Personal Flexibility and Parenthood

Having raised two step children from the ages of 8 and 10 years onwards (now aged 21 and 23 respectively), with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to share a few insights about how personal flexibility (PFL) can help people become better parents.

Like many parents, I’ve said things in the heat of the moment  that I wish I hadn’t said to my children. It’s a testament to their character that they saw the bigger picture. And thankfully saw me as a flawed human being, trying to become a better person and a better parent over time.

I’ve said to various people that the life change from not being a parent to suddenly becoming a parent is huge, compared to the change from moving from say, the parent of two children to three.

Becoming a parent is like a marathon, but with random sprints inserted into the event as well. The sprints arise if the parent suffers a momentary loss of focus on a young child and it gets into trouble, say at the top of some stairs. Or following a stranger away from a playground setting.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of very young children?

The child’s needs are initially quite physical. Sleep deprivation for one or both parents is a problem as the baby’s sleeping patterns and feeding cycles are short. And very different from those of the adult parent(s). Over time, as the child’s awareness builds, it bonds with the parent(s), as the centre of its world. Progressively, the child becomes more active in exploring its world, making its wishes known and more of its personality becomes obvious to onlookers.

Taking shared parental leave from the workplace (extra parental capacity) increases the PFL to cope with the initial demands of parenthood. Rooms at home have to be modified, medical checkups arranged, baby clothes, cribs, high chairs, car seats and baby strollers bought. in a PFL sense, these things help to build capacity, create options and manage uncertainty.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is not to overwhelm the young child. To create some structure and set limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Probably, the parents are adjusting their parenting approach constantly to help support the child as best they can. They are still discovering their child’s personality and its preferences – things it likes and hates. The beauty of parenthood is that although no one is born an expert, you get to practise being a better parent every day (patience and endurance). A key message is that being a better parent comes from exercising some PFL along the way.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of pre-teen children?

The child’s identity, passions, talents and abilities become clearer in pre-teen children Their friendship group develops beyond family members. School education becomes a feature of their lives. Their parents aren’t always present when they suffer mishap or injury. Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is again, not to overwhelm the child with things it cannot handle. To create some structure and set limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world. Parental PFL involves oscillating between support and stepping back to watch your child progressively forge its own path in the world.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of teenagers?

Puberty kicks in, hormones fluctuate. And there is a constant tension between wanting more freedom, but not being able to be fully independent. Progressively, the child’s identity shifts to become not only a family member but the member of its own social circle of friends. Dating and relationships become a feature in teenagers lives. Social pressure to confirm becomes intense.

For the parent(s), there is frequent and unpredictable challenge to their authority in many cases. The parent(s) may feel underappreciated or unappreciated. The dialogue they used to have with their pre-teen child may have become replaced by a sullen, tense battle of wills and values.

For the parents, PFL is aided by wider family support to both teens and their parents. Parents need to decide which battles to fight and which ‘stylistic differences’ to concede. Another expression of PFL for the parents is in keeping an open-door policy to be there when the teen wants to talk. Somehow the parent has to keep an eye on the family ‘light at the far end of the tunnel’, while providing logistical support to the teen. And periodic emotional support too.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of adult children?

Once into their twenties, perhaps graduating from university and being establishing in their first or subsequent jobs, the child has become a fully-fledged adult. The biggest PFL issue for the parent is probably to re-establish a positive relationship with their child, on an adult-to-adult basis.

In summary, PFL is valuable at all stages of the parent ‘journey’.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Flexibility and Flexiscribes

A flexiscribe is simply a fancy word for a mechanism that codes for flexibility. The coding might be automatic. Or only happen via manual effort.

Business flexiscribes help create business flexibility (BFL). Personal flexiscribes help create personal flexibility (PFL).

A key point is that by consciously thinking about creating flexiscribes, you increase the chances of flexibility occurring.

For people of all ages working in what they regard as a ‘sunset’ industry, or for people who might be at the tail end of their working career (perhaps embarking on an ‘encore career’ or flexible portfolio work), flexiscribes are probably of particular interest.

