Agile is a term often used to generically refer to agile software development approaches, such as Extreme Programming (XP), Lean and Scrum. The concept of agility, on the other hand, is an attempt to move Agile outside of software development.
Agility is not a specific methodology or even a general framework. It’s a description of how an organisation operates through embracing a specific type of growth mindset that is similar to the agile mindset often described by members of the agile software development community. Essentially, an agile mindset is an attitude that supports agile thinking, agile ways of working, and the creation of an agile environment. Agility is the capability and willingness of the organisation to adapt to, create and leverage a growth mindset by abandoning old thinking habits and replacing them with new ones based on Agile values and principles.
A mindset is essentially a collection ofthoughts, beliefs and values that shape our thought habits, which, in turn, affect how we think, what we feel, and what we do. These “habits of the mind” can influence our ability to learn and lead, to achieve and contribute. Similarly, a group mindset is a set of assumptions, methods or notions held by a group of people that is so embedded that it creates a powerful incentive for the people in the group to continue to think, feel and act in certain ways. So, a mindset is a big deal.
According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, our mindset plays a pivotal role in what we want and whether we can achieve it (O’Keefe, Dweck and Walton, 2018). In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), she defines two basic mindsets that shape our lives: fixed and growth.
In a fixed mindset, imperfections are shameful. In a growth mindset, all things can be developed and improved (Dweck, 2006). But the distinction between the fixed and growth mindset may not always be so “fixed”. For example, a person might believe that some skills are workable whilst others are not or can switch between mindsets from time to time under certain circumstances. In other words, the perception of or reaction to events can be situational depending on the different contextual variables at play - and this applies not only to individuals but also to teams, groups and organisations. Mindset dominance is likely to be situational and may depend on the people involved. That is, within the same organisation, there are likely to be some people with a fixed mindset and others with a growth mindset, so the reactions to any given situation may be a reflection of the dominant mindset (Dweck, 2006).
Nurturing a growth mindset can have many positive outcomes for an organisation. It boosts employee morale and collaboration, and it has been linked to improved employee performance and, by extension, company profitability (Levine, 2019). In a growth mindset environment, employees have a greater sense of independence and belonging. Recognising these benefits, many big companies, like Microsoft, Ericsson, Magna International, and Brillio, have started to adopt a growth mindset culture to make the most out of their employees’ motivation and to learn through failure (Levine, 2019).
An agile mindset goes beyond simply “doing agile”. Having an agile mindset is about being able to respond to change. It’s about adding value from the outset and working collaboratively with others by sharing the same common goal and using a continuous improvement process (inspection, adaptation, and transparency).
“Being agile”is a manifestation of an agile (or a growth) mindset that opens the door to agility. It’s all about improving and advancing, increasing the speed of response to change, and failing and learning fast in order to keep a fast pace of innovation and value delivery.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.