What the f*** is agile?

Aliens in the boardroom

Let’s do a little thought experiment: Imagine you were an alien. Your people let’s call them the Scrummies (because you are an agile bunch) recently visited planet earth for the first time and captured a few humans, a species which seems to play quite a role on their home planet. Now, because they seem so alien, you decide to study them. After all, you are a senior alien researcher on planet Xtreme and because you are so intelligent (we are talking like 1 million times more intelligent than the humans you are studying) you have been able to decipher human language in a heartbeat. So, you have a conversation with them. Whilst you are chatting away, they recommend you go and visit a boardroom in a large corporate. “To really understand our species, they claim, you have to do this”.

Transitioning from steam engines to an exponential economy

But let’s take a little history class first to understand what’s going on here: In the industrial age, we built large hierarchical organizations, obedient citizens and students, who would sit in rank and file for six hours straight. This seemed to make sense in a society where our economy was geared towards productivity and scalability. After all, we set up large factories, where people had to function like machines. Not surprisingly, it was in this era that a guy called Frederick Taylor (1856–1915) came up with his philosophy which became the foundation of the division of labor. It was a carefully crafted manifesto which celebrated a mechanistic view of our world and humanity. In the tradition of this manifesto, we created departments which were focused on very specialized responsibilities aka human resources, finance, product departments. Whilst the departmentalization supported the goal of mass production and fostered the unprecedented commercialization of our world, it secretly got away with another subtler and perhaps unwanted implication: company politics. Departments inherited clear responsibilities and goals. And by executing on their departmental strategy, they became companies within companies, establishing their own subculture and DNA. This inevitably created conflicts and confusion over what was mine and what was yours. We can observe the manifestation of this up to today in corporate meetings, which often become outlets for endless conflicts over jurisdictions.

  • We frankly don’t have time for company politics anymore and need to build open communication as an inherent process into the system. Agile methodologies and self-organization models are already doing this to some degree.
  • We need to find new ways of structuring our organizations and optimize them for speed and agility more than for scalability and efficiency
  • In the 21st century, we need to learn new competencies, which may have never entered our school curriculums (such as dealing with social media addictions, discerning the wildly important, practicing mindfulness and digital skills). And yes this means learning how to code should be a fundamental skill in any curriculum.

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Markus Von Der Luehe

Markus Von Der Luehe

CEO and Founder of The Future Academy X. Lived and worked in Sydney and the Silicon Valley, lean Startup fan, Viktor Frankl addict https://futureacademy.eu/