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Imagine a slalom skier racing down a mountain. She familiarized herself with the course and set a game plan, but now she’s scanning the terrain ahead and making split-second decisions and adjustments based on changing conditions as she flies toward each successive gate at fantastic speeds. It’s an apt metaphor for how organizations today must cope with a business environment of rapid innovation and disruption. The word that comes to mind is “agility.”
As both an award-winning slalom skier and a sought-after expert on business leadership, Pamela Meyer, Ph.D., is agile on the slopes and off. She helps companies and their leaders change not just their actions but their attitudes and thinking to cope with the constantly shifting business landscape. She also teaches courses in business creativity, organizational change and adult learning at DePaul University, School for New Learning in Chicago. In her new book, The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations, Pamela expounds the idea of creating effective leaders and teams that are able to thrive in the age of disruption.
Now, it’s time for Pamela’s CloseUp.
- How/when did you first become a fan of agility?
Like many kids and young adults I had my share of opportunities to respond to the unexpected and unplanned, including weathering the upheaval of my parents’ divorce and all of the disruption that came with that. However, it wasn’t until I started working in my first career as a director and producer of off-loop (Chicago’s version of off-Broadway) theater that I truly began to appreciate the importance of agility. Chicago is a hotbed of improvisation and we used a lot of improv exercises in rehearsal to develop our original plays. I soon began to understand the power of improvisation well beyond the walls of the rehearsal hall which led to the work I do today with organizations.
- How do you be agile but without going so far as to shifting whichever way the wind blows?
Every individual leader, team and organization needs to find the balance between creativity and constraint. Improvisers call this “playing within the givens.” In business the givens might be your strategic priorities, budget, time, technology, available staff, etc. The key is to identify those givens early and rather than waste time fighting against them, use them to free your energy and creativity.
- When you go on vacation, do you like to plan it all out (while staying flexible), or just wing it?
I like a little bit of both: enough structure so I don’t have to stress about the basics, but plenty of space to make new discoveries and be surprised.
- Do you like to be unpredictable yourself? Do you like surprising people?
I like helping create the conditions where surprises happen. It could be a surprising insight, new product discovery or the discovery of a new capacity or talent. These kinds of surprises stick with people and inspire them to be more innovative and agile in their work.
- Do you find your adult students receptive to the lessons of agility?
Yes, especially once they recognize the true benefits of being more agile, and are given several opportunities to build their own agility competence, capacity and confidence. My own and others’ research shows that agile leaders, teams and organizations are not only more productive and profitable, they are actually happier!
- Speaking of agility, would you rather be a parkour expert, a ninja or a spider monkey?
I’d have to go with parkour. The level of overall fitness, strength and agility they demonstrate is impressive and is a great metaphor for negotiating the unexpected and unplanned and turning challenges into opportunities wherever they are encountered.
Author, Ph.D., Slalom Skier