Considering An AGILE Approach Towards The Speed Of Change And Accelerated Obsolescence


“We believe the real secret sauce in looking to the future and staying agile lies in your organization’s openness and receptivity to new possibilities.”  -via Focused, Fast & Flexible

As times change, so do the abilities and skillsets that once defined us as individuals and organizations.  We are finding more and more that what was relevant today, is often irrelevant tomorrow.  The increasing pace of change is teaching us that learning and unlearning will become a much more natural part of who we are and what we do if we are to avoid what many see as a world being defined by “accelerated obsolescence.”

To avoid approaching this concept of constant learning and unlearning in a reactive and often antiquated manner, we will have to be much more proactive in the depth and breadth of the idea flow that we funnel through and determine to curate forward as individuals and organizations.  We will have to stretch and pull from sources beyond our current circumstances if we are connect these dots forward in much more imaginative, creative and innovative ways.

Which means we will also have to become much more agile and adaptive in our learning and unlearning ability, understanding when a linear approach suffices…and when a pivot is necessary and needed to avoid stifling and pushing our systems, organizations and individuals into disorder and dysfunctional structures and processes.

Inability to have awareness beyond our current circumstances will limit the depth and breadth of the dots that will be necessary and needed to connect our way forward proactively through a much more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of “accelerate obsolescence.”

Creating this environment of constant learning and adaptability will not only require new dots to be connected, it will be a defining ability and skillset of today’s modern leaders.

Drawing from a depth and breadth of models and drivers will allow us to not only connect these dots more relevantly, but allow us to proactively face the turbulence brought on by the pace of change in a much more dynamic and positive manner, both for our individuals and organizations.

As we look to add more breadth and depth to the dots we connect, The AGILE Model may be one of those models and drivers that may be worth exploring as a proactive approach to keeping pace with the now disruptive speed of change that we now face.  According to Horney and O’Shea in their work Focused, Fast & Furious, “In The Agile Model, agility for organizations, teams and leaders is driven by five critical abilities: Anticipating change, Generating confidence, Initiating action, Liberating thinking and Evaluating results.”

Here are a few snippets that Horney and O’Shea provide in their book, Focused, Fast & Furious on defining those AGILE drivers:

  • “The ability to anticipate change requires you to pay systematic attention…you must have effective processes for visioning, sensing and monitoring.”
  • “The ability to generate confidence requires you to address issues related to how your people feel about their capacities…you must have effective processes of connecting, aligning, and engaging.”
  • “The ability to liberate thinking requires you to assure that your organization has the means to originate and incorporate new ideas…creating a supportive environment to build capacity and energy for innovation.”
  • The ability to evaluate results requires you to align vision to action…acquiring the knowledge and facts necessary to learn from and improve the actions you and your organization take.”

All of which allow us, both as  individuals and organizations, to remain more agile and adaptive in how we approach our work, our processes, our structures and our systems.

However, in the end…

If we are unable to effectively consider our current ways of doing and being and not determine why a change would be of a benefit, then our ability to learn and unlearn no longer serves an advantage as much as it adds to the current disorder and dysfunction that tends to bury our organizations in stasis and status quo.

Seeing beyond our current circumstances, engaging ideas and concepts that provide new dots in often unknown spaces, allows us the ability to not only make our organizational environments for our individuals more creative and innovative, but provides the impetus to remain more relevant in the face of the unrelenting pace and speed of change that has been thrust upon us.

In being open and receptive to new possibilities, we find that we can learn to outpace a world dominated by “accelerated obsolescence.” 





The Disruption Is Near


“Every single job function we can identify is being fundamentally transformed. Even “old” industries such as construction are in the throes of disruption.” –David Rose via Exponential Organizations

In the midst of the chaos and disruption brought on by this new velocity and turbulence of change, the organizations that often fail to remain relevant going forward, are often those that choose to batten down the hatches and look to ride out the rough patches.  They look to insulate and protect themselves and the organization from these disruptive forces that are knocking at the gates.

Whereas the organizations that tend to remain relevant and even flourish, are those that are able to find the opportunity in the midst this same chaos and disruption.  They see possibilities where others see obstacles.  They approach these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times with a renewed sense of creativity and inventiveness.

Unfortunately, what many organizations have failed to realize in the midst of the upheaval brought on by this heightened pace of change, especially in today’s VUCA world, is that every organization, in every sector, be that education, government, or business, is ripe for creative disruption.  The question very often is not whether you will be disrupted, but how?  And in the face of this challenge, what we need to fully realize…is that we have a choice on that how.

So, if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that no one and no organization is immune or safe.

Or as Peter Drucker has shared, this is the Age of Discontinuity.

