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Agility: It’s Not Just For Athletics Anymore

Written by Corey Chambas, President & CEO, First Business Financial Services, Inc.
First Business Financial Services, Inc. Board Member
First Business Bank Board Member

Corey ChambasRecently I was on my bike riding past a marshy area when I saw a red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane. It reminded me of something I see much more often — blackbirds dive-bombing flying hawks. I never like that, as I really like hawks, and it also dumbfounds me when a smaller animal attacks a larger one. In this instance, it was even more pronounced with the sandhill crane, which — if you have ever seen them up close — always reminds me of a pterodactyl. In truth, maybe I also don’t like this because it reminds me of the little dogs that always yipped at my 90-pound Lab and he just had to take it.

I’ve thought a lot about this interaction, particularly as it involves hawks, since I’ve seen it so many times. I’m guessing it comes down to agility. They just can’t turn and defend themselves quickly enough against the pesky little attacker.

This dynamic reminds me of a story Jerry Smith told me when he first started First Business Bank back in 1990, almost 30 years ago. Prior to opening the bank when it was just a concept, he visited the head of Norwest Bank in Minneapolis. At the time, Norwest was one of the largest and most successful banks in the country.

The way Jerry told it, after he proposed his idea of a niche business bank, he was told: “I’m sure you’ll be successful, as we’re like a battleship and you’re like a P.T. boat. We’re going here and you can quickly go there. As we try to turn and go there, you can quickly turn and go back here.” To the big bank president, agility was a huge advantage.

This came up again recently when I was listening to a webinar on leadership and key CEO leadership traits. Along with the ones you might expect, like strategic mindset and tech-savvy (I guess I better get rid of my flip phone), the webinar emphasized agility. I’ve seen this highlighted several times recently as a key leadership trait.

It’s also critical for organizations to be agile — just ask Blockbuster and Kodak. The pace of technological advancement makes organizational agility even more important today than it was back in 1990. It’s not just the systems we use, but adapting and advancing to outcompete pesky FinTech startups. We’ll have to capitalize on artificial intelligence to drive efficiency, and be ready to utilize things like blockchain technology to operate in the future.

Likewise, it’s important to be agile as an individual employee. Are you embracing technological change or are you fighting it? We recently put in a new phone system, and even though there are current-day features like conversion of voice mail to text and one-click dialing from your computer, there was a fair amount of angst about it.

Personally, are you staying flexible and keeping your skills sharp? Are you constantly learning; are you looking on the horizon for what’s happening and trying to prepare? We have a list of guiding principles we call our “Statement of Beliefs.” One of those is: Recognize that change is inevitable — it is the manner by which we stay ahead of our competitors. Employ technology to be as efficient and accessible as possible.

If you’re not staying agile, you’d better be looking over your shoulder for who might be ready to dive-bomb you. Worse yet, someone might sink your battleship.

3 comments on “Agility: It’s Not Just For Athletics Anymore”

  1. Tony Dailey

    October 23, 2019 at 8:39 am

    So many examples of your ‘battleship ‘ analogy. My dad worked for Kodak which literally invented modern photography, but were not agile enough or had enough foresight to react to digital tech. Good podcast called Spectacular Failures about companies whose missteps led to their ultimate demise. https://www.spectacularfailures.org/episodes. The Red Winged Blackbird is a nuisance! My personal agility has gotten me out of harm’s way from them a number of times!

  2. Corey Chambas

    October 24, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing the great example about Kodak and also the podcast Tony!

  3. Tom Stalowski

    November 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    I learned the hard way that Red wing blackbirds are extremely territorial especially if they have nests in an area. I had them in my backyard one summer. They would swoop down at my head while I mowed the yard. I had to get a pest exterminator to rid them. The first thing they did was get rid of the nests. That took care of it.

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