Creative Agility

Here's Why You Can't Fake Agility In Your Business

What does it mean when an entrepreneur or business owners says that their business is agile?

Does it mean anything?

It does.

Business agility is a way of describing how quickly and efficiently your business adapts to changes in tastes, expectations, and needs in your market. It also describes your ability to create change in your market. The fervor over agility started in tech/software companies and is being applied to businesses in almost every industry and sector.

Being agile, in my opinion, is as important as focusing on being cost effective, delivering the most value and constantly creating an awesome experience for your customers. As an entrepreneur at heart, you have a natural inclination to being agile - it’s how you keep your business moving forward.

If you’ve been following me for a bit you know that I am not a fan of buzzwords. When it comes to business agility I turn down my jargon-filter a bit because being able to change in your market and make good decisions in your business is a big part of good strategy.

Sadly, just like any good business concept this too gets butchered in the corporate world. Faking agility is probably the worst thing your organization can do.

Here are 5 tips to help you spot an agility faking organization or team.

1. No real buy-in from your team or staff.

This is where everyone is on board in public and when an opportunity to change comes up there’s nothing but static. How can you be agile when you’re support staff is constantly complaining about the constraints of their roles? Change is hard. It’s easier to just keep your head down and work like you always have. It’s that familial force that impedes your agility. Watch for the overly enthusiastic in person that show signs of underperformance on the front lines. It’s up to you as a leader to create an environment where the people you count on are invested in you or your business’ value to get to real buy-in.

2. Calling yourself agile but not adopting the agile mindset.

Being agile in your business means that your mindset and your business model shifts a bit. Being agile means you are spending time developing communication, collaboration, feedback and even incremental delivery processes. Pro-Tip: It’s focusing on the process that matters here - lip service = no real buy-in. (See #1.) Seriously, focus on the process.

3. Always serving up the same product or service.

Competitive advantage is a fickle muse. It’s not something that you get once and then you’re done. For your business to be agile you need to be able to take time and evaluate what your market is doing. A big question to answer is: “Is my business still solving a relevant problem?” It can be tough though, there’s always a little resistance when you’re standing on a precipice of change. Don’t fear change and don’t fear failure. It’s in both change and failure that you will keep figuring out how to best serve your customers and most importantly how to keep creating value for them.

4. No active leadership.

A big term in agile business principles is the idea of the scrum. Since I’ve been playing rugby for so long this is one of my favorite parts of being agile. An agile scrum represents your team or the project you’re working on. Part of being in a scrum means that there is a designated leader or owner for the scrum. It doesn’t have to be the same person all the time and the person in charge of the scrum is really more of a facilitator. The benefit to having a lead in the scrum is that someone owns the project. It’s the accountability that helps drive your business or projects forward. Without a facilitator you have the potential to have projects make little to no progress and eventually fall off the face of the planet. Leadership should be rotated and it’s leadership that will continue to support everyone’s buy-in.

5. Killing creativity.

Being agile includes giving people permission to explore. To do that in your business it’s important you don’t create too many processes or systems to get permission or consensus at every single step in the process. While I totally support process and systems - too much of it can be a really bad thing. There has to be a balance. Don’t fall into the trap of getting so caught up in designing how you are going to be/measure/implement your business agility that you forget about applying the core principles of giving people freedom to go out and look for opportunities. The more logistical hoops you create the slower the innovation, the more opportunities you miss, and you are creating an environment for change to be really hard.

If you do the opposite of these 5 tips you’ll be in good shape. Agility is about helping people share a mindset and nurturing your business so that you can continue to make great stuff for people. An implied part of being agile is your willingness to never stop learning. It’s being open to new things that will help you see opportunities to better for your customers and clients.

How To Think Your Way To Better Business Results

I’m going to be tip-toeing the jargon-buzzword line just for a second here. It’s worth it I promise. This post is all about creative agility and how developing your creative thinking muscles is one of the biggest assets you can carry around with you in your strategy toolbox.

