Options versus Actions

The World is obsessed with actions. Stakeholders want them. Accountants value them. Politicians couldn’t survive without them.

In Physics, potential energy matters as much as kinetic energy. Employers hire potential, recognising that strength comes not just from proven action, but from having versatility under uncertain conditions. Astute buyers bypass one deal, knowing others will follow. Smart managers intuitively know the value of having options, whether accountants value them on the Balance Sheet or not.  Being light on your feet helps. But being able to exercise a portfolio of options AND pivot quickly is better.

Cultures progress because they’ve created options to evolve. A culture is visible in its actions – speeches about values, its spoken language, performing arts and time-honoured customs. But a culture’s strength comes from its resilience, adaptability, agility and how its representatives managing the options they make and hold. The Jewish people suffering in Nazi concentration camps endured, died and suffered. But the culture prevailed. The Jewish culture (including representation from deathcamp survivors) was easily strong and resourceful enough to outlast Nazi oppression.

For an SME business, developing a distinctive service or product is great. But flexibility promotes sustainability. Large, external shocks, whether global depressions, subprime credit crunches or virus pandemics will test fledgling businesses to the max. But those holding options will survive and prosper.

Therefore, both at a personal level and at a business start-up capacity, learn what you can about business flexibility (an umbrella term for resilience, adaptability, agility and options management). If only to improve your risk management practices.

Simon

Acting your age, not your shoe size?

We probably all know a few younger people who act old before their time. Not responsibly and maturely. But staid, conservative and self-limiting.  But how do older people stay young?

Some of the ways are to not think of retiring (ever), have friends in age-group-decades younger than yours, engage in sports & travel to new places and keep a good sense of humour.

Look after your boy (stay fit & supple) when you’re young, so your body will stay fit & health later in your life. And when you’re older, deliberately choose activities to keep you relatively fit & supple – gardening, dance, swimming, hiking, cycling and home DIY are some examples. Have reunions with old friends re-creating some activities you did in the past.

Appearance-wise, find a middle ground between being ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and thinking you are celebrating retro, but looking like you walked out of a Victorian period movie! Also on the subject of balance, all your best memories of fun times shouldn’t be from twenty years ago, but instead, they should be from every decade of your life.

Don’t keep harking back to ‘the good old days’, which after all had both their good and bad points, just like today’s World. And try harder to remember what you’ve said to various people, so you don’t get a reputation for repeating yourself, something older people are prone to doing.

Mental dexterity is a big part of staying youthful too. As you become a twenty something, thirty something, middle-aged, or late middle-aged, keep learning new things. to shake up your neural pathways – my dad started learning new languages well into his seventies.

Take the road less travelled to sharpen up your adaptability and improvisation skills. Challenge yourself to entertain young children at family gatherings, since they’ll be bored to death hanging around the other adults, who are making zero effort to make it fun for them.

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If you take photos, even on your smartphone, keep searching for new angles and compositions to make the pictures more interesting.

Having a mid-life crisis may be fashionable. But see it as just a passing phase in your longer journey to become a better person.

Stay up to date on technology & world politics. And always have at least one thing in your life that you’re rubbish at, but you’ve challenged yourself to improve on, bit by bit – it stops you feeling too comfortable and complacent.

Good luck!

Simon

Coping with Change using Character and Personal Flexibility

How best can we cope with change? The change in our personal lives might be a new-born baby, or a virus pandemic. It could be a betrayal by a friend, a natural disaster, or perhaps a new romantic relationship from a chance encounter.

In professional organisations, information systems can lead to frameworks & work politics (editorial bias). Which in turn can lead to forecasts & actions. While in our personal life, our character, with its qualities of inherent inner strength & flexibility, can lead to inner confidence – the confidence we feel about our understanding of a situation and our ability to handle a situation. Which in turn, generates an outer confidence (the style we present), leading to judgements and actions.

New change experiences in our lives, whether good or bad, help grow and shape our character. When it comes to inner confidence, we don’t always get it in synch with our underlying character. Sometimes our resulting judgement and actions are off because we felt overconfident about handling a situation – riding our first bike. Or taking our first steps upright. Sometimes we fret about a future event. And then surprise ourselves. By handling it well when the time comes.

Incidentally, does it matter that character and inner confidence are sometimes out of synch? Maybe. Afterall, it takes emotional energy to cope with that difference, when we reflect on the results afterwards and perhaps beat ourselves up mentally. But it can lead to beneficial results for our character too. Incidentally, character has other qualities such as integrity level and generosity level too, which won’t be further explored in this blog.

Now imagine two triangles joined together by a common base (a diamond shape, with its ‘sparkle’ being character and its ‘ring-finger presence’ representing impact). In one triangle, the two outer sides are personal efficiency (PE) and personal innovation (PI). The shared base of the triangle is personal flexibility (PFL). With the area of that triangle representing personal impact (on people, things and the World generally).  In the second triangle, the two external sides are focus and development. With the area of the triangle representing human character.  But first, what are focus and development?

Focus is about concentration on route with more efficiency. For example, coaches and athletes aspire for faster times, greater power or stamina, always looking for a more efficient training regime to achieve it. To cope with change, some kinds of leadership rely on focus – leading the way and mentoring others by showing the efficient way to do something. For example, parenthood, or leading a group of novices out of a storm to shelter, as quickly as possible.

Development is about finding new & better ways. Developing smarter plans. Uncovering superior technique and tactics. Perhaps enlisting expert help from stakeholders & allies to achieve it. To cope with change, some kinds of leadership rely on development. Inventing a solution in the moment to a problem never encountered before. Improvising using unfamiliar materials or unconventional techniques.

Returning to the diamond shape, hopefully for most of us, a life goal is for our character and personal impact to grow stronger – bigger impact, richer and more resilience i.e. for the size of the diamond to grow over time, as we experience more, handle more and reflect more.

