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What´s up with water: Pouring water in your corporate strategy (XXV). Understanding and applying strategic agility well.

After our past week’s vacation, we are fortunate again to be writing to you. Today, we will cover the subject “Understanding and applying strategic agility well”. At the end of this essay, we dearly expect that we have accomplished our goal: to put you on a stage of confusion for strategic agility. Our aim with this saga is to set you up with the idea of what is the meaning of standing in the middle of a Tower of Babylon scenario when it comes to new notions and their applications in management. We want you to feel the disorder and muddle that exists when new frameworks are coming out from studious scholars or practitioners. We will be exceedingly delighted that you can feel the mayhem of not having a completed theory yet.

Once when we investigate, if we observe chaos, instead of worrying about it; please be delighted. that mess shows that scholars are debating about it, and they are working hard to conceptualize a theory. Once that occurs; only then we can embrace the disorientation; and, just then we are able, with bold confidence, to simply “learn to” wait. Let the experts find out what will they come up with, and hold on because these notions take around 2 or 3 decades to be proven. So please take it easy. Take your time to implement stuff that still is in the stage of potential “definition” or DBR (design-based research), before deciding to use it. So let´s begin.

When notions are in the stage of debate between practitioners and scholars. As we mentioned in our previous chapter, agility is like the tower of Babylon with multiple confusing languages. When the Babylonians started to build a pagan religious tower, God confused their language and scattered them to the ends of the earth. So that is what is happening with the term “agility”. And this situation can only be observed by taking distance from the agility status quo, and by assuming a position of outsiders. Those who are already using agility in their manufacturing plants, or their technological development improvements, aren´t able to see what we are speaking about.

When the straightforward word “agility” is used under multiple disjointed contexts, by a different group of studious researchers, under different clusters, then it is simply a notion of confusion. Even if your consulting house comes to you with an agile recipe for success, take your time to wait. Please. The notion is in the tower of Babylon stage. This situation is telling us to step back to apply it for “corporate strategy” domain decisions

What is the meaning of agility for Eleonora Escalante Strategy?   Agile is a word that comes from “agilitas”, a Latin word related to the following nouns/actions: “activity, alert, bright, quickness (mind/body), nimbleness, ease of movement, sprightliness or dexterity”. The word agile at its source is nothing related to speedy or high velocity only. For us “agility”, means a mix of several characteristics and learned capabilities all together integrated. For us, to be agile is not associated with “quick” in the context of being fast or rapid. It is related to being light and ready to act with dexterity.  

So when authors explain the state of “being agile”, and it relates to rapid decision-making and execution or flexibility, that is not what we wish you to incorporate into your mind with this saga.

The word agility for us is positioned in the context of an integral meaning. Please do not mistake it with fast but with an acuity skillfulness dexterity, or cleverness in how to decide.

Our proxy notion to strategic agility. Now that we have retaken our concept of agility, let´s escalate one level further. What is strategic agility for Eleonora Escalante Strategy? First of all the term “strategic agility” in the context of corporate strategy requires to see what is the domain of corporate strategy. “Corporate strategy is primarily about the choice of the firm´s owners about what to do/sell with the corporation or about its product portfolio”.  So what we accomplish at the corporate strategy level is decision-making at its pure core connotation in what to sell with our enterprises.  Is strategic agility a set of 3 meta-capabilities as Doz-Kosonen have described it? (See slide 4) Or is strategic agility a set of mental abilities that help us to decide correctly with an acuity skillfulness dexterity?

Being strategically agile is in the mind, it goes to the pure definition of being dexterous: being mentally agile and skillful to decide “properly”. Being strategically dexterous involves “adroitness” too, which means being mentally capable to decide properly under pressing conditions.

So before considering the three mental capabilities of Doz-Kosonen (slide number 4 above), we need to understand by heart, mind, and spirit that the foundations of “strategic agility” are located in your intellect, not in algorithms played by supercomputers. It is in our head, where we have our brains working for it. “The human mind is uniquely suited to solving mysteries, to going beyond the evidence to find solutions that seize new insights, opportunities, and interpretations”(1).  If our minds are not well developed and trained, little we can do to take the correct decisions at the corporate level. When I was teaching, I enjoyed asking questions to my former students. I adored seeing them perplexed, trying to use their minds to make sense and offer an answer to strategic dilemmas. I am sure all of us enjoy finding solutions to complex issues, and that is why we need continuously to train our brains for it.  