Regarding business and personal flexiscribes, what are some examples of each type? Some business flexiscribes operating in R&D businesses, or education (universities and high schools) might include the organisations:

  • having multipurpose rooms,
  • having multiskilled staff. In universities, the staff may be good at both research and teaching. Or be staff who are talented in two fields of research,
  • having high free cash reserves,
  • having flexible working practices and incentives. For example, project secondments. These will force new experience to emerge, which itself will encourage new skills development.
  • owning some intellectual property e.g. patents and trademarks that enable commercial success,
  • holding some real options – more about these in a later blog.

What are some personal flexiscribes? Firstly, if Personal flexibility can be divided into PFL relating to ‘be’ (personal identity and image) and ‘do’ (personal actions), then perhaps that’s a useful way to split out the personal flexiscribes too.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to identity and image are as follows:

  • Continuing professional development (CPD) hours. By having to do a minimum number of training hours each year to remain registered with a particular professional body, it forces the person belonging to the membership body to develop new skills, techniques and knowledge. The advice of this blogger is to make at least some CPD training in areas transferable beyond your current sector & role. Ideally, invest in training that’s relevant to sectors where you have a good chance of working in the future.
  • Developing a strong CV and network of contacts. Both can promote your achievements and skills to date.
  • The daily work commute by train or bus. If your work commute is a decent length e.g. about an hour or more and you don’t have to cycle, or drive yourself to work, then there is enforced time available to build knowledge. Which itself builds flexibility. Building knowledge might be in the form of reading text articles, watching YouTube ‘how to’ guides, or listening to say Ted Talks on relevant subjects.
  • Personal savings. Clearly, if you can save some funds, your scope to access anything that money can buy will increase.
  • Family support. For families that help one another when things become hectic, or rally round when one family member suffers a set back, simply having that support creates more PFL for the person concerned.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to ‘doing’ activities are as follows:

  • Working in the ‘gig’ economy. Typically, each assignment is different in scope, duration, location and the issues also vary. This variety encourages skills development and adaptability from the gig worker.
  • Doing volunteer work. Obviously you need to continue paying your bills. And maintain relationships with friends & family. Therefore the time commitment and the quality of effort you make is about achieving balance with those things. Because it is voluntary, the scope of activity is flexible and you have more power to direct how your time is used to gain useful skills and achieve impact, for a win-win outcome.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Flexibility and the Poverty of Ambition

‘We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential.’  Barack Obama

This particular blog centres on personal flexibility (PFL) in business start-ups.

In my view, Obama was right, but greed and instant gratification aren’t the only forms of poverty of ambition. Some parents should want more for their children’s future too. And amongst small business start-ups, the goal might simply be:

  • grow the business to a point where you can sell it at a good profit. Or,
  • grow the business to a point where you can hire a manager to manage it. And then draw off a significant annual dividend, regardless of the profits or loses made in a given year.

The first approach hands the real potential of the business to the buyer. And leaves the seller retiring from business altogether.  Or ready to start over with another business venture. Which if at a different point in the economic cycle, or with different risks, may not succeed half as well as the first venture.

The second approach creates a lifestyle business. But without the ongoing investment to grow the business into something amazing.

For the owner of a small business start-up, it takes personal flexibility as well as courage (dare to dream), to overcome the poverty of ambition (PoA). To think bigger and become the best business model in the sector.

One step to overcome the PoA is to appoint business experts (business services accountants, management consultants, tax advisors, bankers and contract lawyers) who can ensure operating compliance with efficiency.  But also appoint the ones who can nudge the business towards best practice in that sector, regardless of how best practice is changing. An implication is that the business professionals and the business owner need to know and agree what best practice looks like. On this, best practice isn’t just about operating efficiency or customer relationship management. But business strategy too.

