Thinking with agility

Jan 03, 2019
There are many business methods we can employ to enhance our careers. Karin Lanigan outlines how agile thinking is one way you can standout from the rest.

The use of the term ‘agile’ in the business world has certainly increased in recent times. This has been mainly driven by the fact that many companies have been embracing agile methodologies and tools, originally used in the area of software design, to improve overall business efficiencies and effectiveness.

There is no doubt that we are operating in an environment of relentless deadlines and pressure where it feels like we are constantly racing just to stand still. In this hectic space in which we operate, there is very often little or no time for real thinking, reflection and contemplation, never mind thinking with agility. However, in a rapidly changing world, increasing your ability to manage how you think and respond can have significant benefits for your career and life in general.

What does ‘thinking with agility’ mean?

Thinking with agility essentially refers to the way in which we think and consequently act. It relates to our flexibility and adaptability when we are in a position where we have to think and act quickly. It is our ability to nimbly respond to situations that arise, especially those that are completely unexpected – for example, if you are asked to present at a management meeting at short notice and you have not had time to prepare.

So, how do we improve our ability to think with agility?

Know your thinking style

A good starting point is to initially increase your awareness of the way in which you think. In other words, what is your thinking style? For example, are you more of a creative and innovative thinker, or are you an analytical or practical thinker? Also consider how well your thinking style has served you in the past. We all have patterns of thinking and we have a tendency to revert to old habits when we are under pressure.

What are your thinking patterns?

Another way in which to consider this is to reflect on whether you typically ‘react’ or ‘respond’ to various situations. What you do in certain situations will be indicative of your thinking style. Reviewing how you dealt with those situations in the past can help you identify your thinking style and any patterns that exist.

Challenge your thinking

As the famous quote states, “if you do what you always did, you will get what you always got”.

Be mindful not to become entrenched in the same modes of thinking or the same behaviours. Challenge yourself and others to think differently and consider other options. Don’t automatically revert to the previous ways of doing things. Be brave and consider new options and alternatives. A way in which to challenge your thinking and that of others is to ask more probing and powerful questions. 

Your thinking ripples into other areas

How you think is reflected not only in the decisions that you make but also in the way you behave and act, in how you communicate as well as in your own levels of self-belief. If you alter and shift your thinking even in the smallest of ways it can have a significantly positive impact on your life and career. 

A few moments can make all the difference

When faced with a challenging decision that requires the ability to think with agility, always try to take a short pause before committing to a final decision. Even this split second can help you tune into your reasoning and can support more agile thinking.

Thinking skills will determine success

The art of thinking with agility is learning to flex your reasoning and deliberation depending on the situation that you are faced with and knowing when to do so. As your career progresses and you take on more senior level roles, it will be your ability to adapt your thinking style and not necessarily your technical capabilities that will determine the level of your career success.

Be brave and start a new habit

Experiment with adapting your thinking and review what impact it has. What different outcomes are you experiencing? Your brain is like a muscle: the more you flex your fresh way of thinking the better it will become at implementing this new habit. With practice, new neural pathways will develop in your brain that will help you to become a more agile thinker.

What resources can help?

Stress has been proven to reduce our capacity to think clearly. Reducing stress in general can help improve your ability to think with agility. Exercise and mindfulness can support the reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and the impact that stress has on your body. Reducing your stress levels will improve cognitive ability and agility.


The essential skill of thinking with agility can be learned and enhanced as you progress your career. Improving your self-awareness is essential to improving your thinking style, as well as a desire to confidently challenge the status quo and to try new ways of thinking. 

Karin Lanigan is the Manager of the Career Development and Recruitment Service at Chartered Accountants Ireland.