Water is all around us. In everything we do. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Microsoft Office Library

Strategic Agility comes with training.  The importance of pampering and training our minds to be strategically agile requires a lot of time. Decades of preparation. That is why we go to school from earlier ages, that is why we go to the university. Our education should be the initial foundation path to learning how to think and how to gather mental skills for becoming investigators or researchers of our own disciplines, careers, or occupations. We need to be trained to acquire a mindset of “Dora la Exploradora”, or “a Sherlock Holmes” or an “Agatha Christie´s Poirot” mindset.  Solving problems for every human is part of our DNA. That is what we do every day, even in the most repetitive and simple experiences.  Our education should help us to learn cognitive processes, which are the mental abilities that allow us to discover, know and understand the things around us. These cognitive processes (1) include attending, thinking, remembering, memorizing, interpreting experiences, reasoning, organizing, and classifying information, setting priorities, abstracting, analyzing errors, learning from them, reviewing the consequences of our actions, etc. We need to learn how to build a detective mind, using deductive or inductive thinking and/or both Moreover, beyond examining evidence, but for understanding ourselves, and how our given brain functions. These cognitive processes only come with time, a lot of patience, and training.

Strategic Agility is settled with investigating thoughts. We only acquire the cognitive process of strategic agility by igniting our brains with research and investigation. Asking questions is just the first step in human cognition. It doesn´t end there. “Cognition is an active process” (1): It is not only to take or gather data or information, it´s not only to sort it, or to make sense of it. It implies transforming your problem-solving mental maps, planning and unplanning, arguing with yourself, introspecting, imagining, failing, and creatively jumping into making things clearer and better. Again and again.

Building the blocks for developing strategic agility.  Since strategic agility takes time, then thanks to God we have several decades to be prepared and qualified for it. Don´t expect a kid or a teenager to show strategic agility (as we have defined it in this saga) because they are so young, and are still in the process of learning to find out how their brains are learning to perform and/or will work in the future. That is why is so dangerous to give them supercomputers hidden under their Smartphones. That is why is so risky to put them to lead organizations or countries. That is why is so perilous that they don´t read at least 30 pages per day. And that is why is so horrible to push them to leave the pencils, pens, and paper notes. Handwriting with our fingers helps us to think differently, at least in K-12 and some core university courses.

Our brain requires training all the time.

Building intellectual blocks for strategic agility is not in the hands of supercomputer algorithms. It comes from real experiences, not virtual. That is why we socialize with others, that is why we play in the adventurous nature (under the Montessorian philosophy), that is why we read on white pages with black tinted words (to ignite our imagination), that is why need to learn to enjoy genuine and real board family games (as Pictionary, UNO cards, Scrabble, Jenga, Connect4, chess, and/or adult puzzles of 1000 pieces). “Toys R us” and similar stores are radically important for kids and adults, as a source of toys for playing! Additionally, we pursue different extra-curricular courses related to art or any kind of outside sport that triggers integral physical well-being. On the other hand, exploring the great outdoors benefits our brain to connect the intellectual skills that come from playing and studying, with the whole interpretation of our mental position on the planet.  Our contact with nature (walking through forests, deserts, canyons, and mountains; exploring the sea, rivers, lakes; flying our skies; etc) supports us greatly, to keep a healthy brain that can handle our cognitive evolution in the context of our planet priorities. Furthermore, what we eat benefits our brain to be wholesome from a biological point of view.

We are demanded to provide opportunities to our brain for learning how to think, not just for problem-solving, but for the rest of cognitive processes development. So, please that is why all our inventions can´t limit or restrain our brains’ constant stimulation. We are against the excessive use of NAIQIs (Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum supremacy, and the Internet) because by offering our role of cognitive processes to the supercomputers with their algorithms, we are simply ruining our capacity to learn how to be strategically agile.

