Free Your Agile Marketing Mindset

This is the first part of a three-part series, in which I’ll be taking a break from our
Agile marketing measurement series to talk about something much more fundamental: the Agile mindset.

The Matrix is one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen. Even twenty years later the highly technology-centric movie still feels relevant, which is no small thing. 

The central premise of the movie can be (and has been) applied to many different fields. Today it’s going to serve as our guide to growing the Agile marketing mindset. 

This one scene from the movie teaches us the most important thing about shifting perspective:

We all know what happens here. Morpheus jumps over the gap like it’s no biggie, while Neo lands face down on the pavement.

Why is that? 

It’s Morpheus’s mindset, his belief, that allows him to do what’s still impossible for Neo. 

The secret to Morpheus’ abilities are laid out in that one scene, specifically in one line. 

What Morpheus says is the blueprint to changing your Agile marketing mindset:

“You have to let it all go Neo. Fear, doubt and disbelief. Free your mind.”

Agile Marketing is a Mindset Not a Methodology

When we go out to a customer and present Agile marketing, we’re not only asking them to adopt a new set of practices (although that’s part of what’s needed). 

We’re not just looking for new ways of doing things (though that quest needs to happen). 

We’re asking them to embrace a new mindset.

In our Agile Marketing Fundamentals course, one of the things we focus on very early is the Agile mindset. There is a reason for choosing this particular order. In order to truly get the benefits of Agile, marketers not only have to “do Agile” they have to “be Agile”. That’s all about your mindset. 


Without the right mindset, Agile can become what Jeff Sutherland has called “Scrum-butt” and what others have labeled as “fake Agile.”

It can be easy to jump straight to the “Doing Agile” end of the spectrum, adopting daily standups and throwing sticky notes up on a wall. But if you don’t start by changing your mindset you’re likely to end up face down on the pavement like Neo. 


The Agile Onion

If you were thinking Agile marketing is simply a set of different methodologies for getting marketing done, then you’re only very partially right. 

That viewpoint fits well into a subset of the “practices” part of the famous Agile Onion metaphor, but Agile marketing is a whole lot more than that. 

agile-onion Image from

The larger the onion circle, the more powerful but less obvious it is. 

That’s not to say that the smaller circles don’t add value, but they won’t add as much value as you had hoped. Or perhaps they’ll deliver value early, but they won’t stick. 

To earn lasting agility and all the benefits that come with it, you must achieve the cultural changes in the organization that come with changing the mindset. 

And this means that the entire marketing team must change their mindset. 

Visibility and Power in an Agile System

The “Tools” that make up the circle in the bottom are really easy to see. 

You can easily see big boards with post-its or Trello boards. 

However, when they are applied on their own, the impact of tools is limited.

One level up we find “Practices,” which might include: Scrum, Kanban, story writing, prioritizing etc. These practices might be easy to understand, but they’re really hard to make stick and get any real value out of without a more substantial change supporting them. 

Ever see a marketing team that was supposedly Agile doing all the meetings, using Trello, and trying really hard but not getting any value to customers? Chances are the team, and/or the organization, is missing the more important circles of the onion.

“Principles” are harder to see, but they encompass many of the practices and processes. Agile principles include things like, “We complete all the work we start in a sprint." They also might include, “Our highest priority is to produce customer-focused marketing every two weeks.” 

Having these values underpinning the more visible parts of the onion allows the team and organization to optimize agility around their principles, rather than just trying to go faster all the time.

"Being Agile" is Different than "Doing Agile"

“Values” are even more important and even more intangible. 

We know from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” that the first starting block for any high performing team is trust. If trust isn’t encouraged through respect and courage to speak out (which are all values) then high performance is going to be an unattainable concept.

Finally, the hardest for all to see, is the “Mindset.” The agile mindset seems to be a mythical abstract quality that is hard to define and often glossed over in Agile discussions. 

Yet it’s the most powerful ring in the Agile Onion. 

Mindset is where “being Agile” comes from, rather than “doing agile,” which is the domain of the inner rings of the onion. 

Some people have the Agile mindset naturally. Most children probably do; just watch them build something and be totally OK when it falls down. 

Sometimes, just like the Zen state, the Agile mindset is obtained not by learning, but by unlearning all those layers of command and control, management theory, and project management skills.

Go Forth and BE Agile

At the end of the day, that’s what Agile marketing really is. 

It’s the fundamental switch of marketing’s culture from one kind to another. 

That means we have to change what’s in marketers’ heads; we can’t just put new tools in their hands. 

Real agility changes the way we think and interact.

So how do we help marketers free their mind? How do we help them change from a fixed mindset to an Agile marketing mindset? 

This is where Dr. Robert Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development comes in.

In Part 2 we’ll explore How to Transition from Fixed to Agile Marketing Mindset Using Kegan's Adult Development Model. 


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