Personal flexibility (PF) acts like an accelerator (or brake) on the pace that our personal impact and character develop. And PF is also the mechanism by which personal impact and character mutually reinforce each other – the more our character develops, the greater personal impact we can have. But equally, the more personal impact we have, the more our character can develop too.

I’m currently reading a really interesting book called ‘Anti-fragile’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (pub Penguin books 2012). Taleb says ‘when you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible-for deviations are more harmful than helpful. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictable in its approach and conversely, predictive systems cause fragility. When you want deviations and you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.

A final thought. For the diamond shape I’ve described to sparkle and be strong, the ‘fragile side’ (personal efficiency and focus) need personal flexibility to bring across some ‘antifragility’ from the personal innovation and development side of the diamond. This can only happen if someone strengthens their personal flexibility in the first place.

Food for thought?

Simon

Expanding the base by expanding the sides of the triangle

How can you grow your personal flexibility?  Imagine a triangle, with personal flexibility (PF) as the base and the sides being personal innovation (PI) and personal efficiency (PE).  The area of the triangle represents personal impact (on people, on things and on the World generally). Now think a little more deeply about each of the sides.

Personal innovation is about consciously breaking out of your comfort zone. Taking a new approach that has a step-change impact. Reinventing yourself and your destiny. Training can improve technique. But creative problem-solving under (tight) constraints requires improvisation. Putting together what at first seems some some unlikely combinations. Adapting nature’s approaches to human problems. I once visited a river valley in Peru with an old stone quarry on one side and a stone temple on the other side and a large, deep river inbetween. How did the people move the big stone blocks across the river? They simply stacked them up on the river bank and then went upstream and dug a channel to divert the course of the river, so the blocks were already on the far side! Genius.

Personal efficiency is about time management and the race to get a good result. It increases as you put personal learning to good use faster. And when you can engineer your reputation to preceed you (doors open before you reach them). Practice in advance (role-play your interview responses to a safe audience before the actual interview). Anticipate and use intuitive leaps where you can.

Work on PI and PE together and you will have demonstrated personal flexibility in action (expanded the base of the triangle).

Food for thought?

Simon

Personal Flexibility Shout Out

It’s been awhile since I last posted. Sorry about that- I put mainly it down to COVID! But speaking of COVID, I wanted to shout out to: the adapters, the researchers, the treaters, the carers and the social distancers. Little kids who struggle to get what the virus is. Teens trying to keep budding romances alive by distance. Parents taking on new roles as home-school teachers. Key workers making the essential supplies & services happen. TV producers adapting their shows for lockdown. Fiancés deferring long-awaited wedding plans. And the families of Corona victims, coming to terms with not being able to hold a public funeral for their loved ones.

All of it is the human spirit, taking a deep breath, taking in the changes and not forgetting to breathe, as they pivot and move forward.

Sometimes people seek out adventure, sometimes adventure (or virus pandemics) find them. Either way, Adaptability, Resilience, Agility and Options are the assets in the personal flexibility ‘toolbox.’ The ones to go along for the ride.

After COVID will come a restart for some and a rebirth for others. Let’s make it a good one!

Simon

Reflections

If credibility gives leaders the personal flexibility they need, then hypocrisy is the acid that dissolves away leadership credibility.
Underdogs and outsiders are voted in as leaders, when mainstream politics just deliver more of the same.
Artificial intelligence will fill the leadership gap when human stupidity and human stubbornness drive away common sense.
People don’t generally vote for evil. But evil once in power, generally votes for less people.

Fortunately and Unfortunately

A young student completed their schooling.

Fortunately, they had a career plan.

But unfortunately, it involved becoming an accountant.

Fortunately, they could add and subtract.

But unfortunately, so could Excel.

Fortunately, they knew how to use Excel.

But unfortunately, so did the auditors.

Foretunately they became an auditor.

But unfortunately, so did the robots…

Planning and Acting

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Fighting is acting to achieve change. Debate is about examining options to improve planning.

Should we put more planning into fighting and more fighting into planning? And if so, what might that look like in practice?

For a political party fighting an election, campaign resources including the number of enthusiastic canvassers prepared to knock on strangers’ doors is limited. Voter areas to target are critical too. Planning is everything.

For an advocacy charity fighting to achieve significant impact, but operating in a world of inertia and indifference, planning what data to use, who to serve the insights to and how to incentivise them to act is key.

For an SME start-up, they need to fight to establish their brand and delight customers with the brand experience. Market research, cashflow and communicating the values embodied in the brand all need to operate in tandem. That takes careful planning.

What about putting more fighting into planning? Effective planning includes a battle of ideas and approaches. The winner isn’t the successful planner, but the successful plan. That plan, if the right people are in the planning room, ought to be a hybrid synthesised from many high quality contributions and a few ‘what if we…’ comments.

Food for thought?
Simon

Relationships-two to tango, two way street or two horse race?

blur carefree cute feelings
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Two to tango
If the (romantic) relationship is destined to work, you have to first learn how to tango. Engage, tell a story, pivot, be able to move in synch, but not as a clone of your partner. Be flexible enough to invest your own twist on the dance. With flair not flare (distress signal).
Two way street
Successful (romantic) relationships involve giving way and thinking about the other driver, not just the obstacles on your side of the road. Or the opportunity to power ahead, just because you have the horsepower and driving skill to do so. Be flexible enough to make the street work as a whole. The city will thank you for it.
Two horse race
You might be a couple. A couple others see as a successful couple. But the journey should still be a two horse race. Not a race for one prize. But a race you both run together, on a course of your collective choosing. What strengthens you as a couple is when the horse out in front, takes the time to help the other horse catch a break. Be flexible on what winning actually means.
Simon