Personal Biases and Personal Flexibility

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Once bitten twice shy. Do our various biases hold us back from trying again? Is more personal flexibility (PFL) the best medicine for our biases?

Our mental architecture (the neural pathways in our brains) might favour strengthening various well-worn pathways, as a coping mechanism for the daily onslaught of sensory information we face.

• We sample what is convenient & comfortable to sample (selection bias).
• We notice the things that confirm the views we already hold (confirmation bias).
• We like to associate with those like ourselves (group or ‘me too’ bias).
• We over-estimate how soon improvements happen, but under-estimate their impact (judgement bias).
• We leap into action at the first opportunity, telling ourselves we should be more spontaneous and that it makes us look more powerful, by being decisive (action bias).

Then there are a load of other biases that (biased?) psychologists tell us we suffer from.
There are so many biases swirling around, it’s a wonder we achieve anything useful, ever! That said, can personal flexibility (PFL) help us counter, or at least moderate our biases? And if so, what form might that PFL usefully take?

1. Holding two opposing views at the same time is one form of PFL. Less a case of madness. More a case of seeing the merits of both sides of an argument. More strange still, our opposing views can happen implicitly – the risk aversion bias many of us have (to trying new things in case they don’t work out), works against a risk-minimising strategy of diversification (not putting all your eggs in one basket).

2. Forcing ourselves to take a second, more considered look is another PFL technique. For example, looking at a radical painting in an art gallery to think more about the artist’s message to the viewer. Or in the animal kingdom, a shark circling its potential prey, is partly waiting for more information.

Simon

Fake News and Personal Flexibility

‘There is no sickness worse for me than words that to be kind must lie.’ Aeschylus

‘People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.’ Otto von Bismarck

‘People can choose between the sweet lie or the bitter truth. I say the bitter truth, but many people don’t want to hear it.’ Avigdor Lieberman

‘Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.’ Eric Hoffer

‘For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.’ Bo Bennett

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So-called fake news is an age-old problem. And an annoying fixture in our personal and business lives.

So-called fake news can include:

  • accidental distortion– a version-control problem, information-relay error, false logic, false assumption, static, a reference error or typo. Or something misheard – perhaps generating a colourful rumour on the office grapevine.

A famous example of accidental distortion is about the WW1 message conveyed from the front-line trenches, shouted from trench to trench, back to the high command. It started off as the request ‘send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’. And ended up arriving as ‘send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance’.

  • deliberate distortion – an exaggeration, something taken out of original context. Maybe an outright lie, generated for commercial or personal gain.

Sometimes politicians rather than lie, simply evade the question, answering a different question, or changing the subject instead. At other times, their truth may be more damaging than fake news – a politician might promise one thing, but once elected, change their party’s policy entirely. Here the ‘news’ is real.  It’s the direction that has changed.

The method of collecting information to inform decision making, introduces opportunity for error at multiple points in the process. This blogger once served as a court juror and was surprised when a seemingly impartial police witness made a ‘rookie error’ on the time an event was alleged to have happened.

Court jurors weight the evidence testimony. Each juror has to do a mental-sorting exercise of the information presented – what is probably true and what is probably false. Incidentally, this mental-sorting exercise can be a form of personal flexibility – emotion fighting against rationality (heart and head). In this situation, it’s worth the jurors reassuring themselves that it is entirely natural to have an internal conflict. And that sometimes the internal ‘battle’ needs to rage, to make the resulting view more just. But that for something approaching justice to be done, a jury decision must be given, so a personal view on innocence/guilt must ultimately be taken by each juror.

‘It is well known that in war, the first casualty is truth – that during any war truth is forsaken for propaganda.’ Harry Browne

The method of information collection can introduce delay too. Or introduce selection bias in the data collected. The story about the drunk person searching for their lost car keys at night under the street light, because it was easier to look for them under the street light, is perhaps one example. For a court juror, it there’s been a ‘trial by media’ for the accused person before the court case even started, they may have to fight their own preconceived views from the start.

