Personal Agility: Maneuvering through the changes and surprises in life

How did our ancestors thrive and survive the wilds of Africa, the scorching heat and the barren sands of the Middle east, the freezing temperatures of the polar regions? Scientists would say it’s all about adaptability and agility. If centuries of adaptation through innovation have made the earth a more comfortable abode for men, does personal agility still play a critical role in our day-to-day living?

Man may have made innovations in leaps and bounds through technology that made life so much more comfortable but ironically, they have made living more complicated and dynamic. Our ancestors have to adapt to their existing environment but now more than adapting we have to be agile enough to cope with the rush of changes that flood technology and our social lives. We need to have that flexibility to fit our lives in the fast-changing nature of our current milieu.

Adaptability involves a process and takes time to be fully realised. On the other hand, agility is having the ability to anticipate and respond rapidly to changing conditions and to handle eventualities in the future. It enables people to squarely face the fact that man lives in an era of global permanent change – change that  is not constant but exponential (evolving in increasing bounds, not in constant steps) in growth. And in this context, it is taking a proactive approach to change, anticipating challenges and opportunities. It involves the willingness to rethink past assumptions, and the readiness to effectively adapt to change.

Studies have proven that the capacity to be agile is a manifestation of man’s emotional intelligence (EI). This capacity is underpinned by other EI competencies such as innovation, communications skills, initiative for bias and action and resilience.

The failure to adapt to change entailed staggering losses to even big companies like Nokia and Ericsson. It even closed down behemoth companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).

Companies who survive and thrive in this milieu are those who are agile enough to visualise upcoming changes and to strategically prepare and respond to them.  All their efforts toward this end actually boil down to developing the agility of the individuals that make them up.

We may not be involved with corporate goals, gains, and governance, but, in our every day lives as individuals, developing our agility to respond to changes happening around us is critical. We don’t only have to cope with unpredictable and sudden changes in life (death, tragedy, sicknesses, natural disasters, etc.) but we also have to contend with changes that can be anticipated such as a new job, a change of residence, a new team, a new playing field.

Although changes that contribute to our personal welfare are welcoming, life will never tire of affording us changes that may be distressing and we need personal agility to cope with this reality. For example, the birth of a child is a joyful event but the other side of it is the reality that a new mother’s life will never be the same again and that challenges of bringing up a child are up ahead.

Even what we thought as mundane events in life are actually engaging us in situations that call for our agility: An officemate you are working with to meet a project deadline suddenly calls in sick; You’re about to sink in your bed after a toilsome day when a friend calls to ask for advice; You’re about to ride a bus when a child darted into the heavy traffic; You thought Mr./Mrs. right has come your way in a party, but he’s about to leave.  Have you been in situations similar to these? How did your personal agility fare?

A shallow understanding  of how exponential and even everyday changes affect man’s life could muddle our  view of how we are personally coping with changes and anticipating it. Without a realistic perspective of where we are at  moment in terms of our personal agility, we will never improve on this capacity. Try to asses yourself and your current situation as you ponder on the following traits of people who are lacking in this capacity:

  • Lack the perspective to deal with changing realities.
  • Deny, ignore, and/or resist change as it occurs around them.
  • Are unwilling to explore or be open to the new possibilities that change may bring.
  • Lack the ability to anticipate and adapt to change.
  • Blame others for changing circumstances.
  • Maintain an inflexible attitude in the face of change.

Now let’s take a look at what people who have the competence to be agile does in the light of the the changes going on around them. They:

  • manage changing situations and transitions with ease.
  • examine situations from many perspectives.
  • anticipate the need for change before it is imposed.
  • strategically and proactively embrace change.
  • are willing to rethink their assumptions.
  • are adaptable, flexible and respond rapidly in the face of changeLearn from experience.
  • adjust their approach to meet the demands of ever-changing situations.

To which of these two sets of people can you identify yourself with? If the latter list is more descriptive of your current disposition, perhaps it’s time to seriously consider if you want to stay that way for the rest of your life. The good news is, that same capacity of our ancestors to survive the surprises and changes of life in their period of time is within us all. As in all competencies of EI it can be developed. If the desire for a positive change is brewing in your heart right now, acting on the following developmental tips can help you experience its realisation in your life:

  • Acknowledge the normal human responses (phases) of change – denial, resistance, exploration, and new beginnings – and make a commitment to maintaining an open mind toward change and its phases: Ask questions, seek out information, maintain a “big-picture” view of world realities, anticipate changes before they occur, and brainstorm possible approaches to dealing with change.
  • Recognise what is fiction and what is fact – differentiate what you want to happen from what will or is happening.
  • Acknowledge what is within your control and what isn’t, and focus on what you can control.
  • Seek out people who can provide you with support during transitions.
  • Be willing to try out new ideas. Be willing to question long-held assumptions.

As you transition to a new way of facing and dealing with changes in life, you will need someone to walk alongside you. If you feel like needing professional help in this area, we have a team of experts who can assist you. Contact us today.