Molding flexible clay on pottery wheel

Being agile does not mean being flexible

Agility is sometimes confused and freely interchanged with flexibility. Being agile does not mean being flexible per se. Although aspects of agility can be viewed as similar characteristics of flexibility.

High flexibility in the sense of being able and willing to go into every direction, points to having no backbone and a lack of developed character. This form of flexibility is not agile at all.

One of the characteristics of agility is adaptability. And being adaptable is one of the definitions of flexibility, hence the mistake is easily made to misinterpret agility to be flexibility. Other definitions of flexibility are not desirable traits when agility is the desired quality to embody.

Flexibility defined

Merriam-Webster defines flexible as:

  1. capable of being flexed : pliant
  2. yielding to influence : tractable
  3. characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements defines flexible as:

  1. capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent
  2. susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable
  3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable

Be more flexible

Being pliable, to be easily influenced, to be disposed to submit or comply are other definitions of flexibility. These are counter-effective traits or tendencies when striving for higher levels of agility. Higher levels of agility require acuity and steadiness, to have the wisdom to know when to adjust the current flow and when to continue - not yielding to influences.

"Be more flexible! You're doing agile, don't you?" and the likes are statements which are quite common in the working place. Especially in working environments which are not that mature. Being flexible is considered a positive personality trait, for outsiders trying to influence the person into another direction. Being flexible as an opportunity for manipulation and therefore the "be more flexible" spell is cast abundantly in immature organisations or environments.

Adaptability, not flexibility

Agile teams, being flexible, are prone to outside influencing pointing to the fallacy that agile teams are flexible. Those teams are disposed to yield to outside influences. Flexibility is not a key characteristic of agility, adaptability is. And adaptability is not being pliable, nor being disposed to yield to outside influences. Adaptability is not an easy trait and is hard (or impossible) to objectify. Adaptability is a quality which is for a major part an inner assessment and inner journey, where intelligence and wisdom are the most important aspects: knowing when, how and why to adapt to a change.

A lot of dynamics are at play when speaking of and acting out of adaptability. Two of the primary questions to ask yourself in the advent of adaptation: "does adapting to this change lead to the fulfillment of my or our goal?", "is reaching the higher goal closer by or further away when adapting to this change?".

Beware of the "be flexible" trap. Become more agile, not flexible!

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