If you have a degree in business, what you learned in school is outdated. The world is changing faster than ever before. Internet and mobile phone technology connect billions of people all over the world. An unknown person with a social media account can go viral and reach millions of people around the globe with a single post. You can buy a product from another country with a tap on your smartphone.

Globalization is not a new concept. However, the rapid rise in technology and electronic commerce (eCommerce) over the past 20+ years created a new global market unlike anything in history. Even if you try to operate your business locally, you cannot escape the globalization of business and how that impacts your ability to operate.

In our modern global market, there are seven factors where traditional business strategies often fail, thereby creating a need for a new Agile Business Strategy.

  1. Unexpected disasters and pandemics that affect business operations.
  2. Disruptive and innovative technologies that change how people live and work.
  3. Angry customers with social media accounts can go viral.
  4. Community and social issues leading to protests, riots, and unexpected challenges.
  5. Resource shortages compounded by global vendors and supply disruptions.
  6. Unexpected employee issues from mass sickness and forced quarantines to great resignations and talent shortages.
  7. Needing to comply with multiple governments, laws, privacy and security issues all which change quickly as politicians respond to social pressure.

Can you plan for the unexpected and unknown?

In December 2019, when business executives made their strategic plans for 2020, how many planned for the world to shut down due to a coronavirus pandemic? No one could foresee the quarantines, closed borders, supply chain issues, and fall out from a coronavirus pandemic. If your strategic planning is only happening once a year, how do you adjust for the unexpected events that pop up during the year?

Early in 2007, most people had no idea that the United States was going to enter the Great Recession. According to Investopedia, between 2008 and 2010, about 1.8 million small businesses closed.

When disaster strikes, who determines which businesses succeed and which ones fail? Is it simply a matter of fate, or bad luck? Can you do something to improve your odds of survival?

How to Survive a Disaster

In a natural disaster, experts agree that preparedness is the key to surviving. If you live where earthquakes are common, you must know what to do when everything starts shaking. If you live where tornados strike, then you must be prepared to take shelter when the storm sirens sound. Every time you board an airplane, flight attendants go over the emergency preparedness instructions of what to do in the unlikely event the cabin loses pressure and masks drop down.

In addition to natural disasters, business owners and executives must be prepared for financial, political, social, criminal, and technical disasters. Business continuity planning provides instructions to help organizations continue to operate or recover quickly from various disasters. 

“Nobody plans to fail. They just fail to plan.” – Anonymous

Merriam-Webster’s definition of strategy is “a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time. The skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal.” If your goal is to have a business that can survive disasters and unexpected challenges, then you need a strategy that prepares you to respond.

Top Reasons a Business Fails

A research study of 1,000 small business owners and managers identified the primary cause of small business failure to be a lack of management expertise. In 2015, a PWC study of 6,000 senior executives revealed that only 8 percent of the respondents were effective strategic leaders (capable of leading transformation). Rich Horwarth’s research with 500 managers at 25 companies found that 96% struggled to find the time to think strategically.

What happens when managers lack experience and don’t make the time for strategic planning? In most cases it doesn’t happen, or they rush through it sacrificing quality to check the box. You need a business plan for investors or banks to review, so you throw one together quickly

Another research study by CB Insights of 111 startup post-mortems, revealed the following top 5 reasons for failure:

  1. Run out of cash (failed to raise new capital)
  2. No market need for the products or services
  3. Got Outcompeted
  4. Flawed Business Model
  5. Regulatory/Legal Challenges 

Most reasons businesses fail can be avoided or mitigated with a good strategy. We live in a world that is constantly changing; therefore, our strategies and plans need to be refreshed.

Failing to Update Strategies and Keep up with Technology

Sadly, there are too many examples of companies that failed to keep up with technology and became irrelevant. A classic example is Borders Bookstore. In a series of bad strategic decisions made by old school business leaders, Borders Bookstore decided to …

  1. Ignored the web and eCommerce opportunities
  2. Invested in music CD sales, ignoring digital music trend
  3. Ignored e-books and mobility technology
  4. Fought Amazon by building more brick-and-mortar stores!!!
  5. Accumulated too much debt and struggled through the Great Recession (2008 -2010)
  6. By 2011, Borders was too slow to adopt technology forcing it into bankruptcy.

In 2000, a small business named Netflix offered to sell its business to Blockbuster for $50 million. Blockbuster refused the offer and continued to make bad strategic decisions. Blockbuster was too slow to the streaming market and then Carl Icahn, an activist investor, pushed the company to stick with its brick-and-mortar stores. In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy while Netflix was thriving.

The executives that led Borders Bookstore and Blockbuster, as well as the activist investor Carl Icahn, were very successful in the business world. They were highly educated. But the world had changed, and their business strategies were outdated. They failed to adapt and keep up with technology.

It’s a Different Game - World of Unknowns

Traditional business strategies operate like a game of chess. You study your opponent and plan several moves in advance. Some executives build 5 or 10-year strategic plans for their business. Like chess, these strategies work well when you have predictable moves and can see the board.

But globalization and technology have changed the game. Today, operating a business is more like playing a game of poker, where you don’t know what cards you going to be dealt. Watch a world series of poker tournament and you will see that strategy and studying your opponent are still important. In a game of unknowns, a different type of strategy must be used. Like a game of poker, today’s business leaders must be prepared to operate with unknowns and occasionally you are dealt a bad hand. It’s not easy, but a good poker player can sometimes win with a bad hand of cards.

 A champion chess player will not win a poker tournament using chess strategies.

 In the 21st century, the global business market is a different game. It’s a world of pandemics, disruptive technology, social media, and many unknown factors impacting your business from day to day. Your business cannot win using old business strategies. You need a strategy that is geared to be more agile and responsive to the unknown and fast changing world around you.

What Makes Agile Business Strategy Different

According to agilebusiness.org

An agile business can respond quickly and effectively to opportunities and threats found in its internal and external environments (be they commercial, legal, technological, social, moral, or political).

Below is a table that outlines a few of the key differences between traditional business models and agile business models.


Traditional Strategy


Agile Strategy

Top-down Hierarchy

Highly Collaborative

Bureaucracy with an approval process

Empowerment with accountability

Vertical silos with multiple layers of organizations

Flatter organizations with cross functional teams

Strategic planning once a year

Strategic planning once every 60 days

Complex & Detail Oriented

Simple & Direction Oriented


Top 10 Building Blocks of Agile Business Strategies

Building an agile business requires several changes across the organization. Evan Leybourn states, “an organization can only be as agile as its least agile division.” Or as an old proverb teaches, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Therefore, building agility into your business requires you to build agility into each “link” of your organization.

Rapid changing technology impacted IT departments for multiple decades. About 20 years ago, rapid application development techniques were created, which later evolved into Agile methodologies. Many lessons can be learned from IT’s adoption of Agile methods. But there are differences between an IT department and an entire business organization.

The 10 building blocks below leverage principles learned from Agile IT methodologies and include additional business principles to provide a framework for Agile Business Strategies.

  1. Agile Master
  2. Agile People
  3. Clear Vision and Simple Strategies
  4. Empowered Leaders
  5. Right Tools for the Job
  6. Clean House and Run Lean
  7. Crawl – Walk – Run – Fly Mindset
  8. Automation and Innovation
  9. Importance of Rest & Fresh Resources
  10. Open environment focused on learning


Where do You Start?

The first building block is finding an Agile Master to guide your business through agile strategies. An Agile Master for the business is different than an Agile coach or scrum master in the IT department. More information on Agile Masters will be coming in a future post.


If you need help finding an Agile Master to guide your business, then please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.