Agility (and Elephants)

Illustration by Konani Chinn

Agile businesses try to develop a culture of moving fast and improving their products quickly.

Can Elephants Dance?

Agility is nothing new in the natural world… some animals have always had it, like hummingbirds. Others never really needed it, like elephants.

But in the jungle of business, everyone wants agility. The world’s changing quickly, and smaller, faster-moving companies are winning. They adapt faster to changing technologies and consumer tastes. They ship innovative products quicker. And they react faster when the market changes, so they don’t get killed.

So how does a business become agile? Many try to copy the methods of Silicon Valley, where tech startups are small, ambitious, and don’t have lots of ‘runway’ (time to experiment) before running out of money.

Here’s some examples of how Silicon Valley companies try to be agile:

Agile development:’ A software design method that requires less process, smaller teams, better communication and faster design cycles.

‘Failing fast:’ The idea that it’s good to make mistakes, and that what matters is not avoiding mistakes, but how fast you make and learn from them.

‘Fast iterations:’ The idea that the faster you can improve upon your products, the more quickly you’ll get customer (market) feedback, and know if your design investments are paying off.

‘Minimum viable product:’ The idea of launching the bare minimum, no-frills product that will meet the customer’s need, to find out if they like your idea, with the least amount of development.

‘Hack nights:’ Informal, small-group get togethers where employees brainstorm and develop new product ideas, even if they’re not already part of the company’s roadmap.

Just doing these things won’t necessarily make your company agile. Agility must be a mindset – part of a company’s culture – to really work. And that’s easier for small startups to achieve than for huge established companies (elephants).

But it’s not impossible. You may have heard that whales can dance. And they’re even bigger than elephants. So you never know.