When we continue to pace everything we do in linear, incremental, and sequential ways of thinking and create our processes and build our structures to operate in this manner, while the world around us shifts to a much more non-linear, exponential manner of thinking and doing…something has to give.

Somewhere along the way the incoherence and misalignments become so incongruent that recovery is often no longer possible, irrelevance has already set in or has completely taken over and the only question left to answer is how long the organization can or will hang on.

Or as the Ismail, Malone and van Geest share in Exponential Organizations,

“One of the key issues in an exponential world…whatever understanding you have today is going to rapidly become obsolete, and so you have to continue to refresh your education about the technologies and about the organizational capabilities.  That’s going to be very challenging.  Rapid or disruptive change is something that large, matrixed organizations find extremely difficult.  Indeed, those who have attempted it have found that the organization’s “immune system” is liable to respond to the perceived threat with an attack.”

The problem is that the biggest threat to most organizations, is not the external forces at the gate, but our own inability to disrupt ourselves internally.  To build the internal ability and capacity to learn new, learn faster, become more agile and adaptive, to know when to continue the journey and when a pivot and shift is in order…or in other words, to be able to disrupt ourselves before the disruption is done to us.

Remember, the status quo will fight and push back every step of the way.

The one thing that we cannot do anymore is to allow ourselves to be caught unaware or choose to further insulate ourselves from these tremendous and overwhelming shifts that are now changing the very face of our societal systems, especially in light of how Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and the digital transformation has shown us that, if anything, this new pace of change is doing more to accelerate and speed up than to slow down anytime in the near future.

So as you consider your organizational response, because a response is and will be necessary if you are to avoid irrelevance, I will leave you with these words from Ismail, Malone, and van Geest from their work Exponential Organizations

“History and common sense make clear that you cannot radically transform every part of an organization—and accelerate the underlying clock of that enterprise to hyper-speed—without fundamentally changing the nature of that organization.”

The New Liquidity Of Learning


“In the industrial age, companies did their utmost to save themselves time by increasing their efficiency and productivity.  That is not enough today.  Now organizations need to save their customers and citizens time.  They need to do their utmost to interact in real time.  Real time is human time.”

“So in order to run in real time, our technological infrastructure needed to liquefy.  Nouns needed to be verbs.  Fixed solid things became services.  Data couldn’t remain still.  Everything had to flow into the stream of now.”  -via Kevin Kelly The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

As we consider the depths of the shifts and disruptions that the current and coming digital transformation is levying down upon and across the entirety of our societal landscape, from every industry to institution…we must also be very aware of the cognitive shifts and disruptions that are occurring simultaneously in reaction to this transformation.

From learning to literacy, we see our digital technologies emerging a variety of new literacies across the learning landscape, which according to Wikipedia would include “21st century literacies, internet literacies, digital literacies, new media literacies, multiliteracies, information literacy, and computer literacy,” to name a few.  And not just literacy, but the very act of learning itself, from how we access it, to how we interpret, utilize, engage, and even repurpose it.

In his work The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses how digital technology has disrupted and changed the music industry, from the actual product down to the very notes themselves, which he conceptualizes around this idea of “liquidity.”  The interesting thing is when you put this same lens of “liquidity” on learning, instead of music, we can not only begin to envision the impact of these new literacies, but how learning is, could and will change and evolve forward in the future.

Let’s sample a bit of how this concept of “liquidity” works with the idea of learning by repurposing some of Kevin Kelly’s quotes (in bold) around this idea of the “liquidity” of music and how it could be used to stretch our idea of learning…

“Once something, like music, is digitized, it becomes a liquid that can be flexed and linked.” –via The Inevitable

Once something, like learning, is digitized, it becomes a liquid that can be flexed and linked.

“The superconductivity of digitalization had unshackled music from its narrow confines on a vinyl disk and thin oxide tape.”  -via The Inevitable

The superconductivity of digitalization has unshackled learning from its narrow confines of the book and written page.

“Now you could unbundle a song from its four-minute package, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, mess with it.”  -via The Inevitable

Now you can unbundle the written work from a text, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, and mess with it.

“What counts are not the number of copies but the number of ways a copy can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media.”  -via The Inevitable

What counts are not the number of texts, books, and blogs, but the number of ways they can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media.

These are just a few of the examples in the ways we can begin to consider how not just literacy, but learning itself can be “liquified” for the future.  Especially in a time of shifting from consumption to creation.  As Kevin Kelly shares in The Inevitable, “Liquidity brings a new ease to creation.”

As these exponential shifts and disruptions continue to spread across the societal ecosystem, we can no longer believe that it will have no effect on the future of learning.

In the words of Kevin Kelly, we will need to begin to…

“Think of the world flowing.”

Design Our Systems For The Future


“Idealized design is a process for operationalizing the most exciting vision of the future that the designers are capable of producing.  It is the design of the next generation of their system to replace the existing order.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

Today’s leaders must be designers.

