Organizational Agility Requires Agile Leadership


“As change accelerates, so does uncertainty and novelty: future threats and opportunities are harder to predict, and emerging challenges increasingly include novel elements.  Further, with the globalization of the economy and the spread of connective technologies, it’s increasingly clear that we live in a diverse planetary village where everything is connected with everything else.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change

We live in a world that is constantly under pressure from the continual turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change and the volatility that it invokes, in our organizations, our leadership and our lives.

And it can feel very unsettling…

It’s as if everything we do, create and design now lives in a constant state of beta, especially as we discover what was urgent and necessary today has become irrelevant and unnecessary tomorrow.  Too often we find ourselves in a search for sustainability, in a world that now requires greater agility and adaptability.  Which makes the idea of continuous improvement that much more difficult in the future.  More and more we are finding that adaptability and agility are not just necessary leadership skill-sets, they are vital modern day organizational mindsets.

In the past we built the ship to sustain, now we must build it to adapt.

Unfortunately, in many ways our organizations tend to remain grounded in hierarchical ways of doing and being, steeped in traditional leadership focused linearity and certainty, so focused on providing the best answer that we have often lost sight of whether or not we are even asking the right question(s).  Reframing this will be necessary for the future of our leadership and our organizations.  Especially as Joiner and Josephs share in Leadership Agility we see that, “The pace of change will continue to increase, and the level of complexity and interdependence will continue to grow.”

We have to recognize that permanence is an illusion that today’s VUCA World no longer affords us or our organizations and willingness to proactively adapt and remain agile is necessary to create ongoing relevance.  In most organizations, we continue to try and converge to simple solutions too quickly.  Instead, we must learn, especially in the face of the turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change, to inhale the complexity and spend more time wrestling with big questions.  Which will require today’s leaders to remain learners, focused on enhancing, evolving and engaging new skill-sets and capacities.

In Leadership Agility, Joiner and Josephs discuss that “in turbulent organizational environments (leaders) exhibit four mutually reinforcing competencies:” 

Context-setting agility improves your ability to scan your environment, frame the initiatives you need to take, and clarify the outcomes you need to achieve”

Stakeholder agility increases your ability to engage with key stakeholders in ways that build support for your initiative.”

Creative agility enables you to transform the problems you encounter into the results you need.”

Self-leadership agility is the ability to use your initiatives as opportunities to develop into the kind of leader you want to be.”

As we consider and design our way forward, both as leaders and organizations, the more we enhance our leadership skill-sets and capacities the greater our ability to parallel pace the accelerated pace of change we are faced with in today’s world, the greater our ability to adapt and remain agile in the face of the turbulence created by today’s VUCA World.  The greater our relevance in a world focused on discontinuity and obsolescence.

Which is why consideration of the four competencies above increases our ability to evolve more fluidly into the future, both as organizations and leaders.

“To develop organizations that are effective in anticipating and responding to change and complexity, we need agile leaders – not just at the top but at all organizational levels.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change

All Aboard The VUCA Train: Using The 8A’s Framework To Ride These Rails Of Tension


“In these troubled times, many leaders are judging too simplistically.  Others are deciding too late and paying a price for their slowness or lack of courage.  Such leadership responses are understandable, but they are also dysfunctional and dangerous.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make The Future: Ten New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World

Knowing this does not necessarily make leadership any easier in today’s VUCA World.  Or as Bob Johansen adds, “If you are not confused by current events, you are not paying attention.”

And the more we do pay attention, the more we find that we are crawling out of a hole that was previously enveloped by a severe focus on efficiency and predictability, a world where we saw constancy and linearity as positive processes to overcome the technical problems of our day.

Unfortunately, the farther we continue to crawl from this hole, the more we find our leadership and organizations have been thrust into a very different world, one that has been overtaken by exponential shifts and unsolvable adaptive challenges for which our linear and predictable processes of efficiency are no longer useful or effective.  A world marred by new levels of chaos and complexity where the solutions to these challenges lay far beyond the veneer options of “Googling it” or dropping down a “what to do” binder from high above.