Strategic Agility is grounded in slowness and reflection. In my research for this article, I read an academic paper that defines agility as slowness and reflection (2). The author states that “companies have discovered that their operations should also be based on reflection and in-depth thinking, inviting lower speed or even inaction”.  We give a step further. We have arrived at a deduction that may be well received by psychologists and those who understand how our brain works.  Strategic agility is grounded in research and investigation. We can only learn to be strategically agile when we act as detectives of our minds, first. We are obliged to understand how we think, and how we decide, to begin with. This is so important for anyone, not just for scholars or practitioners. 

Once we know how we think and decide, then we will be able to understand how we conceptualize and how can we exercise or train our mindset skills to become strategically agile.  For this, we need to be patient and slow. Reflection is the base for acquiring the skill of being agile when we are confronted with changing conditions. Suppose we don´t allow ourselves to learn how we think, and we don´t train to reflect. In that case, it will be impossible to adopt the correct strategic agility capabilities within teams that work together to solve the puzzles of transformation.

We will never learn to be strategically agile if we don´t slow down, and learn at the slow pace of our brains. Even the most prodigious brains that have ever existed had to learn slowly.

Eleonora Escalante

Is strategic agility a notion that might be utilized to solve the issues of the water cycle in corporate strategy? We also reply to this question with another one:  If the strategic agility foundation is in our mindset skills that are acquired through training during all our lifetime, do you think this notion will help us to solve the water cycle problems? Do we have all the facts in place to decide if strategic agility is a notion that promises to help us decide correctly when it comes to saving the water cycle?

Our next subject: How to foster strategic agility at the corporate level.

Strategic Music Section:

Why did we choose Maxim Vengerov? Maxim Vengerov’s biography is plenty of experiences, since he was a child, up to these days. Read his biography please: https://maximvengerov.com/about  What has taken our attention is how he introduced his little daughter, Lisa to playing in a duet the piece “Alessandro Marcello Adagio”.  Can you go back to our previous publication, please? Can you listen to this piece again? It is captivating how the foundation of the song remains on the piano, in the little hands of Lisa, meanwhile, the father raises the main melody with his 1727 “Kreutzer” Stradivarius violin.

That is how strategic agility works. In the hands of Lisa, Vengerov´s daughter, is the foundation, the groundwork. At an early age, is where kids can gain the fundamentals of their cognitive processes… and that is why early education is so important. If you follow the adagio, her dad’s violin interpretation superimposes with the higher tones as if he is showing to her how elevated she will be able to play later in her life, whatever instrument she decides to pursue.

From this song, the lesson for us is: to learn to dedicate our lives to the perfection of our thinking capabilities. It takes at least 40 to 50 years to begin to think at the highest of our potential. If for any reason, your brain wasn´t stimulated to think during your infancy, it is time to turn off your smartphone, stop to play video games or apps, and begin to do all that it takes to reconnect with the nature of your mind. Without our cognition processes “on point”, we will never accomplish strategic agility well. No matter how hard we try, if our basic mental skills are not trained constantly and properly (as I wrote above) they won´t sound like the bold piano played by Vengerov´s daughter.  And without good foundations, it is impossible to build standing success for the future.

Songs of today are interpreted by Isabelle Faust. The first piece is the rehearsal for the Beethoven Concerto for Violon, with the Orchestra de Paris, under the Musical Direction of Daniel Harding in November 2018. The second video is a piece of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto – Symphony No. 5 & The Hebrides. With the Freiburger Barockorchester, under the direction of Pablo Heras-Casado (June 2017). Enjoy Isabelle´s interpretations!

See you next Friday 12th, with the 26th episode of “What´s up with water: Pouring water in your corporate strategy: How to foster strategic agility at the corporate level”.. Thank you for reading to me.


“Violin Maya”. An aquarelle exercise by Eleonora Escalante 2019. I started to paint this artwork in Starbucks Los Proceres, San Salvador. Size: 48 cm x 68 cm

Sources of Reference utilized to prepare the slides and the material above:

(1) https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/359583/the-complete-idiots-guide-to-psychology-by-joni-e-johnston-psyd/

(2) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00081256211028739 Prange, C. “Agility as the Discovery of Slowness”.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated. 

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