Interview – Taffy Williams on How Entrepreneurs Can Think Agile



“Luck is not a factor. Hope is not a strategy. Fear is not an option.” – James Cameron

Taffy Williams is founder and president of Colonial Technology Development, a company that helps entrepreneurs launch biotech, software, and pharmaceutical companies.

Taffy is also the author of Think Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed.

In Think Agile, Taffy explains how entrepreneurs can develop an Agile Mindset and why this flexibility is so important.

We live in an age where technology changes rapidly and market shifts happen overnight.  Whether you are a solo-preneur, intra-preneur, or entrepreneur, you can no longer be wedded to one idea.

You need the ability to explore multiple ideas, and expect the unexpected.  In essence, you need to think Agile and respond to change.

This is my interview with Taffy to help dive deeper into how entrepreneurs can think Agile and develop their Agile mindset.

Q: What is an Agile mindset?

Taffy Williams:

The Agile mindset requires flexibility in your thinking and actions.

Agile thinking includes exploring alternatives, getting rapid feedback, testing paths, making adjustments, and reacting quickly to unexpected events.

It is important that Agile thinkers learn to recognize potential barriers in advance and explore alternatives, pivot quickly when needed, generate new alternatives to the unexpected, and not get stuck on a singular path to a goal.

Agile thinkers realize that they must question the status quo, take more than one shot on goal, banish bureaucracy, accept failure as a cost of doing business, and they believe they can do anything.

They know that their agility improves the chances at being successful and that it does not guarantee success.

Agile thinkers realize that if they improve their odds their chances of success are improved as well.  Depending on the project or program, the phrase “fail often and fail fast” is an important one because it is sometimes easier to fix a known problem and improve the product once you see what does not work.

Q: What is life like for an Agile entrepreneur?

Taffy Williams:

Agile thinkers are always monitoring their business and considering potential issues that can hold them back or improve their success.

They often explore more than one path to reach a goal and use their team’s knowledge and skill.

Whether it is a day, a week, or longer, the process remains much the same.  They are driven by achievement of goals using the  strategies that deliver the best results, costs, and products.

One important consideration is looking for any impediment that can derail getting to a goal, stop a program, halt development, reduce sales or impede the business in some manner.  Recognizing such factors in advance allows  an agile thinker to develop alternatives if the negative event occurs.

When a totally unexpected event occurs, the Agile thinker will rapidly pivot and develop alternative solutions that may work.  For example, if an Agile entrepreneur wants to raise capital, they may explore several paths to getting funding, so if one path fails, there are still more options on the table

Agile entrepreneurs are also prepared to take advantage of unexpected good events.  By being ready to take action, they can capitalize quickly on positive events and take the business to a much higher level.

Q. What are the key advantages of an Agile entrepreneur over a traditional entrepreneur?

Taffy Williams:

Being agile  makes success more likely.

It allows entrepreneurs to rapidly respond to problems and  impediments because they considered potential solutions in advance, and were ready for action.

The ability to quickly identify unexpected problems and develop novel alternatives increases speed and Agile entrepreneurs are more likely to  overcome a problem before it  becomes unfixable.

Q. How can an Agile entrepreneur rebound from mistakes and failures?

Taffy Williams:

Difficult situations often have a solution that lessen the burden or eliminate a problem.

It is very stressful when you’re in the middle of those kinds of situations.

There are a few steps that may help in creating a new path or overcoming a problem.   First, it is important to not panic and maintain composure.  You have to treat the situation like others where you logically identify possible steps that approach a resolution.

Second, try to learn as much as possible  in the time available.  This includes speaking with your team, advisors, and others to get different ideas based on their knowledge and experiences.

If time permits, step away from the problem for a short while.  Allow your creativity to take over so you can create a tailored solution to your particular issue.

There will be a few situations where you already have significant knowledge and your gut reactions may provide a direction.  If this seems to be the case, wait a while before taking that path.  Make sure you have thought it through and are not working out of negative emotions.

One such situation occurred during an $18 million financing when the syndicate reneged 3 days before the shareholder vote to approve the deal  I had constructed.  It took every bit of calm imaginable to turn the deal around over the next few months while facing bankruptcy!

Q. How can an Agile entrepreneur get beyond the “Foolproof Formula?”

Taffy Williams:

There is never a full proof formula for all situations.

What you can do is increase your odds of success, but you can never guarantee success.

As an Agile entrepreneur, it’s important that you recognize failure is an option and you must be able to live with it.

It’s critical that if failure does occur that it’s  not because  you failed to take the right steps or because you performed horribly.  It helps to find alternatives and work on strategy development with your team.  Then work on  alternate routes deliberately and aggressively, and make adjustments as needed.

If you recognize potential problems in advance, and have strategies in place to deal with them, this can help reduce negative impact if the problem arises.  Developing multiple paths to achieve a goal increases the chances of reaching the goal.

The key is to explore multiple options and pivot quickly when needed to ensure you find something that works.

Q. How can an Agile entrepreneur plan for the unexpected, and prepare for the unpredictable?

Taffy Williams:

We can always plan for potential issues that may arise.

The number of unexpected issues to consider may be reduced by looking closely at the steps leading to a goal.

Unexpected events occur all the time.

They aren’t possible to predict or seemed so unlikely that planning for them made no sense.  However, recognizing a problem quickly is essential to adapting and surviving.

Once you’ve identified a situation, consider as many alternatives to solving the problem and select those you think are the best.  The alternative solutions may be run at the same time or try one first, then the next.

The exploration of alternatives followed by solid execution is critical to success.

It is also important to monitor your progress and adjust your actions as needed.

At a minimum, do not let the unpredictable bad events kill the business.  If they are unpredictably good events, do not let them go by without taking advantage of them.

Q. How can a traditional entrepreneur think Agile and develop an Agile Mindset in a pragmatic way?

Taffy Williams:

Start simply by examining the activities already underway.

For example, are there key employees that are so essential a program would be severely delayed if they were to leave?  Consider steps that can reduce the likelihood  of them wanting to leave and also what you would do if the employees left.

Are you trying to get funding for your company?  There may be a multiple sources of funding you can tap, like grants, loans, partnerships, and financing.  Explore whether you can handle more than one of these simultaneously to increase your odds of finding funds in the shortest time.

You can become a more Agile entrepreneur by learning to examine the most important parts of your business and considering the more obvious “what if” scenarios.

The result is that you’ll get practice at being Agile, and you may be able to act faster in a bad situation or take advantage of a good one.

You can connect with Taffy Williams through his Startup Blog and on Twitter.  Taffy’s book, Think Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle.

You Might Also Like

Agile Results QuickStart

Getting Started with Agile Results

Interview with Entrepreneur’s Library on Getting Results the Agile Way