The unbearable lightness of agility

Characterized by quickness, lightness, and ease of movement, nimble: this is what it means to be agile.

Ever since Hewlett-Packard spun off its test and measurement business as Agilent Technologies in 1999, it seems that every old company reborn as a spin-off wants to proclaim this rejuvenating quality in its name.

HP was in the thrall of Carly Fiorina at the time. The newly appointed CEO was fresh from her triumph at Lucent Technologies, the AT&T spinoff. HP wanted some Lucent magic.

The beauty of the name ‘Lucent’ lies in its literal meaning – giving off light; luminous. It was a one-off, but that didn’t deter the test and measurement executive team. “Give us a Lucent” was the order to Landor, the company that came up with the name.

The result was Agilent. Helpfully explaining that the name is derived from the word “agile” the company said in a statement that the name reflects the company’s “focus on providing breakthrough products and services with agility, speed, and commitment to its customers.”

Agilent has chugged solidly along, steady and reliable as a stock but scarcely the agile giant it would have us believe it was going to be.


Being agile has since become nothing more than a corporate conceit. It says more about the executive team’s view of how it wishes to be regarded than of any distinguishing and differentiating corporate virtue.

The latest company to come trippingly into the world is Engility, a government services company spun-off by L-3 Communications.

The name is derived from “engineering” and “agility” says the company. It states: “As the name Engility implies, we have a demonstrated ability to anticipate our customers’ needs and move quickly and efficiently to deploy resources on large and small, complex programs worldwide”.

Sigh. There is really only so much you can say about being agile before you soon begin to sound stale, clumsy, and seriously pedantic.

3 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of agility

  1. Just like Hollywood producers and writers redoing the same show, only with a new cast this time, some charged with a naming effort can’t seem to stop sucking at the teat…they’re oblivious to the fact: the well has run dry and highlight their shortcomings.

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