This blogger can briefly share one story contrasting operating compliance with efficiency. It concerned a London-based organisation, setting up a new office in continental Europe, where English isn’t an official language (on government forms). Contacting legal and accounting professionals in the local jurisdiction was an obvious and early step. What was surprising was the lack of an efficient process to help set up the offshore office in short order. The goal of the business advisors, both legal & accounting, was simply to provide compliance, not efficiency (their own poverty of ambition).

A second example was a recent conversation with a seasoned business services accountant working in a large chartered accounting firm in the UK. He remarked on the general poverty of ambition (not his exact words) amongst his client base of small business start-ups, across a range of sectors. My response was as outlined in this blog. His follow-on reaction was interest – it chimed with what his partners were telling him about developing higher value-added services for the clients. And he said his intention was now to clarify best practice in each client sector.

achievement adult agreement arms
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Mental agility (skill at jumping paths) as well as other forms of personal flexibility (creating new paths) are needed to overcome the poverty of business ambition. Obtaining real options early in the journey of business growth, should provide business flexibility to manage uncertainty. And achieve more sustainable earnings growth too.

A final thought on personal flexibility in business. If the goal becomes to build an enduring, value-for-money brand, one that will outlast the lifetime of the business founder, then improving personal flexibility (greater imagination, appetite for success and openness to changing the business model to adapt to new conditions) and business flexibility (acquiring options, building extra capacity, investing in flexiscribes) is needed to cope with the change & uncertainty issues that will challenge business sustainability.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Thinking flexibly

Personal and business flexibility both involve practising mental agility (MA).

What’s the difference between thinking flexibly and mental agility? The first is about thinking – what information do I need in the short & medium term and where can I get it from? The second is about calculating, applying, comparing, prioritising, recognising humour, changing your communication style for the audience.

Mental agility includes jumping between paths:

  • radiating outwards from one concept to multiple applications.
  • oscillating between possibility and feasibility.
  • blending logic and emotion (head and heart).
  • selecting amongst personal life experiences (the ‘school of hard knocks’), advice we received and taught concepts.

Thinking flexibly takes things a bit further with self-challenge (making new paths):

  • thinking of a first solution, then continuing to think of other solutions, before selecting the best one.
  • thinking laterally (de Bono style).
  • seeking out analogies that might help.
  • deliberately looking beyond the herd (established patterns), to search for the interesting outliers and anomalies.

For someone facing a situation of conflicting views, or multiple versions of the truth, other than staying in denial, what options are there? Note that each option will take energy, courage and honesty.

  • Gather more facts. Parents do this when two of their children have opposite stories. A real-life business problem faced by this blogger involved a new computer system creating phantom financial entries. Initially it wasn’t clear whether this was a staff-training problem. Or a software system bug. Or both. What to do? Talk to the (software) experts. Survey a range of people (users or witnesses) who have encountered the problem before. Do some testing (simulations, role-play or trials) to gather more information. Independently verify the data.  Perhaps coax the experts to develop new theories, if their existing explanations don’t ring true.
  • Develop new theories or new approaches yourself. These may put apparent conflict into a cohesive setting. An example of this was used in science to explain the behaviour of light.  To elaborate, scientists created two concurrent models – a particle model and a wave model of light that together explained what they observed. Another science example is how atomic theory explains two apparently opposing behaviours – physical material expansion when heat is applied (e.g. water into steam say).  But how the physical volume that ice occupies, contracts when heated from zero to four degrees Celsius at sea level atmospheric pressure.
  • Become comfortable and skilled at juggling multiple, concurrent things. For example, apply your existing skills (as an board member, volunteer, mentor or parent say), while learning new things in real time, as a novice. Achieve relationship compromises (if there are clashes in values, varying levels of enthusiasm, or different priorities arising between the team members). But set limits and practice ‘tough love’ as well. Take a rational approach.  But also trust your instincts. Choose to remain the student, even when you think you have become the master. On the later, keep asking ‘why’ questions, including about any anomalies & exceptions discovered. Keep asking yourself ‘is it still relevant’, since theory and practice seldom stand still. Arguably, the only way to be a true master is by permanently remaining a student – committing to constant improvement.  Even while practicing as a relative master. Some areas where this is particularly true are parenthood, leadership & management.  Each is a lifelong challenge to master!

