pablo picasso (1881-1973)

'Bull', 1945 (a series of eleven lithographs)

Last week I shared the Agile Business Leaders Framework and it occurred to me that it's actually taken almost a decade to simplify the framework to its utmost essential elements. While there is so much too unpack for you behind these key components, at first appearances it looks to be just six dot points. Some have said “it’s simple for you, but introducing agile as a business leader has been so complex in my business”. It’s only become visibly simple over the years because of the number of iterations of applying agile methods and learning from their impact. That’s the paradox of mastery; The more you do, the less you do.

That is also the paradox of agile business leadership. Pablo Picassos Line Drawings of a bull are a perfect example of how, as he mastered he's craft he learnt to be more effective with much less. As the audience, we first see something so simple and efficient, and quite easily forget that it too took him decades to master he's elegant bull drawing. His mastery (as does anyones) comes from intentional and repeatable learning cycle. Leaders who achieve the commercial benefits of business agility - operational savings, delivery time, product competitiveness and cultural productivity - embrace the mindset of mastery and are disciplined in practicing agile learning cycles.

We understand that the only competitive advantage the company of the future will have is its managers ability to learn faster than their competitors.”

Arie de Geus - Planning as Learning, Harvard Business Review, 1988.

When you first start leveraging agile as a business leader it’s typical that you’ll want to cut costs, cut time straight away. However just cutting out elements doesn’t necessary leave you with the assets nor people that make a true powerful impact. Just as in Picassos drawing the first iteration looked like a bull but it wasn’t the most elegant nor efficient. Each iteration he didn’t just ‘cut out’ parts of the drawing. Each iteration of the drawing Picasso learnt a more effective technique and became more efficient each time. In the world of mastery we call this an ‘intentional and repeatable learning cycle’. In agile businesses it is also commonly known as ‘iterative delivery’. I personally like the term ‘learning loops’.

The question today for you as an agile business leader is; are you,

  1. Striving for mastery?

  2. Intentionally and repeatably learning?