Jack Be Nimble: Why Thriving Today Takes More than Nursery Rhymes

Man jumping
Man jumping

This would have been the message at your last business meeting if the speaker presented in nursery rhymes:
Jack be nimble.
Jack be quick.
Jack jump over
The candle stick.

I always had two questions about the Jack Be Nimble nursery rhyme:
  1. Why was Jack being asked to jump over the candle stick? And more important, why was it important that he be nimble and quick?
  2. 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 guess is that Jack's boss came back from the National Candlestick Jumper's Association conference 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 and interchangeable words today: nimble, agile, continual change. They may sound like a nursery rhyme, 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. 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 as an easy path to success has suddenly become complex and uncertain. Isn't that how it feels when new competitors appear out of nowhere; new technology renders you irrelevant; or outside forces change the landscape overnight?

The trait you want to embody is "NIMBLE."

An Example

In 2010, six years after reaching its peak of 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."

Months later, the company
. The reasons are well known:
  • The competition Blockbuster which 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. Remember: There was also a time when no one could imagine a world without switchboard operators.

How You Become More Nimble

Let's assume that Jack was a competent candle stick jumper. But it is safe to say that there was or will be 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:
  1. Adopt the nimble mindset. Most people and organizations wait for the need to change to become so obvious that there is no other choice. This type of thinking holds you to a past that may no longer be relevant or even real. At that point it is difficult--if not impossible--to catch up. The alternative is to assume that everything is going to change. Then, continually and simultaneously look for the next opportunity and the next potential danger.
  2. 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 home1 million, would you stroll or run?
  3. 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.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. His keynote seminars and workshops are informative, engaging, and memorable. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit www.penningtongroup.com, email info@penningtongroup.com, or call 972-980-9857.