“Give up the thought that you have control. You don’t. The best you can do is adapt, anticipate, be flexible, sense the environment and respond.”Frances Arnold
According to the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, agility and change of direction are independent skills. The popular image of athletes performing “agility training” are not agility exercises. These are change-of-direction skills. Change-of-direction (C.O.D.) skills contribute to agility, but they are not the same thing. What has it got to do with innovation and mental flexibility? This Thursday Thought explores how.
Reactive Decision Making
C.O.D. skills include cone drills, speed ladders, and changing direction within defined parameters. The ground is steady; the environment is predetermined, the playing field is stable.
Agility training involves reactive decision making, while C.O.D. drills do not. Reactive decision requires us to make decisions under pressure with multiple simultaneously moving parts. Agility tests proved that the cognitive element of agility is important to overall performance. This means that just because you train C.O.D. (ladders, cones, etc.) does not translate to an improvement with agility. Look at the skills on display below, the player receives a pass while under pressure, evades a tackle, side steps another defender to create space for his teammate and makes the pass. You can train for this, but it puts a focus on cognitive skills that enhance physical ability.
I share this C.O.D. v agility comparison in a sporting context to draw an analogy with mental agility in a business context. I want to highlight reactive decision making in particular. Just as C.O.D skills prepare an athlete for predictable scenarios, the education system prepares us for a world that is steady and staid. It rewards us for collecting dots rather than connecting them. It rewards us for remembering answers rather than asking valuable questions. Likewise, the business world values predictability. It values exploitation over exploration.
In a world of rapid change, economic turmoil and unforgiving customers, companies will not survive focusing solely on C.O.D. skills. Corporate C.O.D. is akin to proactive decision making. Proactive decision making is about rational decisions, based on a predictable business environment. The future will only be more complicated and complex, and the business environment increasingly ambiguous.
To adopt mental agility, we need to embrace reactive decision making. This means adapting the strategy in line with changing conditions. It means setting corporate directions rather than rigid strategies. It means encouraging exploration. It means embracing mistakes as a natural part of discovery and innovation. It means a change of mindset.
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