Constantly engaged in the divergent and convergent iterative process of creating and recreating their organization towards a better future and a better way forward.

Creating new capacities through intentional and focused idea flows that support ongoing self and organizational renewal that pushes us to plant seeds beyond the current boundaries that constrain our systems and thinking.

Pushing us past the parts to seeing wholes, providing 30,000 foot views of where to place our organizational next steps, as well as determining the mental models that impede those next steps and serve as obstacles to achieving that vision of the future.

Seeing how agility and adaptability of not only our organizations, but our leadership, will allow us to continually learn, unlearn, and relearn if we are to avoid the stasis and stagnation that, in a world of turbulent change, leads to immediate, as well as incremental irrelevance.

Being willing to constantly disrupt our individual and collective mindsets, if we are to come to terms with the needed disruptions that must occur in our own organizations if we are to truly unentrench ourselves from the status quo thinking that often buries us in practices of the past.

Seeing how ‘next’ practices are also in need of ‘next’ metrics if we are to pivot effectively towards this emerging and more desirable future we envision for ourselves and our organizations.

Understanding that discontinuity and placing a shelf-life on our organizational processes, structures and frameworks is an often avoided necessity that limits the growth and renewal of our individuals and organizations.

Yes, today’s leaders must be designers.

And to do that, they must truly understand the adaptive challenges that lay before us and our organizations.

“In an unpredictable, turbulent environment, the viability of any design will depend on its capability to explore and exploit emerging opportunities all along the value chain.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

Leading In The Future: Cognitive Load Management


“Not only did we fail to imagine what the web would become, we still don’t see it today.  We are oblivious to the miracle it has blossomed into.  Twenty years after its birth the immense scope of the web is hard to fathom.  The total number of web pages including those that are dynamically created upon request, exceeds 60 trillion.  That’s almost 10,000 pages per person alive.  And this entire cornucopia has been created in less than 8,000 days.”  -Kevin Kelly The Inevitable

And it is not just how fast data is being created, it is how much…

According to Northeastern University, we are producing 2.5 Exabytes of data every day, which is equivalent to: 530,000,000 millions songs, 150,000,000 iPhones, 5 million laptops, 250,000 Libraries of Congress, and 90 years of HD video.

To add to that…

Technology Futurist Michel Zappa adds, “Every minute we are bombarded (or at least have access to) 3 days’ worth of information that we didn’t have a minute earlier, which means almost 12 years worth of new content is accessible to us every day”

And the amount of data being produced is growing fast, we are no longer just consumers of information, but creators of that data.

Which provides incredible opportunity and benefits for our modern day learning organizations, as well as overwhelming ramifications and disconnects for the individuals in those same organizations, that we must also acknowledge.

Which means that new ideas such as ‘cognitive load management’ will not only be seen as an important work skill of the future, but a necessary capacity and skill-set required of today’s organizational leaders.  Especially when you consider the definition that the Institute for the Future provides for ‘cognitive load management’ as being the “ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.”

If we are to create greater levels of organizational learning, creativity and innovation, in a time of overwhelming and oversaturated data flows, then ‘cognitive load management’ must be a deep and intentional leadership consideration if we are to create the space and focus for our organizational learning to be focused and effective.

Too often, we have overloaded our individual and organizational circuits beyond capacity, leaving little to no room or energy for new learning to exist and take root.

In any change or shift process, especially when new learning is involved,  balancing the ‘cognitive load’ provides people the space and energy to invest in evolving their mental models and expanding their current cognitive limits.  Unfortunately, however, when our systems are neither efficient nor effective, when ‘cognitive load management’ is not taken into account, our individual and organizational cognitive capacity is often tied up in unproductive ways that neither support individuals nor the organization.

Awareness and skill-sets such as ‘cognitive load management’ will be just one of the new capacities and capabilities of today’s modern leaders.  Especially as we encounter this weighted shift in our modern organizations of moving further away from the technical problems of the past to more and more of the adaptive challenges of an unknown future.

Ideas such as ‘cognitive load management’ will serve as one of the many new adaptive challenges that will face today’s organizational leaders as the rise in information and connectivity expands exponentially across our organizational and societal ecosystems.  Especially if we are to ensure that our cognitive and collaborative efforts are not wasted on the misalignments in the system and unnecessary information flows that often inundate our organizations into the ineffectiveness that comes with constant capacity overload.

