Agility Buzzwords: Preventive Agility
14 June 2019
Posted by: John Williams
In our first Buzzword blog CEO of Agile Business Consortium, John Williams, discussed buzzwords "Requisite", "Situational" and "Minimum Viable". We have now added "Preventative Agility" to the Agility Buzzword Matrix.
“What is Agile? Agile is a genuinely better way to run a company and an economy” 
Why do we need agility? The answer, as with so many things, lies in our dissatisfaction with the world. We know that when we try to run things well, whether a company or an economy, we fail sometimes. We accept this because to err is human, and none of us is perfect. Yet we also feel vaguely that we could do better, and spend our lives seeking ways to succeed, rather than fail.
Thus, Agile came to us as manna from heaven – a way to deliver improvements in both the way we do things, and the results we could achieve. Praise be..!
As ‘Agile’ has morphed into Business Agility, it has brought us the power to adapt and respond, rapidly and effectively, to the vagaries of the VUCA world in which we now live. We like that. It gives us the competence, and confidence, to meet ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (which indeed sometimes feel almost Shakespearean in their finality).
That, sadly, is typical of us. We humans have a tendency to become complacent in the face of anything other than immediate danger, and whilst the power to adapt and respond might be a tolerable form of Minimum Viable Response, frankly, it isn’t enough.
John McCreary, a defence analyst, once said “Every complex system will fail. The best measure of health is the speed of recovery”. The principle embodied by those words has underpinned the real healthcare sector since time immemorial. Centuries of health research and experiment have focused on diagnosing and determining cause and cure, with an emphasis on accelerating the point at which the cure is applied. We understood that people got ill and injured, and the faster we got there with the remedy, the better the chance of full, or at least adequate, recovery.
So we had an idea. If we could get ahead of the curve of illness or injury, maybe we could do even better than rapid recovery – maybe we could predict the oncoming malady, and reduce the delay in response to zero. And then, of course, the obvious follow-on thought occurred – if we can predict, we can avoid. And so was born Preventive Medicine: “Medical practices that are designed to avert and avoid disease” 
We earlier hailed Business Agility as the power to adapt and respond rapidly to (even potential) failure. Praise be..! Following the example of medicine, it is time for us to move our mindset forward, ahead of the VUCA  curve. So, if we take the definition of preventive medicine, and apply it to agility, then Preventive Agility might be defined as ‘Agile practices designed to avert and avoid failure’.
In other words (and if we need other words, these might do), Preventive Agility is the power to predict and prepare.
And there we have it. Learning from a sector that epitomises analytics, and is driven by, literally, life and death decisions, we can apply similar principles to ensure the continuing success of our organisations in the face of the otherwise mortifying challenges of this VUCA world.
The time for being satisfied with rapid response is over – just as with threats to our health, we need to practice intelligent avoidance. So, when the world clamours for us to be ready to respond at zero notice, we can feel reassured… our Preventive Agility takes us a little further toward habituating success, by predicting, and preparing to avoid, oncoming risk. In the next blog, we will talk about how.
Did you miss the first blog in the Agility Buzzword series? Read it here.
 “What Is Agile?”, Steve Denning, https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2016/08/13/what-is-agile/#66826f0826e3, August 13, 2016
 ‘Medical Definition of Preventive medicine’, William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR, https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5039, December 27, 2018
 VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity – term originating in the US Army War College circa 1989, to describe the post-Cold-War world, and now applied to 21st century society, economy and geo-politics generally