How does thinking flexibly related to personal flexibility (PFL) more generally?

Part of mastering PFL includes thinking flexibly (building options). Other aspects include managing existing risks. And building spare capacity ‘for a rainy day’.

Perhaps the definition of a FL student is the person who knows about flexibility.  But doesn’t practice it. The FL convert is someone who links established options to situations and then decides & acts. In contrast, the FL master is someone who manufactures options (ideas and real options) for situations, generating more as required. FL masters who are financial budget holders are one example. They are encouraged to form one view and outcome.  Yet use FL as a tool to secure the best outcome, regardless of the budget that was set and approved.

Some people seek out variety, perhaps to fulfil a basic human need. Food lovers, party goers and veteran travellers all seek exciting new places and sensory experiences. They probably wonder if there is a better experience just around the corner.  Slightly out of view.  Meanwhile, fashionistas, artists and performers chase more sublime forms of human expression & recognition. Each group seems willing to embrace personal flexibility as a means to an end. However, although being open to opportunity is a great example of PFL (Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Yes Man’), using personal FL well is the thing that builds confidence.

What are some other personal flexibility approaches?

  • Remain flexible by changing the angle of view. Some famous drawings exhibit 2 images, simply by re-looking at the image outlines differently. The Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher was a case in point.
  • Reframe the problem, emphasising options and choices. For example, looking for another job while simultaneously doing your best in the current role.
  • Reward ingenuity and audacity – ‘yes we can!’
  • Grab opportunities as they arise. For example, a new employee could strive to set a new high standard of work. With the aim of changing internal roles to become an internal trainer. Likewise, someone arriving at a social gathering and realising there is no suitable food for young children, or no soft drinks for the designated driver, could use one of the relatively new food delivery services such as Uber Eats, to order a fast delivery directly to that event venue.
  • Accept that the experience gathered on a journey, may be as important as the destination reached. Frank Sinatra apparently once said ‘I’d rather show you my scars, than my medals.’
  • Don’t remind yourself to think outside the box. Tell yourself there is no box!
  • Zoom in and stand back from a problem, for perspective and to see wider patterns. For example, a motion-sensor, high-speed strobe camera, a drone-mounted video-camera and a wall-mounted CCTV-camera can each record the same events. But in very different ways.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Personal Flexibility (PFL) Calling

‘A flexible mind has a better chance to think differently and take a unique path in the life journey.’ Pearl Zhu

Have you seen the Jim Carey movie ‘Yes Man’ (2008, Warner Bros)? Essentially, its message is that by embracing the power of yes (which requires being more flexible) in our personal lives, we create more satisfaction & happiness, within and outside the workplace.

Perhaps the best gateways we encounter in life are those that shimmer & sparkle with possibility – career choices, lifestyle choices, parenthood, new friendships, important event invitations, romantic encounters, volunteer roles as leadership opportunities. The chance to work in another country. The chance to embark on new business ventures.

Perhaps also, the best people to trust in life are the ‘type P’s for which it is a risk to trust them – type P’s being a small risk with big possibilities. Not ‘type R’s’ – a big risk with small possibilities. The trick is first finding them. And then distinguishing between the two types.

Question: Should people have high hopes, but low expectations? And how does that relate to personal flexibility? Perhaps the best chance for personal happiness & success, is to be flexible on hope. Be thorough in your preparation. Be thorough in your execution too. But remain rigid & low in your expectations?