“A world rich in information streams in multiple formats and from multiple devices brings the issue of cognitive overload to the fore.  Organizations and workers will only be able to turn the massive influx of data into an advantage if they can learn to effectively filter and focus on what is important.”  -via The Institute For The Future


The Future Will Be Anything But Rote


“After spending time working with leading technologists and watching one bastion of human uniqueness after another fall before the inexorable onslaught of innovation, it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence that any given task will be indefinitely resistant to automation. That means people will need to be more adaptable and flexible in their career aspirations, ready to move on from areas that become subject to automation, and seize new opportunities where machines complement and augment human capabilities.”  -via The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

Lets be very clear: the future we are preparing our students for is going to be anything but rote.

This idea of a “skills gap” that we keep hearing about is nothing new, it has been going on for generations as education, educators and employers can’t seem to come to any real type of common ground on expectations.

The problem is that this is going to need to change, and change quickly.  Especially as the digital transformation, as well as exponential gains in automation and artificial intelligence begin to make a much more noticeable mark upon our society.  Or what McAfee refers to as the “great decoupling of the U.S. economy” as we see this divide open up between “output and productivity” and “jobs and wages.”  For which McAfee adds, “Computers are now doing many things that used to be the domain of people only.  The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications.  Perhaps the most important of theses that while digital progress grows the overall economic pie, it can do so while leaving some people, or even a lot of them, worse off.”

And what makes it even more difficult, is that more and more is being called upon and asked of education to meet this “skills gap” that employers continue to hail, while society undergoes exponential shifts from the disruption erupting from and out of this digital transformation.  Unfortunately, as much as there is this “decoupling of the U.S. economy,” there is also an another, just as disturbing and concerning, decoupling created from this “skills gap” chasm that exists and has existed for some time between education and business, educator and employer.

Or as Peter Cappelli shares in the Washington Post article, What employers really want? Workers they don’t have to train, “We should rethink this fast.  Schools are not good at providing what employers want, which is work-based skills and experience.  Instead, employers need to be much more involved, not just in telling schools what they want but in providing opportunities for new grads to get work experience and learn the relevant expertise.  We need a different approach: one where employers are not just consumers of skills, but are part of the system for producing them.”

Today’s employers are asking more and more of those entering the workforce, and if current conditions are a tell-tale sign of the future, will continue to ask more and more.  We not only need to be aware of this economic decoupling, but the continued decoupling of this long-going “skills gap” that has existed between education and employers if we are to better prepare our students for the future of work.

It not only benefits our children, educators and employers to prepare our students to be more agile and adaptive to the disruptive effects that digitization, outsourcing, automation, and artificial intelligence is having on the current and future world of work…it benefits our economy and the future success of the next generation.

Or as McAfee and Bryniolfsson share in The Second Machine Age, “This reflects the career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that is getting cheap and plentiful.”

And it will take the work of bringing education and business together if we are to truly determine what those “indispensable” skills are that lead to success in a disruptive and exponentially shifting world and future…

Future Shifts


“We are getting kids ready for jobs that do not exist” has been a mantra of frustration that has been bandied about the educational ecosystem for far more than the last several years.   A mantra that I believe to not only be wrong focused, but an inhibitor of change for (1) it’s predictive element relieves the system of real responsibility, necessity and urgency for any type of deep, exponential shift(s), and (2) the unknowing element of the statement can continue to allow us to insulate the system from better awareness of changes that are currently and constantly occurring across society that necessitate an educational mindshift.

When the future becomes a guessing game, when we focus on the unpredictability that we currently face, we have a tendency to recoil back to the known, back to the familiar, both as individuals and as organizations.  We often allow the fear of this vast unknown to entrench us in the status quo of the past and present.

What we have to begin to realize is that we are not getting kids ready for jobs that are yet to exist…

We are preparing them to be agile and adaptable in the face of profound shifts.

Which will eventually require some very deep shifts in our systems, our focus, our structures, processes, and even our beliefs and behaviors.  Just as we remain content-focused in skills-based world, change will be necessary in a societal landscape that is been driven relentlessly forward by the exponential pace of technology and digital disruption.

What has driven education in the past, is no longer sufficient or necessarily relevant for the future.

However, this is not some new phenomena, in fact the world of work has been very open about the skills necessary for future success and how those skill-sets are changing, especially as technological abilities in robotics and artificial intelligence continue to disrupt the workplace.

We continue to see skills such as critical thinking, creativity, adaptive and agile thinking, social and emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility and load management, and collaborative and design attributes gaining greater traction as necessary and needed for those in and/or moving into the present and future workforce.

Whatever those skills are or will be in the future, awareness will be paramount in preparing our future generation to be agile and adaptable to these profound shifts we now face.

According to the Institute of the Future (IFTF), “To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements.  They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these.  Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.”

However, it will not only be individuals that will need to become adaptable learners, remaining agile to our exponentially shifting world we now live in…so must our educational organizations if they are to remain significant, dynamic, relevant hubs of learning, innovation and transformation in the face of these seismic shifts and changes.