Business Growth & Strategy

The 3 Myths of Organizational Agility

With the new normal of unprecedented turbulence, uncertainty and volatility, our organizational agility is getting tested these days like never before:

Organizational Agility

our ability to deal with rapidly changing circumstances,

while out-executing our competition and stakeholder expectations

(of customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders).


In the face of this challenge, there are 3 myths of agility which organizations often fall prey to:

Myth #1: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

Wrong. Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” and we are further reminded of that by another quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity but I’d give my life for simplicity on the far side of complexity.” This tells us there are two kinds of simplicity:

  • Stupid Simplicity: This is simplicity this side of complexity, which ignores that complexity.
  • Elegant Simplicity: This is simplicity on the far side of complexity, which embeds that complexity.

We must master complexity to push through to elegant simplicity on the other side.  That’s challenging enough but there are also two different types of complexity to master:

  • Detail Complexity
  • Dynamic Complexity

Thus, the “can’t we just Keep It Simple Stupid” (KISS) approach is often just that, “stupid simple”, and can be the “KISS of Death”.   Organizational agility is complicated and over simplifying it is a big mistake.

Myth #2: Agility comes from being Loose and Unstructured.

Wrong. Fearing the rigidity of being over structured, many CEOs, executives and managers flip-flop to being under structured.  They mistakenly believe this to be agility.  It isn’t and rapidly decays into a chaotic, seat-of- the-pants mode.   That’s fragility not agility!  Your best talent will walk down the street as soon as they possibly can to a competitor which is less chaotic.  The bureaucracy of over structured rigidity is clearly fragility too!  Your best talent will walk down the street as soon as they possibly can to a competitor which is less bureaucratic.  So what’s agility then?   It’s not an “or” proposition, it’s an “and”.  It’s about finding the agile middle, of being somewhat structured and somewhat not, loose and tight, chaotic and ordered, all at the same time, mastering the challenge of the “and”

Myth #3: Cash is King.

Wrong. Businesses don’t fail because of a lack of cash.  They fail because of a lack of organizational agility.  Cash is just a way of keeping score and tells us whether we have are accumulating more accretive initiatives, operations and investments than dilutive ones, or vice versa?  When there is less and less we can count with any certainty these days, we must be able to count more and more on our organizational agility to cope, no matter what.  Our cash flow depends upon it.

Being In the Driving Seat of your agility as an organization is quite a challenge and you must make sure that you don’t fall prey to these myths.


Category: Business Growth & Strategy

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Mike Richardson About the Author: Mike Richardson

Mike Richardson is an agility pioneer, dedicated to cracking the code of organizational agility for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things, making possible tomorrow what seems impossible today with Learn More

  1. Chris

    April 15, 2011 at 12:48 am

    I *think* I know what you are saying. Managers and leaders need to be highly organized yet flexible. For example, if you ever come into my office (actually my home office since I work from home) you will see I have everything tightly tucked away.

    Pens, pencils, paper, paper clips and everything else have their own neat little spot. My files are labeled and within easy reach. When I worked in an office and I managed people the same was true. Even in college it was that way. People loved studying at my house because it was easy. Group projects were done at my place because of the organization. No time was wasted.

    Now, managers need to be flexible in their organization and scheduling as well. Too rigid and employees will go nuts. As an executive coach, I like to use trees as a metaphor. Trees are strong a rigid. However, they always sway in the wind. A good manager knows when to bend so they do not break.

    • Thnaks Chris. Yes, structure liberates creativity. Not too little and not too much, finding that agile middle. I love your tree analogy – stable and unstable all at the same time. Thanks again.

  2. Chris

    April 15, 2011 at 12:48 am

    I *think* I know what you are saying. Managers and leaders need to be highly organized yet flexible. For example, if you ever come into my office (actually my home office since I work from home) you will see I have everything tightly tucked away.

    Pens, pencils, paper, paper clips and everything else have their own neat little spot. My files are labeled and within easy reach. When I worked in an office and I managed people the same was true. Even in college it was that way. People loved studying at my house because it was easy. Group projects were done at my place because of the organization. No time was wasted.

    Now, managers need to be flexible in their organization and scheduling as well. Too rigid and employees will go nuts. As an executive coach, I like to use trees as a metaphor. Trees are strong a rigid. However, they always sway in the wind. A good manager knows when to bend so they do not break.

    • Thnaks Chris. Yes, structure liberates creativity. Not too little and not too much, finding that agile middle. I love your tree analogy – stable and unstable all at the same time. Thanks again.

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