How can personal flexibility (PFL) counter so-called fake news?

  • be open to engaging other inputs, from trusted sources.
  • sample quick then sample slow.
  • investigate and fix errors. Ask yourself, is the motive of the fake news to cover up something? Or take attention away from something more concerning?
  • rely on independent verification.
  • lower the stakes regarding a wrong decision made.
  • consider publicly discrediting fake news sources, when you find them (whistleblowing).

The combination of the above 6 approaches demonstrates PFL at work.  And how it can be used to counter fake news.

Simon

Design, Control, Film Directing and Personal Flexibility

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‘A good director makes a playground and allows you to play.’ Martin Landau

‘People think that the director’s direct actors. No. Really, what the director’s doing is directing the audience’s eye through the film.’ Julianne Moore

‘Directing is very close to choreography; you deal with space, time, emotions, lighting, making beautiful images.’ Benjamin Millepied

‘I prefer directing to acting. There is huge freedom that comes from being behind the camera. It brings a lot of responsibilities as well but is intensely rewarding.’ Angelina Jolie

‘Directing is so interesting. You know, it just sort of encompasses everything that you see, that you know, that you’ve felt, that you have observed.’ Barbra Streisand

Can we learn more about personal flexibility (PFL) from film directors, to help us in our daily lives? Do film directors have more PFL than the rest of us? But learn to harness it in their design & control work, to make a successful movie?

Firstly, what do film directors actually do? Arguably, they use control (like paramedics) & design (like architects) to adapt an adaption according to their expression. In other words, they use the medium of film and a multitude of design choices, to take a story that’s (probably) been adapted into a screenplay. And bring that story to dramatic life (crafting & control).

So can someone be a good film director without great design & control? And more fundamentally, can someone achieve great design & control in their life, without inherent personal flexibility?

Since it’s difficult to prove a yes answer to both questions conclusively, let’s take a leap of faith, assume yes and skip straight to how PFL might drive design & control.

Like successful architects, great film makers exploit their personal flexibility to achieve the best design, given the production constraints (time, money, available talent etc). That process of creating good design necessarily involves imagining, improvising, trying and reviewing.

Regarding control, emergency workers such as paramedics, arrive at the scene of a traffic accident and rapidly assess the situation at hand, taking control of events. Film directors do likewise. The personal flexibility exhibited is about:

  • Expecting the unexpected.
  • Managing expectations.
  • Quickly finding ways to relate to a host of questions, complaints & cries for help.
  • The uncertainty for the paramedic or film maker, regarding the resources to hand. A bit of trial and error is needed. Eventually, there is resolution. Patients are conveyed to hospital. The film takes are completed. And the movie content passed to the editing team to work on.

So what can we take away from these examples & embrace, to make our lives more flexible?

  1. Something magical can be created from nothing but time, raw talent & money. It just takes good design & control to craft a good solution. Therefore, give yourself more credit. To embrace your role as the director of your own life movie.
  2. By taking control of a life (and death) situation, it doesn’t mean you close down all available options. Control includes continuing to hold options in your head & heart, about what you might next do. There is an interplay between options & control, at all points of the ‘journey’.
  3. Spectators will watch your movie being made, or your heroic actions at the scene of the accident and silently judge your efforts. You will get credit for trying. Clearly, people can be bitchy and critical. But when we remind ourselves that we reap what we sow (what goes around comes around), we are capably of quickly adjusting our view to a sense of fairness.

If you find these blogs useful, feel free to share with others. Likewise, comments are welcome too.

