Having Flexibility on the outside and the (business) brand at the core makes sense for organisations wanting their clients to experience their own unique version of the brand. Caterers, publishers, movie makers & evangelical religious leaders take this approach. Their clients might say, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I’ll pay good money (and invest my soul) when I see it.’ The brand values are a molten core, radiating outwards into the client experience. Consistency where it exists, isn’t across the client base. But across the repeat experience of a given client.
Then there are organisations who put Flexibility at the heart and wear their brand on the outside. You can’t think of their brand without valuing the innate flexibility within it. The likes of Google, Wikipedia, hospital groups, research-led universities and legal systems take this approach. Their customers might say, ‘what insights can my interaction with this brand reveal?’ There is consistency of experience across the user base. But if the product evolves, a given customer’s experience may vary over time.
So what does this tell us? Creating a sustainable brand is necessary. Figuring out whether to put Business Flexibility at its centre, or on its surface, is what makes your brand sufficient.
It probably works for personal flexibility too.
Are binary choices becoming an endangered species? Flexibility on binary seems to go in one of two directions:
(1) There is the conversion from binary to a spectrum instead.
- Oscillation along the spectrum between two limits is useful for bird flight, in juggling and in art. Or to make songs more interesting.
- Computers to date have been binary, but quantum computing uses more of a spectrum approach.
- Expert amateurs and novice professionals existing between the states of expert professional and rank amateur.
- Logic used to be binary. Then we recognised fuzzy logic as useful too.
- Governments generally moved away from binary sentencing in the justice system (death penalty or not, innocent or guilty) to concepts of restitution, share of blame, clemency and degree of penalty.
- Human genders used to be recognised as male or female. Now we recognise a trans gender spectrum.
- Political parties used to cluster around left wing or right wing. Now simultaneous local, national and trans-national identities feature just as prominently for voters.
(2) There is two merging into one united view, perhaps to realise synergies.
- Humans used to combine our skills with nature’s raw materials (binary). It was obvious what was created by nature and what was created by people. Then we invented technology and eventually added synthetic biology to natural biology. We also augmented our own design approaches with computer-aided design & build. Then came computer-generated design & build, with its merging of physical and digital reality into augmented and virtual reality. And its blending of natural and synthetic biology.
- People’s identity started when they were conceived. And their actions ceased when they died. Now people can pre-programme digital events (including posts) to happen after they think they will die. It then becomes possible to give the digital appearance of human life, after actual physical death.
What do you think?
Wikipedia defines ‘imposter syndrome’ as ‘a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.’
For those who work in areas where there is a relatively smooth, easy journey to celebrity status – models, TV presenters, interviewers, lead singers (who don’t do the song writing) and natural disaster survivors, it’s not hard to see why they might have such feelings.
Apparently many people of both genders have feelings of imposter syndrome from time to time. But because it makes people feel more anxious and vulnerable, it’s not something we’re likely to share freely. The trick is to see imposter syndrome as a choice we make. Not a mantle given to us.
Just as some people amplify their achievements to gain advantage, others take an opposite approach (under promise and over deliver). Merit takes time to form. And reputations are built on a string of milestones (but lost after a single adverse event).
Every day, people encounter novel situations, testing their leadership skills, imagination and adaptability. Therefore, if we can’t shake the monkey sitting on one shoulder whispering ‘you’re an imposter at this’, it’s up to us to encourage another monkey to sit on our other shoulder. One that says, ‘so what if you’re new to this. Flexibility rules. Do your best and see where that takes you!’
So much focus on machines taking people’s jobs. So little focus on the proportion of total work tasks done by machine versus human. And how that’s changing over time.
So much focus on machines taking over human jobs. So little focus on human biases & negative emotions in the workplace, holding back human productivity and job creation.
If it can be easily traded and easily validated, it can be easily automated.
Differentiate on human flexibility in niches that machines cannot be flexible in. It starts with better understanding human flexibility – something big and hiding in plain sight.
Increasing efficiency by machines leads to commoditisation. Increasing ingenuity by humans leads to monopoly pricing. Therefore whether human or machine, play to your strengths.
First there were village artisans and locally sustainable producers that their communities valued. Then came synthetic commodities and mass consumerism, produced by an industrialised and increasingly automated market economy, fuelled by consumer debt. It’s a test of human flexibility how much to bend the arc of future progress, in favour of globally sustainable, artisan goods and services.
