How to make agility your advantage in business and thrive in times of change

Imogen Roy
Sep 2 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post
If something is on the decline — a market, an industry, a tried-and-tested strategy — it means there is new life and growth elsewhere. So pack up, pick up your tent, and move on. Follow what’s alive.

In times of relentless change and uncertainty, we often have to adapt to working with limited resources.

But instead of reinventing the wheel, why not look to people who have done just that forever?

When I was 18, I travelled overland through the East, starting in India and winding my way through China, Siberia, and all the way back home to western Europe by train. I saw and lived many extraordinary things on that trip, but one experience really stands out: the time I spent with Mongolian nomads living in gers (yurts).

Along with their herds of horses they criss-cross the steppe, seeking fresh grasses in one of the driest places on earth. Mongolia can reach +50C in summer and -50C in winter, and any vegetables have to be imported from China, then preserved to last. In short, It’s a hard life.

But it’s also a life full of joy and treasure. My hosts’ ger was filled with handpainted beds and chairs decorated with intricate flower motifs, gorgeous silk rugs and hangings — all family heirlooms and gifts. They had few possessions and tools but each was precious and cared for.

Re-learn how to follow what’s alive

The principle is this: Follow what’s alive — the sun, the seasons, the water, the new growth.

Those who live by this principle accept that our world is a sea of ever-changing sands, and that the best foundation to build on sand is not a castle or a fortress, but a tent.

For decades, we’ve been told to build castles, literal and metaphorical — “build it and they will come”. In the entrepreneurship world, we’re encouraged to think of ourselves as “empire-builders” — that bigger is always better, and that success means a high headcount and an expensive corner office.

Those are precisely the kinds of castles that are having their foundations rocked right now.

When the world is constantly changing and sands are shifting, we need to be able to adapt to thrive with fewer constants, just like nomads. We need to be able to discern what is our true treasure from what is excess baggage and move to follow what’s alive.

Travel lighter in your work

If something is on the decline — a market, an industry, a tried-and-tested strategy — it means there is new life and growth elsewhere that’s harnessing that energy. So pack up, pick up your tent, and move on. Follow what is alive.

We know how to live like this. The Nomadic Principle is in our human DNA, encoded in our cells, programmed through our nervous system. It’s our nature. We’re Homo Sapiens: designed to be on the move, leaving behind what’s dead and depleted and using our intuition and creative cunning to seek out fresh growth.

It’s simply a question of remembering how, and the ones who remember fastest will be the ones who thrive.

How to design your business to withstand all seasons

Ask yourself: how can I design my business as a light-weight, hardy tent for all seasons, filled with beautiful treasure?

I’m not saying sell everything you own and move to Bali to be a ‘Digital Nomad’ (although, hey, I’m not stopping you!) What I mean is take a look around and think: am I still trying to build a castle on sand where I should be pitching a tent?

  • Are you investing in assets, infrastructure or materials that you could borrow, rent or do without instead?
  • Is your marketing approach reliant on just one channel or constant, for instance, people walking past your shop, or using Facebook?
  • Does your business model’s success rely on things staying exactly as they are today?
  • Are you unconsciously sliding towards adding more complexity or cost to your monthly outgoings because “that’s how things are normally done”?

If you’re a small business, your small-ness and agility can be turned into an incredible advantage if you embrace it. Sometimes, your unconventional advantage is so powerful, you win the market.

In the science-fiction novel Dune, the Fremen of Arrakis are dismissed by the Imperial powers as a primitive and unthreatening people who mysteriously survive out in the desert on a planet with no source of water.

But in reality, their discretion and ritualistic discipline serve to shield their incredible technology and creative resourcefulness, which they are using to plan an underground revolution. Woefully underestimated by the seemingly insurmountable imperial forces, the Fremen ultimately take back power over their planet.

Be more Fremen. Re-learn the Nomadic Principle. Follow what’s alive.

Some further reading

In my opinion, these books give some valuable insight into how to follow the Nomadic Principle in business.

Company of One by Paul Jarvis — Why keeping your business deliberately small, simple and highly profitable is the secret to a richer, more meaningful life.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz (Author of Profit First) –– “Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash is king”. Take your profit first, only then focus on growth — if you even need it for success.

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. –– The ultimate business manual on “business unusual”: resourcefulness, self-imposed ethical constraints and epic imagination from the founder of B-corp outdoor brand Patagonia.

The Innovation

A place for variety of stories from different backgrounds

Sign up for The Innovation Digest

By The Innovation

Official newsletter of The Innovation Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Imogen Roy

Written by

Strategy Coach helping entrepreneurial people be more purposeful, productive and present in life and business | www.imogenroy.com | @imogenroy

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

Imogen Roy

Written by

Strategy Coach helping entrepreneurial people be more purposeful, productive and present in life and business | www.imogenroy.com | @imogenroy

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store