Defining agile using a dictionary,

Being agile is generally considered to be a good thing. Individuals and organisations are in pursuit of agility. But what are the actual characteristics of being agile? And how is agile defined?

Let's delve into how agile and agility are defined, to create a common ground and a base for understanding each other when speaking about agility. Maybe you are already in the knowing, but maybe you'll be surprised. Having a shared understanding of the words we're using is a must when we're aiming for higher levels of agility in a shared social environment.

Defining agile

Below follow several definitions from the dictionary. defines agile as:

  1. quick and well-coordinated in movement

  2. active; lively

  3. marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware

Merriam-Webster defines agile as:

  1. marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace

  2. having a quick resourceful and adaptable character

In addition, the noun agility can be defined as:

  1. the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness

  2. the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly; intellectual acuity

Give yourself the opportunity to take those definitions in once more, as they touch quiet a few characteristics. Some of these characteristics are pointing to a deeper meaning of agility. And some could even be considered counter-intuitive. Counter-intuitive, yet essential when grasping the full meaning of agility. Let's shine light on those initially covert characteristics.

The ready ability to move well-coordinated and with quick easy grace (a combination of three of the above given definitions) is one of the definitions of being agile. This definition sounds maybe the most familiar, albeit still a bit unusual. In other words this can be stated as: being able to promptly move in harmonious interaction.


The harmonious functioning of parts (of a whole) is a major stimulant for having effective results. The higher level of harmony is reached, the more effective the results will be. Well-coordinated movement in agile teams means that the parts of the whole work together properly and well. When the parts of the whole are aligned, in sync, harmony is established and effective results can be reached.


Being resourceful is the ability to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations. To deal skillfully with new situations asks for clarity, creativity, experience and maybe even wisdom. To deal promptly with new situations asks for the same qualities, as to quickly act asks for assessing the situation with mental acuity.


The ability to adjust oneself readily to different conditions is one of the more well-known aspects of agility. Being able to be adaptable implies an inner- and outer environment which is adaptable as well. The inner confines (in the mental realm) and the outer confines (the direct external surroundings, limitations) determine the adaptability. Adaptability is not restricted to the inside nor the outside, the inner and outer world are even important.


Mental sharpness and distinctness of perception are key to be able to observe what is going on. Without acuity it won't be possible to see patterns, to see what leads to what. Acuity is significant in the process of growing, of improving. Without acuity the same old story, habits, patterns and behavior will be repeated, leading to the same results. Mental acuity is the prime attribute for continuous improvement and growth in order to thrive.


To be able to exert mental acuity and to draw conclusions quickly, steadiness is essential. When there's no steadiness, it's difficult to have a clear view and aim. Without steadiness, it's rather more difficult to see or be sharp and focused. Steadiness as foundation to be able to exert mental acuity, and one of the covert characteristics of agility. On first sight a contradiction: being steady and being agile. And yet, being agile requires steadiness.


Being agile entails maturity. To be agile asks for maturity of the organisation (be it an individual or a group) to be willing to change, driven by a higher good  - goal, vision or dream. It asks for the willingness to look at that which arises with steadiness and mental acuity with the intention to learn and to grow as individual and organisation. Agility means to do that which leads to a more seamless and harmonious whole, in the endeavor of realizing an idea or goal.

How did your definition of agile change while reading this post?

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