Simon

Driving and Personal Flexibility

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Driving. Ok, firstly, a few credentials…

I’ve been lucky. In a driving ‘career’ spanning some 42 years, I’ve caused zero traffic accidents, that I know of.  Once in a car full of reckless teenagers, I was in the back of a car that tilted sideways (without quite overturning), when it hit the curb while taking a corner too wide at speed. More recently, in a taxi going to the Shanghai airport, we slammed into the side of a large truck that didn’t stop at an intersection. It smashed up the engine of the taxi quite badly. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

My driving’s been in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and continental Europe. I’ve driven alert and tired. In wet, dry, foggy, windy, icy and soft gravel conditions. It’s been in the London commuter rush. And the remote back-blocks of the New Zealand high country. I’ve paused to let herds of dairy cattle, or flocks of sheep, jostle along the road around my car, herded by farm dogs and overseen by gruff farmers on farm bikes.

My driving’s been in a range of cars, manual and auto – some highly reliable, some barely road-worthy. Hillman, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Vauxhall and more recently, a Toyota RAV.  For a few years, I rode touring bikes and trail bikes too.

I’ve towed trailers, affixed windsurfer boards to the roof rack & multi-bike racks to the back of the car. Although, not all at once.

At least twice, my car had to be towed out of trouble. Once when the slightly swampy ground it was parked on, sunk a bit. And the other time, in some volcanic sand in a concave piece of ground, when trying to dig it or push it out of the dip wouldn’t work. And at least once, my car has been completely covered in snow & ice.  After being parked at a ski field carpark for a number of days.

Crime wise, while out hiking for the day in a New Zealand national park, my car was broken into and a bunch of Christmas presents stolen from the back seat. Another time, after a different NZ hike, I came back to my car to find a wheel stolen and the car resting on a block of wood! Fortunately for me, the thieves had left the wheel nuts on the ground next to my car, so I could get home using the spare wheel from the trunk of the car. Anyway, enough about car experience credentials.

As a vehicle driver more generally, how is personal flexibility (PFL) relevant to the driving experience? In my view, there are essentially three things for the driver to concentrate on (assuming the satnav is working): safety, speed and passenger experience. The driver needs to remain flexible enough to move between each.  Keeping safety paramount of course.

Speed isn’t just about average speed of the vehicle being driven. But also, about the journey time end-to-end. Taking the road less travelled, can be both fun and insightful. But take a bit longer, even if the average vehicle speed is high.  Sometimes, it’s more a case of get from ‘A to B’, to maximise the enjoyment at ‘B’, rather than the journey itself.

Conversation involving the driver, fresh air blowing through the vents, music blasting out, or frequent services stops can help all the driver stay alert. And keep the passengers safe. Conversation can help eat up the journey miles too.

PFL is also about doubling the value of the trip – go somewhere to enjoy the destination. But explore the journey to get there at the same time. Use conversation with passengers to discover new things. And build relationships further.

Modern cars automate quite a bit of the driving process. So, you as the driver can concentrate on the high-end stuff. Double check the satnav against the physical environment of what you’re seeing through the windscreen. Fine tune the safety aspects. Have some good conversation with a captive audience.

Your car is remarkably versatile:

Its seats act as a movie theatre (in drive-in movies).

It’s private for romantic dates.

It can at as a private meeting room, or comfortable waiting room generally.

It has a climate-control environment to get you out of blistering sun.  Or driving rain.

Thanks to locks & car alarms, it can be a temporary, valuables-storage locker.

At a pinch, the car interior can be a temporary bedroom.

With a good music system installed, the car interior acts as a set of oversized headphones.

The vehicle with a full tank of gas is a freedom device. A road-trip enabler. A bike, boat, trailer, horse-float or caravan transporter. A temporary outdoor light.

Lastly, for those travelling by car, here are 8 things to increase the enjoyment factor:

  • People watching,
  • People helping,
  • Good conversation,
  • Good music,
  • Playing a family game in the car,
  • Taking a scenic route,
  • Using a satnav aid (stress reduction),
  • Making sure your car is roadworthy and has oil, water & gas necessary for the trip.

 

Enjoy the journey!

Simon

Help Wanted Ad – Personal Flexibility

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Thriving planet with unlimited potential for great ideas, invites applications from interested candidates.

Essential Criteria:
Must be 100% human, with creases and scars to prove it.

Must have a strong self-belief, without being delusional.

