adversity with big, new ideas and behaviours. Be bold, step outside from your current trajectory, stop doing what you’ve always done and try something radically different. If we carry on what we’re doing we’ll end up going where we’re going – and we’ve already decided that’s not where we want to be. It’s an interesting human characteristic that when engaged in unproductive behaviour, our reflex response is to do more of what is already not working.  We ‘dig in’ and work harder, but frequently just do more of the same. It’s not going to make a difference.

I noticed this in myself when I tried waterskiing this summer. Now those of you that know me would agree my physique is more suited to anchoring a tug-o-war team than the elegance and poise of a water skier, but I’m a beefcake in my bathing shorts – note I didn’t say Speedos – so I thought my strength would see me through. It was explained to me that the only way you can get out of the water is to co-ordinate your upwards movement with the rapid acceleration of the boat, so you need to hold on tight to the bar.  Following the guidance, as the boat leapt forward, I held on tight. Grimly actually. Only instead of rising gracefully out of the water, I fell flat on my face and seemed to swallow gallons of the cold Irish Sea around Anglesey and various pieces of seaweed.

Now I was being dragged through the water at high speed.  Why don’t they stop the boat? I wondered, holding on tight to the bar as the water pummelled me and I wondered what if there were some stray logs in the water ahead? Of course, I now appreciate that speedboats don’t have brakes, but it took a battering before I had the sensible thought Why don’t I let go of the bar? A simple action that ended my physical suffering if not my sense of deep humiliation.  Some folks on the shore seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t.

So faced with a challenge, would you let go of the bar and do something different? It’s all about thinking and doing things differently from what you’ve always done. From our experience and research, we believe there are five types of people when it comes to changing your thinking and choosing your attitude to respond to a situation:

  • Those that didn’t know that something had happened – Senile
  • Those who wonder what happened – Futile
  • Those who watch things happen – Docile
  • Those who think they make things happen – Fragile
  • Those who make things happen – Agile

Agile thinkers make things happen, free-thinking as a core competence to seize their opportunities and make a positive response to change. They create mental freedom to imagine What if? and What is possible?  They adopt the mindset of entrepreneurial pirates, alert and nimble, mentally quick to seize the opportunity before them – and it’s always an opportunity, never a threat.

Pirates – forget the parrots, wooden legs and eye patches – instead reflect upon the music industry and the impact of pirates disrupting the rules in that industry, reconstructing market boundaries – from Radio Caroline to Napster to iTunes to Spotify. Piracy is a market signal of opportunity, but you’ve got to get out there and grab it, it won’t come to you.

I’m an agile thinker for sure. Once I get hold of a new opportunity, I don’t let go. More balls than brains maybe, but there’s no looking back. I realised a long time ago that the only true barrier in life is yourself, your own mindset and attitude. Sure, there can be obstacles that you face every day and people who are impediments to achieving your goals, but ultimately you will be the reason that you achieve or fail. I quite often tell folks that they just have to ‘go do’.

Leave the woe is me attitude or this looks too hard, it looks like work, thinking with the compost at the bottom of the garden, you are the conduit of change for yourself. Excuses are easy to develop and are quite frankly a crutch to lead you to failure. It’s easy to sit there feeling sorry for yourself or simply staring blankly into the middle distance. The thought process behind failure is not that different from thinking about what your next steps to achieve success will be, just start seeing and believing in what is possible. Let me put in more bluntly – get up off your arse and do something about it!

It isn’t that my talent or skills are spectacular, but it is my agile thinking, restlessness, eagerness, optimism to make something happen, and my intolerance and rejection of having something that restricts or limits what I want being forced upon me, that keeps me proactive and alert. I have a simple philosophy – reach beyond your expectations: can do, will do.

Be agile. How hard can it be? I roll my sleeves up and get stuff done. Whilst others are analysing the benefits of what things could work, and the negatives to why they wouldn’t and talking a good game but finding barriers in their head not to do stuff, I am out there making things happen. Remember never let anyone tell you that it can’t be done – especially yourself – after all it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.

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