Accelerate Transformation Through Agile Growth

In the third of three exclusive excerpts from his new book, Banking on Change, James Robert Lay says that "agility" is not just for teams anymore. Individual leaders need to embrace personal agility, too. You can get there in just 90 days.

We tend to think about time in a linear way, as made up of three parts: past, present, and future. But this concept of time, straightforward as it may seem, is actually one of the greatest threats to achieving our exponential growth potential.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve made millions and lost millions. I’ve been half a million dollars in debt. I’ve been betrayed. Lied to. Cheated. I’ve failed. And I’ve hurt others. With each of these moments in time, there was a memory attached to an experience. Something that had caused extreme pain for me at a single moment in time, but that experience and moment in time was now in the past. Somehow, thinking of time in this way helped set me free.

The choice you’re making at this moment can determine how you move forward on your exponential growth journey. It’s a choice that will accelerate your transformation, both personally and professionally, through a practice of agile growth. Yes, in our Age of AI, agile growth is for more than just tech teams. Your ability to be agile and to adapt to exponential change, is a prerequisite for anyone attempting to achieve exponential growth. And this ability is very much rooted in how well you’re able to reexamine and ultimately transform your relationship with time.

Transform Time to Accelerate Transformation

How often in your life has something that happened in the past created pain for you in the present? Perhaps it’s the memory of someone doing or saying something that hurt you personally. Or maybe you’re remembering a time when you felt like you failed miserably at a professional goal and let down your team or your boss in a big way. When you think about time as linear — past, present, and future — it becomes far too easy for the mind to binge-watch films of failures rooted in your past, or even films of anxieties, which typically can be understood as sequels of past failures anchored in a foggy and uncertain future. And no matter whether you watch films of past failures or future anxieties, the feelings and emotions invoked in the present moment have the effect of keeping you trapped in your Cave of Complacency. That’s because, in a fundamental way, your mind cannot distinguish between fiction and reality.

Many great thinkers and philosophers throughout history have pondered our relationship with time. One important example from recent years is William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of the book The Fourth Turning, where they look at time from three very different perspectives:

1.) Time is chaotic and there is no order at all.

2.) Time is linear and can be seen as a progressing story or narrative, like a movie with an absolute beginning and end.

3.) Time is cyclical and marked by repetition.

It is this third way of seeing time that represents, once again, an important third path in the Age of AI. We can see the cyclical patterns of time all around us, especially in nature. The sun and moon both rise and fall every 24 hours, before repeating the cycle the very next day. The same is true with the four seasons of the year: plants and animals follow particular patterns in spring, summer, fall, and winter, and then they do it all over again.

You too can accelerate your personal and professional transformation by starting to look at time as cyclical. This doesn’t mean a whirlpool where you just go round and round, never getting anywhere, but rather a spiral staircase you confidently climb while navigating the complexities of exponential change to level up and grow — quarter after quarter, year after year.

Exponential Thinking Requires an Agile Mind

“Change before you have to.” Those words come from Jack Welch, who was Chairman and CEO of General Electric for three decades. I want you to heed Jack’s call and actually develop a recurring habit of change. I’ll show you what I mean, but the idea is that your transformation will follow “four seasons,” in a kind of symmetry with the seasons of the year, and like a butterfly, you’ll always be at one stage or another in this ongoing transformative cycle.

“Agile” is the opposite of fixed and rigid but also refers, of course, to business methodology. In fact, 86% of all developers use agile in their work, according to a study done by ClickUp. And over time, this method has expanded beyond tech teams into other areas of organizations.

This is all a good thing, as it helps prepare individuals and teams to become more adaptable, a necessity in the Age of AI. However, the problem I’ve observed with financial brands is that they often encounter resistance when introducing agile methodologies. That’s not exactly a surprise. It’s the same basic resistance to change that we see with any organization introducing new technology.

Then when an organization starts introducing more new operational methodologies — with names like scrum, sprints, kanban, and epics — it’s enough to put anyone over the edge, particularly if you’re already feeling confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed by exponential change. But I urge you to listen to the warning of agile coach Erik de Bosm, who believes you still very much need agile, especially as a way of understanding the value of people over processes. “Agile,” he writes, “is not simply a methodology but a consistent philosophy covering both the technical and the social aspects of organization. It is maybe the most important fact we learn from Agile, that people are more important than processes. It’s not about processes, it is about people.”

