A Bias for (Agile) Action

Catch the Nuance

A few days ago, I had a virtual meeting with one of my school’s professors; I wanted to bounce some research ideas off him. I was describing my work on Personal Agility and mentioned that one of the defining characteristics of an Agile person is a bias for action. My professor seemed unfamiliar with that phrase and asked me to explain what it means to me. I said “a bias for action is when a person has a preference for taking action instead of making a lot of detailed plans first.” I was prepared to dig deeper into this concept, but my professor nodded to signify that he understood what I was talking about and we both allowed the conversation to continue.

But as I reflected on this meeting, it dawned on me that the nuance I wish to convey by saying “a bias for action” could be easily missed, so I wanted to give this some additional attention.

Lights, Camera, Iteration!

A bias for action could be thought as the opposite of perfectionism and it is closely related to experimentation. Actually, I would say that a bias for action is the mindset that leads to experimentation as a sustained personal development practice. So, we have an understanding that an Agile person has an orientation toward taking action rather than over-planning and overthinking. Great, got it. But the nuance that could be easily missed is this: a bias for action only works well if it is housed within an Agile framework, or in other words, a bias for action needs to made part of a holistic Agility strategy in order to produce a practitioner’s desired outcomes.

If you just throw caution to the wind and take action without any planning or preparation, you’ll likely not perform very well. It’s good to consider your options and select a course of action based on this reflection. But after this decision is made, Agile people are okay with letting this be the decision (no overthinking) but with the understanding that the prescribed action will be an experiment. If it works, cool, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, okay, change something. An Agile person is interested in learning what works, not in just inherently knowing what to do all the time. You don’t have to form an emotional connection to the action or to your ability to choose a course of action if you’re just doing an experiment.

After something doesn’t go as planned, it could be easy for a person to say “Well, I tried something and it failed. I guess I’m just not good enough for this.” But as you practice Personal Agility, you’ll learn to be fascinated by failure and you’ll really want to learn as much as you can about your failures and then quickly iterate with lessons learned to another experiment.

The concept of having a bias for action, when part of a total Personal Agility framework, can be successfully applied to any personal change effort, such as weight loss, smoking cessation, career change, starting a business, improving grades at school, etc. This is really powerful stuff when properly applied!

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