Some everyday examples of personal flexibility

  • When some people step outside their front door, they carry clothing for different weather conditions.
  • Some people sacrifice and save money ‘for a rainy day’. And may use a savings account (or piggy bank) with flexible access, for the same reason.
  • Parents tell their children to study hard & gain qualifications. Ones that will be valued by more than one employer.
  • People reserve their judgement when they meet strangers.
  • Some people commit to things one step at a time, to ‘keep their options open’.
  • Some people store up political favours or wealth, as a form of future insurance.
  • Some people prize physical flexibility, perhaps indulging in dance, yoga, gymnastics or martial arts.
  • People move cities or countries, hoping to take advantage of job opportunities in other locations.
  • People adjust their mode of living as their needs change. For example, as a child or teenager, living with their parents. Living in student-share accommodation while studying At university. Living in a shared flat while starting their career. Living in nuclear-family accommodation to raise a family. Downsizing their accommodation needs when the children leave home. Moving into a care home when needing supervised care.
  • People date strangers. They simultaneously try to present their best side, meet in a public place and ‘try on different potential partners for size.’
  • Adventurous people seek out other places to experience other cultures and value systems.
  • Some wealthy old people delay making a bequest. When tactfully asked by fundraisers why they delay, they reply ‘I might change my mind’.
  • Close-knit communities create food stockpiles, seed stores and water wells, to cope with supply shortages or uncertain future weather conditions.
  • Some communities create time capsules, music, dance, drama, museums, written diaries, film and photographs. They see this as a way to preserve their cultural identity in an uncertain world.
  • We populate the planet with ever more people to preserve and enhance human society. Just in case.

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in summary, flexibility isn’t a novel concept. We’ve been practising it and paying lip service to it for years. What is new, or at least overdue, is creating a framework for both personal & business flexibility. And some new language about flexibility the subject.

Enough for now. If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

The Flexibility Journey Begins…

Hi and welcome to my new blog on personal flexibility (PFL). It’s a subject much bigger than just agility or stretching techniques.

PFL can help you:

  • manage changes,
  • manage uncertainty,
  • achieve personal growth,
  • become more resilient,
  • cope with some of life’s set backs.

Firstly, let’s separate flexibility into two strands. One is Personal Flexibility (PFL). The other is Business Flexibility (BFL).

Flexibility is a big subject that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. The main focus of this blog is going to be on personal flexibility, since it’s been overlooked even more than business flexibility.

Business flexibility is a related & complimentary tool. If you are interested in Business Flexibility – feel free to visit my website www.sleicest-consulting.org.uk . There’s also a large handbook on business FL that I’ve developed behind that.

So what is personal flexibility? Essentially, it’s about developing options and extra capacity in your life. Both can be developed manually. Or you can utilise flexiscribes (things that code for flexibility). But more about that in a later blog.  Closely related is having the ability to use the PFL you possess.

Why does flexibility matter? We focus a lot on action & goals. We aren’t so good at building a winning hand in the first place. Or buying sufficient time to develop a better solution.

Flexibility gives you more freedom on what to do. And when to act.

Having more flexibility doesn’t itself cause indecision. For example, you might delay an important decision while you wait for more information. Likewise, saying to yourself ‘I can be anything I want to be’ isn’t the same as having tangible options to open various doors.

Perhaps take a moment at this point, to reflect on a few negative experiences you’ve had in your life (job redundancy, sibling rivalry, dating?). Now imagine if you’d built up wider options and chosen amongst them instead. Of course, you can’t be certain what would have happened. But you probably have a better idea of the regrets you’d have avoided. True?

How can you practice PFL? Apply flexibility thinking (see a later blog on this). Gather and manage a personal portfolio of options. Build extra capacity among the resources you do control. Benchmark and actively monitor your stocks of PFL. Use your influence by exercising your options. Or not. Feel uplifted and empowered. Then press the repeat button.

When should you practice PFL? When you expect or encounter uncertainty. When you want growth. When you want to manage the existing risks in your life better. And when you want to change things for the better. Having PFL can make you happier & more successful at various points in your life, so stick with it!

I’ll try and publish regular blogs on Personal Flexibility, so please return to this site for regular updates. In time, I’ll include some product/service reviews of stuff that has flexibility at its core. And referrals to what others are saying about flexibility. My aim to keep the site positive, as well as free of politics & religion.

My hope is that the blogs are helpful in managing various personal issues in your life. The only thing I’d ask, is that if you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.’ Albert Einstein

‘If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.’ Jeff Bezos