Why you need humility for agility
POSTED : May 11, 2020
BY : Guillermo De Anda Quevedo

I was at a training once where the instructor was talking about how one of the biggest organizational redesign challenges that exist is the lack of “intellectual humility” within organizations. I felt the need to write that down in bold letters and draw a rectangle around it. I thought of all the companies I had worked with in the past and tried to pinpoint events that reflected a lack of intellectual humility. Surprisingly enough, I realized I’d seen this throughout my career but never categorized it as such.

What is intellectual humility?

In a world that rewards self-promoters and influencers, humility doesn’t get talked about a lot. But it should, because “[t]he capacity to critically evaluate information in nonbiased ways requires intellectual humility.” If scientists only relied on the data that reinforced their hypothesis, there’d be no Penicillin, no Big Bang, no x-rays. Intellectual humility makes room for innovation.

Why you need humility for agility

A lack of intellectual humility occurs when pride and arrogance blind you to alternative ways of thinking. This has everything to do with agile adoption, given that agility is a mindset that is constantly evolving to bring value to you and your consumers. By having intellectual humility, you allow yourself to set your current beliefs aside and try new approaches. Being able to recognize errors and learn from your mistakes enables you to focus on outcomes and not your own ego.

When you’re open to evolving your ability to delight customers through experiment and learning, you not only develop a habit of innovation but by being open to failure, you’re also able to make a bigger impact. Tech companies, such as Amazon, were built and continue to operate under a fail better approach.

Humility in tech

Owning nearly half of the cloud-computing and e-commerce industries, Amazon has evolved beyond its humble beginnings as an online bookseller. To achieve this, their visionary CEO, Jeff Bezos, actively advocates for failure, hires people who are constantly revising their understanding and wants his leaders to “change their minds a lot.” In tech, the ability to let go of beliefs and shift gears to whatever’s performing best allows companies to avoid obsolescence. At the core of intellectual humility is an open mind, the courage to know when you’re wrong and the flexibility to change mid-flight.

Tech companies aren’t always standouts when it comes to intellectual humility. Regardless of sector, success has a tendency to reinforce belief systems. The attitude can be, “why change what’s working?” Inflexibility of thought plagues successful corporate cultures, especially ones that dominate their industries.

As a titan of the tech world, Microsoft was for a long time the only game in town. It’s hard to fathom in our current SaaS and mobile-led world, but there was a period of time when nearly every computer on the planet was running Windows and connecting to the internet with Internet Explorer. Flash forward ten years, and it owns roughly a third of the OS market share.

During that period, Microsoft had to reinvent itself. Their CEO, Satya Nadella, couldn’t rely on the same formulas that had earned Microsoft prominence a decade ago. He steered the company towards sustainability by re-engineering a culture from a bunch of “know it alls” that feared failure, to one “that reflects the personal qualities of a chief executive more given to humility than the intellectual arrogance the company was once known for.” By admitting failure, Microsoft was able to risk success. They took chances on the Surface, Skype and Xbox. While their bottom line may always be tied to the pervasiveness of Windows and Office, these risks helped Microsoft stay relevant in the eyes of the consumer.

At some point, people at Amazon and Microsoft had to suspend their beliefs to try new things that ultimately yielded new platforms and business models. Underlying that willingness to take the untrodden path is intellectual humility. Without it, you likely won’t have the mental fortitude to dismantle old patterns and try something new.

One way tech companies lead through humility is big data, which enables them to predict patterns and respond faster to their consumers. This innovative, on-demand platform is based on agile principles of test and learn, providing continuous value to customers. Learn more about big data here.


About the Author

“GuillermoGuillermo De Anda Quevedo has more than 15 years of experience in the technology industry with a focus on enabling companies to meet their full potential for software delivery in a lean and agile way. Before joining PK as Vice President of the Agile Center of Excellence, he worked with Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, T-Mobile and Sony Network Entertainment.

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