Agile as a panther

Agile as a panther

Agile has become all the rage in contemporary business and consulting.  It has been applied to manufacturing, software development, and even whole businesses as they strive to adapt to a logarithmically increasing pace of change in the modern competitive landscape. 

In one global company, frustration grew with processes around development of new applications.  From an engineering perspective, there is a desire to build things just right, the perfect sets of code all working together to deliver the perfect app.  What that can mean is that all of the tweaking is going on behind the scenes, and waiting for delivery of the app precludes a leader’s ability to have input earlier on.  Rather than just delivering a set of requirements and waiting for the product, many leaders wanted to work alongside the developers.  The mantra became ‘build something quick, get leaders (and customers!) involved in shaping it with feedback, and cycle through multiple versions.’  In the end, such a product will have been stress-tested up front, and whatever is delivered in the end should be much better aligned with the needs of the customers.  That is taking advantage of social media and represents one major revolution triggered by agile thinking. 

So what is Agile?  Agility is defined in terms such as quick and graceful, flexible and adaptive.  Imagine a panther moving across the terrain.  If you watch the top half of the body you will see smooth lines and very small, graceful motions.  Hidden in the other half, the legs adapt to a changing, undulating ground seemingly without effort.  The analogy to smart humming business processes readily comes to mind, but there is a lot of work involved in making things look easy.

Personality wise, someone with higher Openness to Experience scores (inventive/curious over consistent/cautious) might be expected to at least have potential to be more agile.  Certainly, looking for alternatives would be required to learn how to adapt.  So, Openness might be considered necessary but not sufficient for Agility.

I had the pleasure of talking with one of the leading experts on learning agility, Ken De Meuse.  His measure, the TALENTx7, is a clever assessment and development tool.  It has three layers of consistency indicators built in to help identify how truthful or thoughtful a given set of responses are, and thus how useful the measures and behavioral prescriptions should be for that person.  Personally, I found my report resonated well with my own behavioral tendencies. 

As with personality, there is a complex interplay between individual and environmental factors as determinants of behavior.  There are jobs where you may not want someone who is exceptionally high on learning agility.  When stakes depend on the perfect execution of a tested process, you don’t necessarily need someone who is restlessly looking for new ways.  Nevertheless, in leadership positions, and especially in brand new environments or business ventures you would like someone who has been exposed to many different challenges, who is open-minded and curious, who has self-awareness, and an ability to deal with complex problem-solving.  You need someone who is Learning Agile.

For those lucky enough to live near the Twin Cities, Ken will be presenting at MPPAW 15 May 2018 at the Courtyard Marriot at 35W and Washington.  Dinner and socializing starts at 5:30.  Further information can be found at


De Meuse, K. P., Dai, G., & Hallenbeck, G. S.  (2010).  Learning agility:  A construct whose time has come.  Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62, pp. 119–130.

De Meuse, K. P.  Personal communication.  9 May 2018. 




Joe Colihan