Or as Jeremy Gutsche shares in his book Better and Faster, “It’s the opposite of painting by the numbers.  There are no numbers.  And sometimes there’s no paint.”

Inability to recognize these shifts, often leaves our leaders and organizations riding the hamster wheel, spending inordinate amounts of time providing the right answers to the wrong questions.  We live in a world where we have to get much better at understanding the complexity and the depth of the challenges that we are currently facing, especially if we are to get our people and organizations to a place of creating greater solutions.

While we cannot predict this future that is whirling at us in a much more accelerated manner, we can begin to do the work that allows us to forward-cast both an individual and organizational “point of view” for the future.  One that pushes us past the current chaos, beyond the voluminous noise, chatter and turbulence created by this increased pace of change, so that we may better focus our filter to the array of options and opportunities that lay hidden in this vast unknown we now face.

Inability to push past the complexity of the present, inhibits our proactive proficiency towards designing our way forward into the future, which often leaving us mired in a foggy, murkiness, held back by mental models that keep us entrenched in our past and present.  In other words, inability to future-cast and engage ‘around the corner’ thinking is often a hardline to irrelevance in today’s VUCA World.  To overcome this hardline, we will not only need to engage new learning, abilities and skill-sets, we must also look at the processes and drivers that allow us to engage a much more future-focused mindset.

Such as incorporating the 8A’s Framework as a process to initiate future-casting and push our leadership and organizational thinking forward…


AWARENESS:  We begin with “awareness” and gaining a greater perception of how the world has and is changing.  Realizing the pace and turbulence of change is accelerating is paramount to seeing how the current digital transformation is disrupting our world in exponential ways, both in our personal and professional lives. Awareness of these shifts and how they are changing the world now, will allow us to better future-cast towards the changes to come.

AND:  It is no longer an either/or world, rather it has quickly become an “and” world.  The quicker we learn to ride this tension of “and” as leaders and organizations, the faster we will move from a focus on efficiency to one of effectiveness.

AMBIGUITY:  We live in a world that is no longer certain.  Yet, many of today’s leaders remain focused on creating a sense and semblance of safety and permanence throughout their organization.  However, if today’s VUCA World has taught us anything, it has taught us there is no permanence in a world focused on “accelerated obsolescence.”  So, we push forward with more linear and predictable ways of approaching our work, which does more to create greater uncertainty and incoherence than clarity, especially as our people and organizations lay witness to a world speeding up and quickly moving past them.  Today’s leaders need to focus more on capacity-creating if we are to better equip our people and organizations to grapple and grow a greater tolerance for the increased “ambiguity” that is invading this VUCA World.

ADAPTABILITY:  Creating “adaptability” will be founded in our ability to create environments of learnability in our organizations.  As times change, so do the abilities and skill-sets that once defined us as individuals and organizations.  This ability to learn, unlearn and be reflective of how our mental models push in on these processes will be vital to how effectively we can adapt to the exponential shifts inherent in a VUCA World.  Creating this environment of constant learning and “adaptability” will be a defining ability and skill-set of today’s modern leaders.

AGILITY:  Many of today’s organizations operate like the Titanic, unable to see the obstacles that they are facing and too late to turn once they are finally recognized.  Modern organizations are not only going to need to be much better at adapting to a shifting world, they will need to operate in a much more agile manner.  Moving to the opportunities that rise out of the complexity and chaos of a VUCA World will be paramount to ongoing relevance.

AMPATHY:  Organizations and their leaders must not only be much more aware, but much more vigilant in their efforts to amplify empathy across and at all levels of the organization.  The VUCA World requires a village and an “all hands on deck” approach to this work.  Gaining greater levels of empathy, especially at the leadership level, creates the relationships and trust necessary to allow our organizations to move much more fluidly through these 8A’s and the VUCA we are facing in today’s world.

