It was Mary Laniyan, Consultant and Enterprise Agile Coach who made mention of this phrase during our recent chat on her show ‘Sincerely Agile with Mary’. She had invited me to do a discussion on the subject of ‘Waste Normalized.’ In our conversation, whilst we both agreed that there were vital linkages between learning agility and wastages experienced at an individual, corporate and national level, Mary went on to state: “This isn’t just about being able to learn, rather it is more about being able to ‘Learn at the speed of change!’ Quite frankly, I couldn’t agree more with Mary. I think her premise is deeply profound and highly relevant to the times in which we have found ourselves today.
I think what is equally paramount with being learning agile, is the need to recognize and admit that what has worked in the past, may not work well into the future. It is therefore our posture of a continuous cycle of learning that really moves the needle and creates a true impact for us and our organizations. Just like the Agile Business Consortium put it, “Knowledge and skills can become outdated, and if we are not careful our expertise can turn into our biggest blind spot!”
But learning agility is even more, it speaks to our ability to unlearn and then relearn. This presents a mirage of challenges and I will speak to that in a bit.
Sarah Jensen Clayton gave a succinct expression to drivers of change as we see it today. In her Harvard Business Review Article, An Agile Approach to Change Management, she said, “The business world has arguably seen more disruption in the last nine months than in the last nine years, bringing new and urgent demand for change. Initiatives are being launched by the dozen, adoption can’t happen fast enough, and the stakes are higher than ever. In the midst of a Covid-induced recession, and with some industries on the brink of extinction, change isn’t about fine-tuning — it’s existential”
Again this reality continues to push many to learn whole new ways of being and applying themselves. For organizations, part of this includes but is not limited to corporate reviews and modification business models. Many, unfortunately, have and continue to struggle. Why? Because for them, the very process of change is scarier than the opportunities to be gained as a result.
This unfortunate and gloomy phenomenon is observable across individual, corporate and national levels. Why? Because right at the heart of change is a vital need to reskill and upskill – phenomena that interestingly scares the heck out of a number of people -yet is evidently and increasingly becoming major requirements for surviving in a disruptive era in which we now live.
But the question is, why is change so hard? Why do many find it difficult to change their minds; their methods? Why is it hard to learn new ways?
It is clear, how this concept can be dissected at an individual, corporate and national level. For instance, whilst employees wait till their employers drop opportunities on their laps, a more proactive learning agile stance would be to actively pursue upskilling and reskilling endeavours capable of positioning them for relevance within their organizations vis-a-vis her present and future skill requirements.
Still, on the individual level and with respect to business leaders, the posture of change resistance is significant where some leaders are still grappling with unravelling the mystery of remote work and its continued relevance for their workforce – post COVID-19!
On an organizational level and being in management learning interventions, I’ve heard quite a number of phrases that subtly uncovers the rigid postures of some leaders. At a particular session, someone hinted that the change in the organizational structure being pushed for largely by Gen Y and Z is simply not achievable.
Question is, ‘is it not?’ Times have unravelled how many organizations do not change unless a drastically painful situation compels them to do so. Many organizations are so blind-sighted about the disruption it takes them completely unawares. Before they know it, an underdog or an unexpected competition has taken the significant market share. Looking at things more proactively, one would wish that business leaders were more actively curious, open-minded and are willing to experiment as opposed to the posture of consistently projecting the premise: ‘This cannot work here.’
To my mind, simple actions can go a long way, if an organization learns to foster a culture of learning and growth, there are innumerable dividends that that can deliver.
For nations and with particular reference to Nigeria, much of the conversations emerging in our polity borders around the government’s relentless drive in harnessing state resources to push for certain animal husbandry practices which other nations have long jettisoned on account of their outdatedness. Many believe that these strange moves by far trumps all others vis-à-vis the country’s leadership penchant for towing paths which predominantly reeks of backwardness.
Pray why is it so hard to change course and learn new ways?
In more recent news, Nigerian legislatures are seen frantically looking to pass into law a petroleum bill that has been on the floor of the house for more than a decade now. With the amount of energy being put into the works, it’s difficult to imagine that the focus here is on the same fossil fuels whose global demand continues to plummet. Blame this on the new quest for the sourcing of clean energy by foremost global oil giants with the likes of Total even changing its name to reflect her new drive for the production and supply of clean energy.
With all the afore highlighted, it’s easy to see why most of the frustrations of the younger generations with the older generation [in Nigeria] is hinged largely on the older generations’ posture of sticking to their ways even where clearly it is leading her nowhere!
To conclude, I will attempt to highlight a few reasons why learning new ways seem such a herculean task for many:
- The thought of challenging existing thinking pattern is scary.
- Moving away from what they already know and have mastered is deeply uncomfortable.
- The familiar has worked; has served their purposes and they truly want to believe [albeit erroneously] that it will serve them for longer- if only they can sustain the strength of their focus.
- The admittance of the need for change brings to view the staleness and inadequacy of the systems and structures [which they’ve laboured so hard to build] in taking them into the future.
- They’re forced to admit the vulnerability of their methods and question their expertness.
- Charting new pathways, changing courses would require them to apply themselves mentally and quite frankly they simply aren’t ready to exert and extend themselves in this manner.
- They are unwilling to question their continued current and future relevance therefore, burying their heads in the sand is much easier.
Underlining our resistance to change is the reluctance to not only unlearn old ways but also relearning new ways, techniques and approaches. And with many ‘lucky’ organizations that have taken risky plunges, we can only imagine what ‘luck’ might lie on the other side of change!
Historically, and for the records, we find that the fate of most organizations with a posture of reluctance in proactively responding to change is in the archives! To this end, the import of a statement I made in a previous article still rings true. “Even though adaptability happens – eventually, doing so at your own pace can come at a price!”