Agile, the goat

Agile, the goat - image for article by Greg Alder

“Mr da Vinci, the consultants are here.” She ushers the four consultants into the office.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Please, have a seat. No. Please have four seats. I think that will be more comfortable for you. So, how can I help you?”

“Mr da Vinci, thank you for seeing us. It’s not how you can help us. It’s how we can help you. We are leaders in a proven new business methodology that we believe can help da Vinci Enterprises.”

“I see. And what is this new methodology called?”

“It’s called Agile.”

“Agile? Agile what?”

“Just Agile.”

“Agile is an adjective. Shouldn’t it be Agility?”

“No. It’s just Agile.”

“I’m sorry, Miss …?”

“Washington.”

“Miss Washington, I am just kidding. Of course, I have heard of Agile. It’s the latest buzzword, isn’t it?”

“It’s more than a buzzword, Mr da Vinci.”

“Innovation is more than a buzzword, but it became a buzzword all the same. Do you know there were 247 books published last year with the word Innovation in the title? Do you know that every company listed on the New York Stock Exchange has an executive with the word Innovation on his or her business card? Do you know that every college in the country has the word Innovation in their prospectus and on their website? At least once. Innovation is more than a buzzword, but it is now so common that it has become meaningless and impotent.”

“Well, Mr da Vinci, Agile isn’t a buzzword, but it is certainly current.”

“Yes, so tell me more.”

“Well, Agile is, obviously, about being nimble. It’s about constantly assessing a situation and adapting one’s plans.”

“So, it’s a methodology for testing the landscape and adapting to the changes?”

“Yes, it is. It is also a project management tool that breaks large projects down into short, sharp tasks.”

“Like one step at a time?”

“Yes, you could say that.”

“Miss Washington, could I ask you and your team to come over here to the window? Now, tell me what you see.”

“Well, I see a rocky outcrop. Almost a cliff, really.”

“Yes. And do you see that white spot up there high on the cliff face?”

“Yes, I do. Oh, it’s moving.”

“That is my goat, Miss Washington.”

“Oh.”

“Do you know my goat’s name? Silly me. How could you? My goat is called Agile. Ironic, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Nervous.

“I admit it’s not a very creative name. You might expect something cleverer from someone like me. I watched that goat one day. I saw it start to climb that rock face. It had to adapt to the landscape as it climbed. First through that sand at the base, then the loose unstable pebbles, before it rose from rock ledge to rock ledge. I noticed that its steps and its speed varied from surface to surface. It seemed to assess the best strategy for dealing with each change. Before long, it had reached its goal – those tasty bushes up the top. That’s why I named the goat Agile.”

“Hmm. I see.”

“Now, if Agile were creative, Agile might have taken a different strategy to reach those bushes. Perhaps a helicopter. You know I invented the helicopter, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Agile could have been lowered from a helicopter to feast on those bushes. Or, Agile might have thought that instead of eating the bush, maybe I can bring its seeds down to the valley and plant them in the fertile soil by the river. In that way, I can have all the bush I could ever want to eat. But Agile didn’t think of these options. Agile did what goats have always done. He climbed up the cliff and ate the bush. So you see, Agile isn’t a fresh way to solve a problem. It’s a neat way to execute a solution. To find a new solution, to zig whilst everyone else zags, you need creativity.”

“But Mr da Vinci, Agile is a highly regarded discipline and …”

“I am sorry to cut you off, Miss Washington. I agree. Agility – sorry, Agile – is a useful discipline. But it is the antithesis of creativity. Creativity is undisciplined. It is chaotic and random. But out of that chaos comes beautiful, unexpected, unimagined new ways forward. You look at a company like Apple. They have discipline in the way they engineer and strategise and distribute and communicate. No doubt they have agility. They would be constantly assessing the landscape and adapting to it. BUT, they would be nothing today if it weren’t for the wild, crazy impossible dreams of some undisciplined college drop-outs meeting in a garage all those years ago.

“So, Miss Washington, gentlemen, I wish you well with Agile. It has a valuable role to play. I am a creative person. Perhaps I lack the methodology that Agile would bring. But at least I am creative. If Agile thinking helps me bring my original ideas to market and helps me assemble the teams that give each project its best chance of success and helps me keep a step ahead, then that is great. But first comes the idea, the ability to think of things that no competitor has thought of. If you like, I can teach you the discipline necessary to think creatively. But that’s for another day. Let me see you to the door.”

“Thank you, Mr da Vinci.”

“By the way, do you remember some of the buzzwords of the past? Paradigm shift? Low-hanging fruit? Best of breed? Clicks and mortar? Do you know that buzzword-compliant was once a buzzword?”

“Thank you, Mr da Vinci.”

“Have you seen my flying machine? My armoured car? My submarine? My robot? My machine gun? My revolving bridge? My parachute?”

“Thank you. Mr da Vinci.”

Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash

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