Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

Agility 

October 18, 2023
Letter #

Dear Dali, 

We live in a fast-changing and uncertain environment. So much is in motion. The world is constantly going major disruptions. Do you remember that time we spent two years at home without travel- that was a major disruption of sorts. A global pandemic disrupted how we work, how we learn and restricted travel. I believe there will be more disruptions in the future.

Technology is a major source and enabler of disruption. When I started work, we had fax machines. We have since moved to emails. Now there is cloud computing. I can work on the same document with a colleague in the US when I am here in Zimbabwe. I rarely talk about agility but in most instances, I talk about being nimble. The ability to change as circumstances do.  

In building SIVIO I had to pay attention to disruptions caused by technology, funding constraints and changes in the legal environment. But perhaps I have gone ahead of myself- agility is not something we look for in an organization only. An individual should invest in agility. In an earlier letter I wrote to you about range- the ability to pick several skills at seemingly unrelated. This is another way of thinking about and ensuring agility.  

But agility is deeper- it has to do with being able to proactively respond to changes whether it be disruptions such as a pandemic, technology or even your financial circumstances. At another level it means the capacity to deploy the skills you have learnt in one discipline into another seemingly unrelate field. I always talk about my love for gardening- it’s a place I experiment with design aesthetics- at least plants don’t complain as much as humans. But I can assure you the gardening skills help in considering other seemingly complex challenges.

Agility implies the ability to pivot. When life circumstances change as they will you will have to pivot. Do not be rigid- there are many ways to solve one problem. Let me use myself as an example. My PhD studies were focused on rural development. I could easily have positioned myself as a Rural Development scholar and am not sure where I would have ended. But I combined by academic qualifications with related interests- to do with social entrepreneurship, leadership and more recently philanthropy. I bumped into philanthropy literally by chance over a drink. Again, it takes flexibility to create connections between seemingly disconnected phenomenon.   

People who are rigid are dangerous. Train yourself to be able to live a life in such a way that you are relevant, flexible and can embrace change. The real risk is not about being unable to pivot but rather doing the same thing and expecting different results. Spend time in learning- not only in the classroom- but everywhere. One of my favourite past times is to read autobiographies of those who have built or led institutions or countries. Beyond reading be a doer- nothing was ever achieved by thinking and creating scenarios. Go out there- put your idea on display. It may be a disaster- so what- you are know the first to come up with a dumb idea. It’s better you experimented quickly and realized that it’s not as smart as you thought. At SIVIO we have several failures- we are learning and moving on. That is the whole value of agility. Learning, remodelling, testing again and evaluating. 

Read More