African man practicing break dance.

Vital skills for the future.  Agility and flexibility

This article marks the halfway point in our journey into the vital future skills required for our youth. I hope that the past few articles have been insightful and that you are already beginning to put the advice into practice. I hope more than anything that I have lit a few lightbulbs for you and that your world is opening and changing as you grow individually and help the youth around you grow into successful people too.  

This week we will be exploring agility and flexibility.  

agil·​i·​ty | \ ə-ˈji-lə-tē \ 
: the quality or state of being agile:  NIMBLENESS, DEXTERITY 

flex·​i·​ble | \ ˈflek-sə-bəl \ 
1: capable of bending or being bent 
2: easily changed: able to change or to do different things 
3: willing to change or to try different things 

To me, they are almost the same concept when we are talking about personality traits. If I was pushed to make a differentiation, I would say that being agile means that you are able to do things quickly and easily, while being flexible means that you can change more easily. Ideally, you want the flexibility to be agile. You want to be open to changes, and able to make them and adapt when necessary. Agility is essentially the natural evolution of flexibility – it is flexibility born out of necessity.  

Without stating the obvious, having these traits is essential for a world where the future is quite unpredictable. If we can’t know what is coming in terms of work and careers and technology, then we need to be agile and flexible so that we can negotiate that unpredictability, and adapt to what is required, quickly and easily. Clearly these are critical attributes to foster in ourselves, and for those of us with influence over the youth, in them too as they need to face the unpredictable future ahead of them.  

Most of us are creatures of habit and resistant to change. Change feels uncomfortable. The known, our routines, are much less stressful to us. But change is necessary. Now more than ever before, we need to be agile and flexible.  

Success is an ongoing process and for agile people, it develops through experience. To be adaptable is key – ask a chameleon. Or a lizard. Adapting as we hurtle into this time of rapid change will require high levels of learning agility – better higher-order thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity – as well as the ability to quickly learn and apply multidimensional skills in ever changing situations. I refer again to the chameleon.  

Being willing and able to learn from experiences, and then apply that learning to new situations is a strong indicator of future success. Alvin Toffler said that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” 
 

It is worthy to note that there are different types of agility: 

  • Intellectual agility – learning and unlearning through experiences 
  • Adaptable agility – flexibility to adapt 
  • Relationship & communication agility – self-awareness and awareness of others with the ability to change and evolve in how we relate to each other. Skills required for this type of agility are communication, compassion, truth, respect, love, and active listening. 

But for me, what is more important than the types of agility, is how we foster agility and flexibility in people.  

Agility is the ability to adapt and respond to change 
Jim Highsmith 

People who are agile are more productive, create higher quality outputs and are able to adapt quicker. It’s a no brainer that we need to start fostering agility and flexibility in the youth if we want them to thrive and manage whatever fast changes this world of ever evolving technology becomes. Change needs to be reframed as an opportunity, not a threat. So the things we can do to create agile and flexible people are: 

  1. Teach them to challenge existing ideas – just because it has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way.  
  2. Teach them to commit to continuous improvement – never settle for something being complete. Continually looking to improve encourages creative thinking and stimulates interest. 
  3. Teach them to look for new opportunities  
  4. Teach them the power of collaboration – strengthening relationships, bringing the best of their expertise and capabilities together 
  5. Teach them to set clear goals 
  6. Teach them to prioritise tasks – the musts; the shoulds; the coulds; the won’ts 
  7. Encourage out the box thinking to prepare them for the unexpected – people who plan for and anticipate challenges are those who are most likely to find them easier to deal with. 
  8. Encourage them to trust their intuition – agility is intuitive 

Basically, becoming more agile means expecting, managing, and embracing change. Being agile is not just a way of operating, it is a mindset. It means empowering people to navigate uncertainty. It means being able to develop new skills quickly, without an ‘instruction manual’.  

To survive and succeed, we need to be chameleons in our environments. We need to take a leaf from a lizard’s book – if we lose our tails, we need to know how to quickly grow a new one. Without feeling it is a disaster.  

Change is a fact of life, and with the rapid rate the world is changing, it is now a fundamental function of our existence if we want to thrive. The cost of not changing, of not being flexible and agile, is far greater than the price of change. Flexibility and agility are skills that will define our future success. 

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