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What is Mindful Agility?

Mindful Agility helps us become more fulfilled, which, by our definition, means becoming happier while reaching more of our potential. If you like to focus on outcomes, Mindful Agility helps you simultaneously gain more happiness and contribute more to others. From our perspective, your “contributions” might include small or big things, like

  1. cleaning out the garage (and keeping it that way),
  2. deciding on a career and developing that career, or
  3. starting a company or non-profit.

Mindfulness helps you discover what you and others need; agility helps you discover how to do it and finish the job.

Our first step to becoming more fulfilled is understanding ourselves and our world. Mindfulness, defined broadly as the set of secular Buddhist practices, helps us improve focus, reduce anxiety, discover hidden truths, live more harmoniously with others, and perhaps most importantly, make better decisions. Mindfulness also helps us discover what the world needs, and the opportunities it offers us; mindfulness practitioners call this “insight.” There are many psychological studies showing the benefits of mindfulness in improving focus and awareness, and reducing anxiety, depression, and physical pain.

Our second step is to becoming more fulfilled is taking action. Most actions require some innovation: even figuring out how to create a good relationship with our in-laws often needs that. But in the modern information-age, routine labor is growingly automated: what’s left is what humans can uniquely do: innovate. Agile techniques help us construct low-risk experiments to improve our skills, measure our progress or regressions, adapt to our discoveries, and deliver valuable work. Agile is a growingly popular approach to managing time, learning more, and producing value, used by individuals, teams, and whole organizations. In the well-studied field of software projects, agile methods delivered three times the success rate of non-agile methods.

Our shorthand is that mindful agility provides insight and innovation, helping you understand, contribute, and succeed.

Audience

The Mindful Agility podcast seeks to help a broad audience understand the concepts of mindfulness and agility, and reach greater fulfillment. However, early audiences will likely be folks who have experience with either mindfulness (including meditation) or agile project management (including individual practices like Getting Things Done GTD®), and who might be frustrated with their limitations. The folks most likely to appreciate Mindful Agility are achievers and innovators.

Achievers often discover mindfulness doesn’t guide “right action” beyond a set of “don’ts.” The main goal of mindfulness is reducing suffering. If you stop doing dumb stuff, by honoring those “don’ts,” a lot of suffering goes away, and then you can sit on your butt (or join a monastery) for the rest of your life, in happiness. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that, but achievers will likely appreciate how agile techniques help them build a program for success. Furthermore, if achievers build new things that alleviate suffering for many, through agility, that advances the larger goal of mindfulness.

Innovators often discover agile doesn’t help define success. The main goal of agile is achieving success faster, assuming you know what success means. If you are working for a company that has defined success (in a mission statement or project definition, for example), you can help them achieve their success, and then you can get the gold watch at retirement or the stock options. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that, but innovators will likely appreciate how mindfulness helps them observe the world around them, understand all the actors on the stage, identify serious pain points, and discover hidden dysfunctions ripe for innovation. It’s pretty motivating when your innovations can make the world a better place.

What is “Mindfulness”?

Those familiar with mindfulness will ask “what specifically do you mean when you say ‘mindfulness’?” Mindfulness got its start about 2500 years ago, in the form of the Buddhist religion. Today, especially in the West, many people embrace the secular elements of Buddhism, such as meditation, interdependence and compassion. This is sometimes called secular Buddhism or just mindfulness. Hundreds of successful folks practice it including Bill Gates, Ray Daleo, and Oprah Winfrey.

We include all secular elements of Buddhism in our definition of “mindfulness,” in alignment with the modern popular definition promoted in mindfulness programs like “10% Happier,” etc. Van Gordon has called out three phases of Buddhist-inspired contemplative science research: the first phase starting in the 1980s, which focused on attentional contemplative processes, the second phase starting in 2005, focusing on contemplative approaches involving ethical and empathic awareness, such as loving-kindness and compassion meditation. The third phase gradually emerged in 2014, and included Buddhist wisdom-based concepts such as non-attachment, impermanence, non-self, and emptiness. This science history parallels the Buddhist three trainings principle, which proceeds in sequence from meditation, to ethics, to wisdom.

What is Agility?

Those familiar with agile project management also rightly ask, “what specifically do you mean by agility?” Software developers will point to “The Agile Manifesto” as a definition, but it is growingly anachronistic and software-centric. Methods that are obviously agile occur outside software development, but there is no broadly agreed definition. So I developed one, called “the Agile Canon,” and published it in 2014.

I analyzed a variety of techniques thought to be “agile,” including Getting Things Done GTD (for personal task and project organization), Scrum (for development teams), Lean Manufacturing (for just-in-time product manufacturing), Extreme Programming XP (for software teams), Lean Startup (for market analysis and customer discovery), Design for Understanding (for classroom instruction), etc.

I define “agile framework” as a work methodology with a sequence of short-term, low-cost experiments with most of these characteristics:

  1. Focusing on one or more directional goals.
  2. An evolving set of low-overhead leading indicators indicating progress toward the goals
  3. A time-limited period in which an experiment can be run
  4. Effort to complete the experiment
  5. Retrospection to
    1. Assembly of the results of the experiment (at least in measuring leading indicators)
    2. Create a new experiment, that may adapt the goals, metrics, process and/or work methods, based on what was learned in the last experiment
  6. And then repeat, until the project goal is achieved

Agile techniques argue that we don’t have enough information to make a rigid long-term plan, so instead we should compose a project from a sequence of tiny projects, with time devoted to establishing a short-term plan, developing or learning something, reflecting on what we did, and creating another new short-term plan, etc.

Mindfulness practitioners will notice agile techniques rely heavily on understanding the state of a project “in the present moment,” so better adaptations can be included.

Summary

We believe the combination of mindfulness with agility is more than 1+1 = 2.

Mindfulness can improve agile project outcomes dramatically, helping agile practitioners choose better goals, gain insight during experiments, and adapt more effectively. Mindfulness helps agile practitioners “clear impediments” more rapidly, not only through helping them discover impediments earlier, but also in helping them develop more effective diplomacy skills through understanding compassion and inter-dependence.

… in progress …

Agility can improve .. And agility can help you achieve greater levels of mindfulness and enlightenment.

We believe the combination If you focus only on agility, you can achieve “success” in anxious misery, and if you focus only on mindfulness, you can achieve happiness

plenty of folks who achieve happiness without contributing much to others.

References

Vallabh P, Singhal M (2014) Buddhism and decision making at individual, group and organizational levels Sirodom K, R. Loza Adaui C, Habisch A, Lenssen G, Roosevelt Malloch T, eds. Journal of Management Development 33(8/9):763–775.

Moore A, Gruber T, Derose J, Malinowski P (2012) Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6.

Van Gordon W, Shonin E (2020) Second-Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Toward More Authentic Mindfulness Practice and Teaching. Mindfulness 11(1):1–4.