Creative agility is the ability or the process of seeing problems or challenges in your business and taking the time to vet out ALL possible solutions (even the seemingly ridiculous) before deciding on a course of action. Being creative isn’t just about creating something, it’s also very much about how we think about the challenges your business faces everyday. It’s also a practice in authenticity. Working as your truest self and do the work that you believe matters most, not just what you think will make you the quickest buck.

When you are working on your business strategy you are using the resources you have to provide some kind of value to the people you are trying to serve. You are faced with all kinds of constrictions, deadlines and communication hurdles. Practicing creative agility helps you reframe what’s going on so that you can get to as many possibilities as you can and then deciding from there the best course(s) of action. Your strategy has a lot of moving parts to manage. It’s important to find the right balance for your strategic aspirations so your vision, the people you serve, your managers(even if you are a business of 1), and your resources are all aligned to be as awesome as possible.

Here are some tips and exercises you can work on to start building that creative agility muscle. It takes practice and creative thinking is a deliberate kind of thinking. You can’t force it and you most certainly can’t fake it. When you start to think more creatively you’ll be honoring the most authentic parts of your business and your strategy. Plus you’ll be more fun to be around at parties, which is a good thing right?!

1. Frame the problem, issue, or “why”?

Being able to tackle issues creatively requires a bit of focus. You have to have a specific end in mind as you are starting in on this process. You don’t have to have all (or any) of the answers at the start but your energy will be best spent when you have an idea of what the end looks like.

2. Embrace the idea divergence.

Give yourself time and space to think freely. Don’t let traditional barriers or approaches guide how you approach your problem. Get ridiculous, get unconventional and get improbable. This is the time to come up with any and all solutions no matter the cost, relevance, or efficiency. As you are brainstorming the only limiting factor you should hold yourself to is a time limit. With a time limit you are making sure that you don’t just get stuck coming with ideas so you can keep the process moving.

3. Establish your processes.

After you get all your ideas out in the open and articulated it’s important to have a process for getting through them. You want to systematically widdle down to a handful of ideas for serious consideration. This is the point where you start to add back some of the filters you took off through your initial brainstorming process. I would encourage you to only consider back the filters that are absolutely essential and continue to play with ideas or solutions that might seem non-traditional or that are different to currently available solutions.

4. Focus on making your customers look good.

I know it’s almost common-sensical to say that you should be focusing on creating value but I want to frame it from a different perspective. Don’t necessarily think that value-add solutions are your winners. Instead focus on making your customers look good in front of their social groups. Shift your attention just a bit to not just making people better off but making them look good. The way your business is perceived shifts a bit too. People want to engage with the businesses that are the most authentic and that create the greatest connections. Having a genuine interest in your customers after they buy definitely qualifies for both those categories. Most importantly, it ups your trustiness.

Creativity is more than just sitting around and waiting for inspiration to jump out of your computer screen. It takes deliberate work. You can give yourself a nice little head start and a safe/positive place to think if you put these four points into action. Understanding the components of how strategy is created and implemented is half of the equation. Getting people to resonate with your mission and to support that strategy is the other half and it’s your creativity that will draw them in.

I think if I were to have one last point. A bonus point, perhaps? It would be this:

5. Have fun with it.

There are a lot of businesses that take themselves too seriously. Yes, there is a place for big box distribution/manufacturing firms where the profit is in the volume shipped and the savings created by having an airtight process. That’s not most businesses and probably not you. Have fun with your creative process if for no other reason than to show your customers that there is a real person on the other side of the screen, receipt, product or service. When you allow yourself to get out of your own way and drop your guard you are able to better invite people to be a part of your community.

Get out of your own way and stop using templates or systems for strategy that you don’t really believe in. That’s not how you get to good strategy and you won’t be able to run the business you really want to run. Instead, get a little creative and be a little more authentic in your strategy creation process.

Your business will thank you for it!