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21st Century Decathletes and Versagility


21st Century Decathletes and Versagility by Bob Wiele © 2015

483421255When I think of what it takes today to succeed in the workplace and in life, it seems that each of us has to be more and more like a decathlete. We all need to have skills in so many areas. Decathletes compete in ten events over two days. They need to have speed to run very fast in the 100 metres. They need to have the endurance to run long enough in the 1500. They have to have the power to throw a heavy iron ball in the shot put. They need agility and timing to do the pole vault. They need to jump over a lot of hurdles. They need to bend over backwards in the high jump. And they need to be able to demonstrate five very different skills on one day and then turn around and demonstrate five different skills on the next day. Sound familiar?

Andy Higgins, Canadian member of the Coaches Hall of Fame has been a long time Olympic decathlon coach. He told me that 25 years ago, a decathlete could win if they were excellent in four or five events and only so-so in the other events. Now he said, to compete and win, the successful decathlete has to be good enough in all ten events. Today’s decathlete can’t simply rely on getting by with their strengths.

We all need to be like decathletes in the workplace. We need versagility!

Versagility is a new word I came up with. It is like the mental equivalent to a decathlete. Versagility is the mental ability to shift quickly and effectively from one type of thinking to another, to adapt, respond and deal effectively with changing demands, tasks, people and opportunities. Versagility combines two ideas – versatility meaning having a diverse range of thinking skills – critical, analytical and creative – with agility’s speed, nimbleness and adaptability. The opposite of versagility is rigidity, inflexibility and single-minded thinking.

Versagility is a mental skill set. It is learnable. It is increasingly a foundational skill at work and in relationships. Versagility is a core 21st century skill for success. Versagility? Let me know what you think of versagility.



1 Comment

  1. Bob, from an HR perspective, large organizations have demanded “versagility” from their management teams and staff at large, for quite some time (at least in my experience it has been so). However, no one has come up with a such a catchy and clever V word to form part of the everyday business lexicon. I agree that the concept of V can be taught and “learned”, however, will likely be applied by employees in varying degrees only, for a variety of reasons.

    Versagility – a core 21st century skill for success

    1. Talent – diverse range of thinking skills (critical, analytical, creativity)

    Organizations need to be vigilant in attracting, hiring and retaining the “right” resources.

    2. Develop skill sets that promote – agility, speed, nimbleness and adaptability in a given field(s)

    Solid orientation and training, awards and recognition programs in place within the organization. And, personal pursuit and dedication to continuous learning outside of the organization as well.

    3. Strategic/Mindful Versagility – Use of talent, skill and hard work to achieve goals, including “leading edge” in competing for jobs and developing career.

    A meaningful goal-setting and review program in place within organizations, along with succession planning.

    Note: In the context of working in a large organization, nothing I’ve said here is new. However, it presents a fuller picture of what the big V looks like in practice.

    The notion of everyone being a decathlete is a lofty ideal. Nothing wrong with that, however, Corporate management needs to be continually reminded to be vigilant in goal setting & review & staff development programs from Executives down to the receptionist, so that everyone can feel what it is like to be “successful” – otherwise, versagility and success are just subjective words that can alienate, rather than motivate.
    There used to be an old saying that went something like, “We may never reach the stars, but we chart our course by them.” Well, we’ve now reached the Moon and beyond. So, there’s hope for the future! I believe that it is businesses like yours that will help corporations stay on course.

    Best regards!


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