Being Agile – Ontological perspective

Kari L. Granger (US Air Force Academy) shares her experience ..” I was in Iraq as the officer in charge of a unit, but for the first time under enemy fire, I realised that the knowledge I gained from studying leadership during six years of being educated as a military officer with a masters degree in Leadership, did not leave me being the leader I needed to be under fire. For example, knowing that in a frightening situation a leader should be courageous was very different from being courageous in that situation.

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“Being Agile” is one of the top topic of discussion in many Agile forums and aspiration for many organisations. Various  aspects of being agile that are discussed in many Agile conferences, meetups and blogs. There are many opinions, views and perspectives about – “doing” Agile vs “being” Agile.  In this article an Ontological perspective about being Agile is shared.

Ontology is a branch of philosophy(in particular meta-physics) focusing on study and nature of ‘being’, this term is also widely used in social science, computer science /artificial intelligence, information science and in many other fields.

The term is derived from Greek words, “Onto” for existence and “logia” for study, science. The Latin derivative ontologia means science of being.

In general ontology focuses on the nature being. For example, let’s consider an apple. The existence of apple can be experienced by sight, touch, smell and taste.  In an apple juice, though the form is changed the existence can be experienced in the form of smell and taste. The “essence” or the being of an apple can be experienced.

In the case of living beings the concept of “being” is different, especially for human beings. Human beings  have wide range of beings in which they express themselves. Normally they are expressed as emotions like “being happy”, “being sad”, “being angry”, “being enthusiastic” and so on.  The being is not just the emotional state but it is much more than that. It is a combination of mental state (attitude and state of mind), emotional state (feelings and emotions), bodily state (body sensation), thoughts and thought process (logic and memory) in a given moment of time or in a given situation.  This also includes mind-set (frame of reference) and world view (model of reality).

In fact, one can’t write/read about “being” then it becomes “knowing”.

From an Ontological perspective, being agile explores the “being” as the ways of being for people and teams. For an effective transition to being Agile all aspects are important.

Unlike psychological models which are based on mind-set and worldview, ontological models are based on phenomenology (a methodical discipline deals with being and action as these are actually lived.  sometime referred as experiential learning). To access ones being tools/practices like mindfulness, reflection, and presence can be of great help.

Another way to distinguish being is to split any activity into doing, having and being domains.


Suppose if you are preparing for an examination, first you take lot of actions (like you do all your preparation), it is in the domain of doing. As a result of your actions (preparation) you will get some results. It is either pass or fail in that examination or a certification. This is called “having” or results of your action (doing). Depending on the results there will be a change in our experience, you either become happy (if passed) or sad (if failed). You are “being happy” or “being sad” based on the results (having)  and action (doing).  This is our default paradigm.

The alternate paradigm considers the innate ability of human beings to alter their state of being. ontology-2

In alternate paradigm, you start with being happy, then take actions like studying and preparing for the exam. Finally as a result of your actions you get some results and choose appropriate ways of being to express it.

This alternate paradigm is used by many leaders and champions in their way of being.  It is like Roger Fedrer starts “being a champion” even before he enters the court , and plays the match to  the best of his abilities (doing) and (most probably) wins the grand slam (result).

This is not something you can use it like a formula but the alternate paradigm is definitely a possibility.

Once you are aware about the difference between “being” , “doing” and “knowing” you can start exploring the experience “Being Agile” and perform (do) agile practices and get extraordinary results (having) for you and your stakeholders.


End note : Best way to experience the ontological perspective it to attend/participate in an event. I conducted a session in Agile Leadership meetup.  The slides are shared below

I would like to hear your views and feedback, write to me at or call me at +44 782 164 5866