ACCELERATE:  As the pace of change accelerates, especially in the midst of this volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of this world, so must the pace of our organizations and leadership.  This is not to say we can parallel pace this acceleration and exponential shifts that are gripping our societal ecosystem, however, we have to begin to be much more strategic in how we move our organizations forward into the future.  We are going to have to become much more fitter and cognitively stronger to survive this amplified pace that the VUCA World is serving up to our systems.

AWE:  Our leaders and organizations not only have to find the opportunity amidst the current chaos and complexity of this world, they must also engage a vision that moves their people and organization forward.  A vision that inspires awe and how being a part of this work and vision ultimately allows us to be part of something bigger and greater than ourselves.  Finding these opportunities and spaces where “awe” can be created will not be easy, but necessary in moving our organizations and people forward in a much more relevant manner and way.

And while these 8A’s will not provide us the ability to predict the future, they do provide a framework for our leaders and organizations to forward-cast a future “point of view” that makes our approach to designing the future both accessible and actionable.  It is a much more proactive approach to how we will determine to ride this VUCA Train that we’ve all received a ticket to ride.

In most organizations and systems, we have been determined to converge to simple solutions much too quickly.  We have to learn to inhale the complexity and chaos that this new world is creating, which will allow us to better engage and wrestle with the big questions and challenges that currently are and will be facing our organizations.  In the midst of this upheaval, our first response is to look to create order.  Instead, choose to make your first step towards finding the opportunities that lie hidden in this vast new unknown.  It is only in this proactive approach, that we will ultimately design a better future for our people and our organizations.

“Organizations are often blind to emerging complexity, characterized by unexpected opportunities and disruptive change.”  -via Theory U: Leading From The Future As It Emerges

What Is Our Future POV?


The problem with how we think about the future is very often how we think about the future…

How strategically are we framing our idea of the future?

Are we considering how effectively we are designing our systems for an unknown and rapidly changing future?

Are we reflecting on the variety of ways our current mental models are diminished by past thinking and past practices and limit how effectively we move future?

Are we able to wrestle positively with the tension created by the accelerating pace, speed and turbulence of change?

How engaging and shared is the vision and big opportunities we’ve determined create greater urgency to move our individuals and organization towards an action and next steps?

Remember, it is not just in thinking about what shifts and changes will come in the future…

It is also in considering what stays the same?

In many ways we have to move from thinking about the future, to thinking for the future.  We must learn how to become much more proactive in how we frame, forecast, chart and design our way forward into this unknown and uncertain future.

As Steve Case shares in his book The Third Wave, “It starts with developing a point of view – a hypothesis that the world is changing.  Just the simple act of a CEO embracing and articulating such a world view is critical.  It’s a way of delegating a mix of paranoia and curiosity, making people a little nervous and getting them out of their comfort zones. It’s also a way of expressing optimism, rather than dread, about the future – which naturally gets employees to pay more regular focused attention to what is happening around the edges of your industry, with an eye toward what may happen next.”

Too often, we lack any type of point of view for the future.  We might have a vision.  We might even have determined the big opportunity in front of us.  But we haven’t truly created an idea or “point of view” on how we plan on approaching the future.

We see it as far off star that is not necessary for us to worry about in the present.  We fail to see the necessity and urgency to begin designing our systems, organizations and individuals on how to proactively meet and move into the future in a much more relevant and effective manner.

Which may be just what we need…

To begin to determine what our individual and organizational “point of view” for the future is before it’s too late.  Before it upon us.  Especially as the pace and speed of change in today’s world continues to rev up and accelerate at an often unfathomable rate.

Or as Steve Case puts forth in The Third Wave, “Incumbents often fail because they underestimate the speed at which the future is approaching.”  Or as he adds, “Objects in the mirror are closer – far closer – than they appear.”



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