In fact, Agile is at the very heart of the all-important human-centered growth of your financial brand, the kind of growth that can only happen when you start putting your employees’ and account holders’ everyday pains, financial and otherwise, at the center of your thinking and doing.

You do this by following a simple framework that mimics the patterns, cycles, and seasons of nature.

We call it our 90-Day Growth Method.

The 90-Day Growth Method and Four Seasons of Exponential Growth

Having advised and coached financial brands for over two decades now, I’ve noticed an interesting people pattern that crops up every single year between October and December — most individuals, teams, and organizations seem to believe, at either a conscious or subconscious level, that their growth or failure is determined by what they’ve achieved so far during that calendar year. That’s because all of their thinking and actions have been informed by their annual goals and plans.

What’s so wrong with that approach, you may ask? The problem is that when you start the next calendar year in January, you get a false sense of confidence because December is still 12 months away — all the time in the world, or so it seems, to execute your annual strategic plan. But then by April, after the first quarter has ended, chances are you’ll have started to feel a bit behind. You won’t be overly worried, however; you know you still have plenty of time to catch up. But then you’ll get to September and hit the 100-day-sprint which typically comes right after Labor Day in the United States. Now, panic will set in as you race to the end of the year desperately trying to hit those annual goals that were established all the way back in January.

In growth cycles longer than 90 days, we tend to get off track. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can use the 90-Day Growth Method to bring your team together every quarter to review and celebrate your progress over the past 90 days, refocus on goals and actions, and renew your commitment to achieving them. Soon, you and your team will feel re-energized and ready to move forward with courage and confidence for the next 90 days.

And there are Four Seasons of Exponential Growth that make up our 90-Day Growth Method:

1.) Learn: As the world continues to change at an ever-faster pace, learning — and the clarity that comes from it — is the antidote to fear of the unknown. The future doesn’t seem as scary when you have an idea of what it looks like, and all the opportunities out there waiting for you to capture.

2.) Think: You can begin to apply the insights you’ve learned — and you do this by simply taking time to think about your next best steps forward. This thinking involves first defining your goals for growth and then identifying potential roadblocks along with the opportunities to overcome those roadblocks. When you carve out space and time to really think through your 90-day strategic plan and come out equipped with fresh insights and perspective, you build courage to commit to moving forward.

3.) Do: This is where the rubber meets the road, knowing you just need to stay focused on your new goals and actions for the next 90 days. This confidence makes you even more mindful of the dragons of denial, distraction, division, and depression that want to devour you as you prepare to transcend your Territory of Transformation.

4.) Review: Take a moment to celebrate. But don’t get too comfortable, for when you look ahead into the distance, what you’ll find is yet another mountain of opportunity to climb. And when you climb that next mountain and ascend to that next Apex of Awareness, you’ll review and reflect on the progress you made over the previous 90-day period. You’ll also document any lessons learned from the experience as you make note of how to do even better over the next 90-day cycle.

These phases follow the patterns of nature. Spring is a season of new life, where you expand and prepare for future growth through learning. Then, those insights you gained through your springtime learning are further enlightened, so to speak, by the summer sun. It is in the fall, then, that you prepare to harvest the fruits of your labor by applying your thinking to do even better than the previous season. Finally, you hit winter, a season where time slows down and provides you with the opportunity for review and reflection.

And out of the four seasons, winter can feel the most painful as it’s also a season for dying. But sometimes we need this. We must let go for future growth and expansion, and this can only be found by reentering the season of learning, of spring.

The way we perceive time, and specifically how we think about change in the present moment, directly impacts our exponential growth potential. This is true more than ever in our Age of AI where the rate of change is increasing exponentially.

I strongly encourage you to invite others to learn this methodology alongside you. It could be your team or even just a cohort of like-minded people from other organizations who are also committed to creating a bigger, better, and brighter future.

Excerpted from “Banking on Change.” Check out the other two excerpts from James Robert’s book here.

James Robert Lay is one of the world’s leading digital marketing authors, speakers, and advisors for financial brands. Based in Houston, James Robert is the author of Banking on Digital Growth: The Strategic Marketing Manifesto to Transform Financial Brands. He is the founder and CEO of the Digital Growth Institute and has been named one of The Financial Brand’s “Top Global Financial Services Influencers to Follow,” a CUNA “Credit Union Rock Star,” and a CU Times “Under 40 Trailblazer.”

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