Must see being flexible & practising flexible thinking as a calling. Not a chore.

Must be willing at interview to provide examples of how has used the principle of flexibility to solve numerous real-life problems. Ones involving tired, grumpy children, over-critical mother in laws, commuter transport strikes, natural disasters. Poor internet connection. And being accused unfairly of flatulence in a public elevator space.

Must be able to appreciate that although crowds of people can create stress, they also represent a talented collection of colourful, amazing human beings.

Desirable Criteria:
Able to make friends with time, any bank manager and a glass that is half empty.

Able to handle sporting upsets involving your favourite team.

Able to cope with the occasional wet day, when you left your umbrella at home.

Looks at problems both as problems and opportunities.

Isn’t a perfectionist.

Can look in the mirror and like what they see.

Apply within.

Simon

Upskilling and Personal Flexibility

‘The idea of Juilliard was that it would give you this toolbox full of skills that you could take with you and apply to anything.’ Robin Williams

‘I think educational systems have to be more nimble, have to be more adapted to today’s realities where students can go in different directions and professionalize even faster. Constant retraining and reskilling and upskilling, whatever you want to call it, of the workforce.’ Roberto Azevedo

‘Dancers work and they work and they work, and they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back… That’s the mentality that I’m trying to create, recreate and hold on to forever.’ Pete Carroll

‘Motivation aside, if people get better at these life skills, everyone benefits: The brain doesn’t distinguish between being a more empathic manager and a more empathic father.’ Daniel Goleman

Upskilling is like travelling to new places. The action itself opens up new opportunities.  Upskilling might involve improving throughput (efficiency). For example, using better skills to achieve a greater amount of the same outputs, for the time spent. It could also mean investing in getting extra impact – being more effective with your time spent.

Why upskill in the first place? Because of change, demand alters. Even so called ‘fixed costs’ or ‘fixed prices’ are seldom fixed in the medium term. Because of change, the future remains uncertain too. Because of change & growing interaction, the future is becoming more complex. Together, these factors encourage people to invest in upskilling in various ways to cope.

Personal reasons for upskilling can include wanting to do something:

  • more meaningful,
  • more challenging,
  • more rewarding.

Or to get more variety in your life.

Professional reasons for upskilling can include:

  • widening or deepening your skill base, in order to obtain a new job,
  • to be promoted in your current job,
  • to win more business or retain customer loyalty,
  • to make some tasks in your job easier (let the software summarise & monitor for you.

What should you upskill in is a more difficult question. And one that is highly personal. That said, people generally seem to benefit from achieving a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy. One way to think of the ‘what to upskill’ question, is to re-examine your passions and your abilities. Things that score highly in both will make upskilling a whole lot easier. But not necessarily be the most useful to you i.e. sometimes a trade-off is needed.

When to upskill? Sometimes, regarding a personal hobby, you can be on a structured programme where proficiency improves the longer you stayed committed. For example, the grade system in music. Or the belt system in martial arts. The ‘when’ question is answered for you.

In other situations, judgement is needed. If in doubt, stagger your upskilling effort. And diversify it too.

How to upskill? The choices in the digital age have widened. There are numerous ‘how to’ You Tube videos. Self-help smartphone apps help you learn a new language. Or do ‘brain training’. You can hire coaches, guides, therapists, enablers, or instructors in person. You can people watch and mimic their techniques & ideas e.g. in rollerblading and dance. Sometimes, the best way to upskill is to experiment and learn what works. For example, in jazz improvisation. Or being a parent.

What kind of skills are there to consider upskilling in?

One useful split is into physical and mental skills. Mental skills including thinking skills. These might encompass; imagining, planning, identifying, recognising, comparing, reasoning, controlling your emotions (to some extent), reflecting and reviewing. AI might replace some of these things over time. Humans therefore owe it to ourselves to become adept in the others. For as long as possible.

Is it possible to upskill your instincts?

