The Subtle Difference Between ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’ Agile


I recently caught up with an old friend for a quick drink. A quick drink turned into a quick few more — then a quick few more, more! But who’s counting?

I digress — back to the story.

After a couple of drinks my friend started opening up about some personal stuff happening in his life. He was unhappy at work because he felt underpaid and overworked. And on top of that, things weren’t going too well in his marriage; in fact, they were rapidly going from bad to worser (his word, not mine).

After spending some time off-loading the things that were making him unhappy, with some strategically placed questions, I finally got him to start focusing on potential solutions to some of the perceived problems he was facing.

(That’s not to say his problems weren’t real – they were; at least from his perspective. But I’m a firm believer that what we focus on expands; and problems are only problems when we perceive them as such. Hence why Einstein said:

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”)

As far as my friend was concerned, the solutions were simple; if his wife was less argumentative, his boss wasn’t such a jerk and his company paid him more, everything would be fine; and he’d be much happier.

Listening to him talk, reminded me of the opening chapter of Steven Covey’s international best seller ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ where Steven draws the reader’s attention to two concepts he calls the ‘Circle of Concern’ and the ‘Circle of Influence’.

According to Steven, when operating from the Circle of Concern, we tend to think and speak in terms of achieving an end goal as a direct result of something else (usually outside our control) happening first. For example:

  • “I’ll be happy when I have more money/a bigger house/a better job.”
  • “Work would be enjoyable if my boss wasn’t such a…”
  • “If my wife/husband was less argumentative, our marriage would be fine.”

I refer to this as the “Do > Have > Be” paradigm; where a person believes they (or someone else) must do something in order for them to get/have a thing they believe they need before they can achieve a desired end goal/state.

Steven goes on to say that because people operating from the Circle of Influence focus on things they can directly control, they tend to think and speak in terms of be-ing a thing they believe will help them have an end result they want. For example, you might hear them say things:

  • “I choose to be happy because I realise how fortunate I am to have some money/a roof over my head/a job.”
  • “I can earn my bosses trust by being more proactive.”
  • “By being more understanding of my wife/husband, I create the space to be understood.”

This is what I refer to as the ‘Be > Do > Have’ paradigm; and what Ghandi meant when he said…

“Be the change you want to see

We can see evidence of both these paradigms at work in many areas of life. For example, many companies and organisations today seem to think that doing Agile is enough to get them the Agile results they want. But what they fail to understand is that Agile in and of itself is not a methodology; but rather a principle based approach to managing the cost and risk associated with change.

Whereas methods and practices are situationally specific, principles are fundamental guidelines that have universal application. And this principle driven approach is the main reason why Agile has successfully evolved beyond software development into areas as diverse as manufacturing, education and fashion (just to name a few).

See, that’s the thing about principles – correctly applied they produce predictable, self-evident results. Because as Ralph Waldo Emerson rightfully pointed out:

Those who grasps principles can successfully select their own methods. Those who try methods, ignoring principles, are sure to have trouble.”

Where doing Agile focuses solely on methods and practises, be-ing Agile focuses on incorporating core Agile principles and values into an organisations DNA. It’s a holistic mind-set that, in addition to introducing new methods and practices into a company’s modus operandi, also aims to transform company culture, attitudes and behaviours into something greater than what they already are; this is the key to sustainable agility…

…and sustainable agility is essential to survival in today’s fast paced, highly competitive business world.

So if you’re currently doing Agile — as opposed to being Agile – you might want to consider the words of Agile Manifesto co-author Jim Highsmith;

“Stop doing Agile and start being Agile.”

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.



  1. Jay Cohen-Reply
    June 17, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Being Agile is not only about sustainable agility.. It is about creating an environment that supports the notion of a sustainable professional existence. Its about trust and wanting to come to work. Its about caring enough about people and your workplace to want to commit improving. Its the essence of motivating and achieving agreements over directing and using implied authority to get what you want.

    • Ade Shokoya-Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      Agreed; it’s a holistic approach where the value of ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’ is (in my opinion) a fundamental one. Thanks Jay!

  2. Imran Tufail-Reply
    February 8, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Individuals & Interactions is really a core factor in being Agile as many organisations think becauase they are using the tools & processes they are truly Agile

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