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Navigating Business and Life with Nimbleness

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the perspectives of IIBA.
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Are you feeling stuck in a complex mess or overwhelmed by continuous change in your business environment? Do you feel the need to be nimble as an individual and/or as an organization? Do you want to keep cool under pressure?

In a recent episode of “The Brazilian BA Guest,” host Fabrício Laguna sat down with Sonja Blignaut, an esteemed expert from South Africa. They explored nimbleness in complexity and how we can embrace this often negative concept instead of running from it.

Their fascinating conversation sheds light on navigating the unpredictable landscapes of business and life, offering profound insights and practical advice. In case you missed it, here's a recap of the main talking points.

Understanding Complexity vs. Complicatedness

Sonja kicked off the discussion by drawing a clear line between two seemingly similar concepts: complexity and complicatedness. Complex systems, characterized by unpredictability and interconnectivity, contrast starkly with the more linear and solvable complicated matters.

She uses the analogy of the jungle versus the zoo to illustrate the unpredictable nature of complex environments and the need for adaptability. Complex scenarios are like the Amazon rainforest: lush, tangled, and full of surprises. Complicated matters, on the other hand, are more like a well-organized zoo (the ones most of us are familiar with). You know where the lions are, and the penguins won’t suddenly sprout wings.

But life isn’t a zoo—it’s a jungle. So sharpen your machete (metaphorically) and get ready to hack through the thickets of unpredictability. As Sonja aptly says, “It's hard to survive in the jungle if you were trained in the zoo.”

Agility vs. Nimbleness

A bit like complexity and complicatedness, it’s easy to confuse these two terms. But although they may sound similar, they are very different concepts. 

While agility refers to quick, precise movements within a known set of parameters, nimbleness is about sensing and responding to changes in real-time, highlighting the importance of flexibility in the face of unpredictability.

For example, a gymnastic athlete and a basketball player must both be agile, but the basketball player must be nimbler because they don’t know what's going to happen next. It’s one thing to move fast and keep your balance. It’s quite another to think fast and precisely.

Being nimble allows us to respond promptly to unforeseen changes—a crucial skill in today’s dynamic landscape.

Embracing Holistic Approaches to Complexity

Sonja isn’t a fan of reductionist thinking. You know, the kind that slices complex problems into bite-sized chunks using linear thinking to analyze and fully understand it.

As she sees it, this approach too often simplifies complex issues at the expense of truly understanding them, potentially overlooking the interconnectedness of the more manageable parts.

Instead, she advocates for a holistic view that emphasizes the importance of understanding relationships, flows, and emergent properties within a given system, suggesting a shift from parts to patterns.

Life is a symphony, and holistic thinking means seeing the entire orchestra, not just the flutes or the tubas. By broadening our focus, we gain a richer understanding of the whole. We not only see the parts but also how they’re related and what’s flowing.

Practical Strategies for Navigating Complexity

The conversation concludes with actionable strategies for businesses and individuals aiming to thrive in complex environments.

Emphasizing the need for a nimble mindset, Sonja and Fabrício discuss the significance of evolving with change rather than trying to control it, highlighting adaptability and awareness as key to resilience and success.

Want to keep your c.o.o.l. when encountering complexity? Be change-fit in novel contexts with these four simple habits of mind:

  • Courage. Go into the unknown and let go of all the things we might consider best practices.
  • Openness. Diverse perspectives, learning and unlearning, curiosity, and imagination are all fair game.
  • Observance. Be situationally aware, identify the patterns, and observe your triggers. Step back, take a deep breath, and choose how you want to respond to complexity instead of giving in to knee-jerk reactions.
  • Lightness. This is the most important one. Don’t take yourself too seriously, try things, learn from failure, and play. See the beauty in complexity, even when it’s a problem.
Long story short? When complexity knocks on your door, answer it with open arms and a goofy smile.

This episode is a masterclass on the significance of nimbleness in navigating the complexities of both business and life. It provides valuable insights and strategies to adapt and thrive in unpredictable environments.

Be sure to check it out!

Discover what sets nimble organizations apart and how you can help yours outperform others. Download the full Being Nimble report from IIBA, now available in Brazilian Portuguese and Canadian French. 

About the Author
Fabrício Laguna.jpg

Fabrício Laguna, AKA the Brazilian BA, is a Business Consultant, Teacher, Professional Speaker, and former IIBA Brazil Chapter President. Fabrício is the author and producer of videos, articles, classes, lectures, and playful content. He can explain complex things in a simple and easy-to-understand way. He has over 25 years of experience working with business analysis, methodology, solution development, systems analysis, project management, business architecture, and systems architecture.