This would have been the message if the speaker at your last business meeting presented in nursery rhymes:
Jack be nimble.
Jack be quick.
Jack jump over
The candle stick.
You feel better, right? You now know what is expected of you and the definition of success.
And, you have no real context for why it is important or idea about how to move forward.
I always had two questions about the Jack Be Nimble nursery rhyme:
- Why was Jack being asked to jump over the candle stick? And more important, why was it important that he be nimble and quick?
- Did Jack receive special training on being nimble and quick? What if he was naturally slow and lumbering? What did he do then?
Why Nimble is Important
My gut is that Jack’s boss came back from a conference at the National Candlestick Jumper’s Association with a book that said being nimble and quick was the way to gain market share. He then repeated the words to Jack exactly as he heard them at the conference.
We use similar words today. Nimble, agile, continual change—the words are interchangeable. But in this case, they are much more than corporate hype. The environment in which you compete today can be illustrated by the following:
Imagine crossing a divided highway late at night. You look both ways and are confident that there is nothing coming from either direction that will run you over. You safely reach the median; look down to tie your shoe; and look up to continue your crossing.
That’s when it hits you—the traffic has gone from non-existent to screaming past you at high speeds.
You can’t stay where you are, and you don’t really want to go back. Your only choice is to make your way through the traffic without being run over.
What started out as an easy path to success has become complex and uncertain. The competitor you know is not necessarily the one you should fear.
The trait you want to embody is “NIMBLE.”
A Real Life Example
In 2008, four years after reaching its peak of 60,000 employees in 9,000 stores, the CEO of Blockbuster made this statement: As for the competition, we’re not worried. The Blockbuster brand is so well known.
Two years later, the company declared bankruptcy.
The reasons are well known:
- The competition Blockbuster cavalierly discounted proved its undoing.
- The company couldn’t imagine a world where its dominance wasn’t self-perpetuating.
- By the time it decided to change, the marketplace had moved on and Blockbuster couldn’t catch up.
A similar story could be told for hundreds of companies and occupations. There was also a time when no one could imagine a world without switchboard operators.
How You Become More Nimble
I’m equally unsure about Jack’s competency as a candle stick jumper. But, I think it is safe to say that there was someone out there who offered to do it faster and for less pay. It is the same for you and me. Here are three ideas to become more nimble:
- Change the way you think about change. Most people and organizations view change as something that happens when times are bad. Thinking about change in this manner holds you to a past that may no longer be relevant or even real. The alternative is to continually and simultaneously look for the next opportunity and the next potential danger.
- Generate urgency. I don’t often jump over candlesticks, but when I do, I am as quick and nimble as possible. The threat of pain or crisis will do that for you. But, nothing is a crisis if everything is a crisis. You must bring the same level of urgency to every opportunity that you apply to a crisis. In a race where the winner takes home $1 million, would you stroll or run?
- Combat uncertainty with curiosity. You can lament that the world is more uncertain than a time you remember fondly from the past, or you can accept it as the new status quo. You can respond to new challenges in old ways, or you can be perpetually curious about new approaches and solutions. Familiarity breeds complacency. Complacency becomes lethargy. And, lethargy leads to the inability to respond to any danger or opportunity.
Jack be Nimble is great advice. It is even better when you understand that advice is important and how to do something about it.