Building an agile business

How agile is your organisation?

Most people answer 'not very' But it's hard to quantify. And even if you can. what do you do about it?

The answer comes from looking at some of the most agile businesses in the world, like Amazon.

And from looking at other areas of life where agility is a key strength, like athletics.

Agile business means developing athletic skills, like this BMX stunt rider
Athletes exhibit key characteristics of agile business

Athletic Business

Athletes perform at the highest level because they have trained their senses, their reactions and their bodies to see change and respond fast. To be a truly agile business, your client or organisation must do the same if they are to be truly future-ready.

That means developing:

  • The ability to rapidly detect change signals from inside and outside the organisation and particularly from adjacent spaces — often blind spots from which the most serious challenges may come
  • The ability to process this information and build a response plan rapidly, gaining assent from, or at the worst compelling change in, the relevant parts of the organisation
  • The flexibility to act on that response plan at speed

Only athletic businesses are truly agile and future-ready.

Engineering adaptability

Any organisation of more than ten people, or more than a few years old, suffers from the same problems. Nothing happens as it was designed. Processes evolve in an organic fashion, over time.

This is fine while it works. It often leads to those processes being more efficient. But it's hugely problematic when the time comes to change.

Only when that time comes do you discover that no one person knows how things work. That processes aren't documented, they're learned. One person goes and critical knowledge leaves with them, lines of communication get broken. Important information doesn't end up where it needs to be.

As organisations scale, the problem becomes greater. It's hard to align everyone to the same corporate goals. Performance levels vary widely across functions and teams.

So how do you respond? How do you create an agile business from one that is mature, complex and organically-grown?

Engineering an agile business is complex

Stratification

The Applied Futurist's Toolkit features a framework called Stratification, designed to help you to assess an organisation's agility and improve it.

The idea behind this is that a collection of closely-coupled, smaller units is inherently more agile than a larger, monolithic system. This is the premise on which Amazon's business is built.

Here each functional unit interacts with the others through a low-friction digital system. Each unit describes its purpose, value, inputs and outputs. Units interconnect to create business propositions via data. That's how Amazon's retail website and app connect to its marketplace, its web services, and its logistics functions to create a retailer. Those same components can then be remixed to provide groceries, or to provide services for third parties - hence how Amazon is now the world's largest web hosting company.

Stratification gives you the tools to identify points of friction in a business, to break it down into a series of units, and then reassemble these units into a complete business. One that is inherently more flexible and future-ready. 

What next?

If you're interested in Stratification, you can access the full toolkit through the online subscription service. You can also engage Book of the Future founder Tom Cheesewright to provide 1-1 consulting. Check out tomcheesewright.com for more information. 

Complete the form opposite for more information about Stratification, as well as upcoming training courses, the online toolkit, and how to join our community of Applied Futurists.