Agile Decision Making at the Leading Edge of Disruption


by Jack Byers October 2020

In the recent past, we lived in an environment where life was linear; tomorrow was an extension of today, and today was an extension of yesterday. We thought in terms of risk mitigation, incremental improvement, and market share. We had processes, procedures, and training programs developed over the years, that when followed, delivered high-quality outcomes every time. The company market position hadn’t changed in a decade. Because the environment was linear, and leadership had decades of experience and achievement in their roles, the organization created annual grand strategies with the reasonable expectation of success. The operating tempo of the environment and its annualized cycles established corresponding waterfall style planning, decision making, process, and reporting structures. Our world was a complicated but stable system.

But we no longer live in that time.

It all ended with the coronavirus pandemic creating the most far-reaching global disruption since World War II. It’s not fair to blame everything on the Coronavirus; many of the changes were already emerging and would have taken place over a prolonged and more manageable period. The pandemic has magnified, broadened, and accelerated the disruption. It has moved us from a complicated system to a complex system. In a complicated system, we can effectively predict outcomes, but in a complex system, it is increasingly difficult, and in many situations, impossible.

The emerging new normal is disrupting governments, industries, and households. Life has become non-linear; we find ourselves with little experience or achievement to draw from. Solutions will not be quick, easy, nor final. In complex systems, unpredictable random events occur frequently.

One day we will wake up to our new stable normal at the end of a long transformational journey made up of trial and error invention, innovation, and refinement.

Best guess, a decade before we return to the next stable normal. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of disruption from forces such as declining resources, rapid technology development, and diffusion, and aggressive geopolitics, to name a few.

Whether we like it or not, disruption is the key to renewal and growth. Without it, industries, markets, civilizations stagnate and pass.

The opportunity; we get to invent our future, our new normal.

For some, the time ahead will begin with a fight for survival. For others, it will be about taking advantage of unexpected opportunities and looking at growth steps. But the one thing for sure is, to survive and thrive, there are serious goals to be met, decisions to be made, new solutions invented, and innovative strategies to implement, tested, modified, and results achieved—all within the context of a complex system at the pace of disruption. Decisions are made not at the time of our choosing but as windows of threats and opportunities randomly appear.

Future success begins with our ability to accept that today was not yesterday.

What worked in the past may not apply or may not be the best solution in the future, and that goes for everything from products to business models and organizational structures. Here we must always remember

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that’s wrong that gets you in trouble” Mark Twain

With this new reality, speed and agility are the only real discriminators. Our focus must remain on the goal while embracing change concerning methods.

We need to make time our weapon of choice.

But how do we do that?

It begins with the people who will deliver future success and their organization. In the past, we judged people by their knowledge of the market and getting results. But the market no longer looks or acts as it did. It has an entirely new profile requiring significant changes to business models and the approach when running the business.

The teams who will make a difference in this complex system are entrepreneurial, comfortable with calculated risks, and opportunistic aggression. They are creative and fast problem solvers. People who are always on the offensive disrupting others while at home with the position of: “I don’t know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen, but I am going to be prepared to take advantage of it when it does.” They see disruption as an opportunity.

The new tempo of business is fast and erratic, requiring speed and agility. We need to make time our weapon of choice.

For agile decision making at the leading edge of disruption

Teams need to be supported by processes that provide continuous holistic dominant knowledge of the environment vs. episodic reporting. Intelligence must be available and presented in a way that ensures a cognitive oneness across the team. To make decisions, the team needs to understand what is occurring at all times across the environment.

To drive their advantage at the leading edge of an opportunity, teams come together on a two-week sprint decision making cycle. Aggressive, opportunistic strategies are designed, tasks are assigned, and methods for tracking success are implemented.

This two-week sprint decision making cycle based on continuous holistic dominant knowledge of the environment keeps the company on the leading edge of opportunity and far ahead of the competition.