You can sensitise your senses (the ‘gas pedal’) to influence your instincts. You can also rationalise and use self discipline (the ‘brake pedal’) to moderate your instincts. In the sense of getting more skilful at using the ‘brake’ or ‘gas’ pedal (signals control), it can be thought of as upskilling.

So how is upskilling related to flexibility and personal flexibility in particular?

Flexibility is both a reserve of power and a characteristic to deploy. Upskilling in the right areas can also be these things.  If upskilling makes you more agile and if agility (jumping paths) is a subset of flexibility (which includes creating paths in the first place), then upskilling can be a part of creating flexibility. Flexibility is also needed to change skillsets, best summed up in the following Kofi Annan quote. In the view of this blogger, what Annan says about countries, could equally apply in the transition from childhood into a fully-fledged adult, raising a family.

‘The skills you need to fight the colonial power and the skills you need to gain independence are not necessarily the same you need to run a country.’ Kofi Annan

If flexiscribes are things that code for extra flexibility, then is upskilling something that will achieve this? The answer is not always. You might upskill in more narrow areas of scope. Or in achieving things that use rigid techniques to achieve fixed structures. In doing so, you might achieve personal benefit. But not personal flexibility (PFL).

When else does upskilling not lead to more personal flexibility (PFL)?

  1. When its applications are strictly professional. For example, a soldier is trained to kill enemy combatants. This probably doesn’t translate well into civilian life.
  2. When skills are gained. But lead directly into bad habits. For example, a newbie golfer or snow boarder in their eagerness to try out the activity, skips over getting any lessons and in doing so, builds up some bad habits. I myself did this as a novice skier some years ago. Later, as progress becomes increasingly more limited, the person takes lessons from a professional, which tend to go back to the basics. And replace poor technique with a foundation of good technique to build on further.

If you find these blogs useful, spread the word so others can benefit also.

Simon

2019 Resolutions and Personal Flexibility

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas Edison

‘Fall seven times and stand up eight.’ Japanese proverb

‘Success is not final, failure is not final. It is the courage to continue that counts.’ Winston Churchill

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2018 is almost over. I hope it’s been a great year for you. For my part, it’s been a mixed bag.

With the new year about to start, is making some new year resolutions a good thing? And why do we make them?

I guess it’s inherently human to want to make a fresh start. To set a new goal. To look for some variety. To make an improvement.  Or do some self-development. Nothing wrong with that. Which of the following groups we fit into and the extent to which we move between them (at different points in our lives) is partly down to our Personal Flexibility (PFL).

Some people make resolutions the way they make a daily ‘to do’ list. Something to focus on and achieve, bit by bit. They are true believers and simply allocate their new year resolutions into their daily lists and get on with it. Some of this group are probably perfectionists as well as true believers.  Always chasing perfection.  But having to constantly redefine it too. Why? They realise that doing more things, or doing some things to a higher standard, isn’t the same thing as achieving perfection in everything.

Other people (I suspect the vast majority), make some new year resolutions, some of which are relatively quick & easy to achieve. With some of their other goals being are really difficult. Or requiring a lot of luck, outside the person’s direct control. 

People might join a gym, give up smoking, enrol in a course, or take up a new hobby. But their commitment to do the activity gets overtaken by other life events (and temptations), breaking the momentum. In this group, some learn to change the goals to ones that are more achievable and join the perfectionist/true believer group. Others learn to cope with mixed success, sometimes thriving on it (adventurers and managers are usually pragmatic people). They may become society’s leaders, because they succeed in the big things.  Yet small failure helps them stay grounded and accessible. Some become disillusioned and turn into non believers.

Finally, there are people who refuse to jump on the new year resolution band wagon – non believers from the start. The wagon moves forward and they stay in the field, watching it go. They may be perfectly happy and know what makes them happy. Like the seasons, they have a rhythm to their life.  And don’t need harsh judgement from the other groups.

In the end and in the round, it probably matters less which ‘resolutions group’ you fit into. But more, whether you live your own life according to a decent set of standards.

Happy New Year!

Simon