Friends are there so you can laugh and cry over the same things. They help you glam up the mundane. Friends gloss over, or agree with your biases.
A soulmate charms you, completes your sentences and pushes your patience. Perhaps in equal measure. A soulmate helps you face the mundane head on.
Soulmates make you a little bit crazy. Friends are a little bit crazy. That’s why you like them.
Family sit in the pockmarked no man’s land, between your soulmate and your friends. They might put up some barbed wire. Or simply sunbathe and call out to you from time to time, when the shelling gets intense.
Whether you hang out in the bunker with your friends, man the front line with your soulmate, or search out your family in no man’s land, depends on your agility, your resilience and the orders you give yourself.
Strong squash players dominate the central zone of the court. This helps them in several ways. It helps them handle uncertainty i.e. where the next shot from their opponent will come from. And it helps them with ‘growth’ i.e. shortening the average time to hit the ball and maximising the time they have to set up their own future shots.
So what is the relevance of squash strategy to personal flexibility?
Firstly, imagine a two-dimensional matrix with columns for personal planning (strong or weak). And rows for direction (clear or unclear). There are 4 quadrants in the matrix.
Those whose natural inclination is strong planning and clear direction forward are thought of as strategic and focussed. And unkindly, as ‘control freaks’. For the control freaks, if operating in a turbulent or increasingly uncertain environment, their supporters (employers, sports coaches, parents, teachers or tutors) can help them become more comfortable with uncertainty and more agile under turbulent conditions – become dynamic planners and become tolerant of multiple versions of the truth, perhaps caused by some versions being out of date faster than others. Football goalies are perhaps a sports example of control freaks.
Those whose natural inclination is strong planning but weak direction forward are the long suffering, ‘steady eddies’. For the steady eddies, their supporters can reassure them on direction and encourage them to rely on more dynamic planning approaches – less detailed and less complex plans, more empowerment and more self-belief. Civil servants serving politicians (especially under UK Brexit) are perhaps a workplace example of steady eddies.
Those whose natural inclination is weak planning and unclear direction, are the go with the flow, ‘fatalists’. People who are fatalistic in their home life probably need supporter encouragement to build some hopes and aspirations. Anything that gets them to experience the taste of success is a good start. Supporters can help them to become better planners, project members or team players. Spectators at a sports game are perhaps an example of fatalists in the sense not of supporting their team, but of being an onlooker.
Finally, those whose natural inclination is weak planning but clear direction forward are ‘opportunists’, making their own luck. For the opportunists, their supporters need to encourage them to create more control for more benefit. With control coming from teamwork, planning and quicker influence. Football strikers are perhaps a sports example of opportunists.
Now imagine a world of constant and accelerating change – not change in everything. But change as a rhythm or backbeat to everyday life. In such conditions, a medium level of both planning and direction is desirable, like the central zone for playing squash. But requires personal flexibility from those in all four quadrants to achieve i.e. travel a similar distance towards the centre zone, but from a unique direction, with a unique rationalisation.
Families, voters, groups of volunteers and groups of friends rarely encounter the structure and rules that simple games prescribe. Therefore, all could benefit from seeking out the ‘central zone’ of the matrix to achieve good progress. It’s not just about tolerance. But appreciation of the merits of opposing outlooks too. Work is needed to seek out commonality and win-wins. But not achieve the extreme of groupthink. All that remains is to forge some cultural pathways towards the central zone for each social group concerned…
As for having evermore business flexibility, having evermore personal flexibility isn’t necessarily good. On the later, seeking ever more friends to build your personal network means spending less time supporting the friends you already have. Trying endless activities gives you a life of rich, but shallow variety (think of sampling many kinds of sweets in a sweet shop, rather than having one satisfying meal instead). Encouraging your children to do what they like, eventually leads to some bad outcomes. Paying for ever more features and options becomes expensive and counter-productive. Committing to help in areas where the workload fluctuates wildly (or going beyond healthy lifestyle choices) won’t have a happy ending for your health.
So is there an optimal level of personal flexibility – enough to give someone a rich and rewarding life. But not enough to exceed the limits of their health or good reputation? Probably. All we can do is try and figure out if having more personal flexibility is an improvement over the current state.
The point after optimal personal flexibility might be a gradual decrease in benefit. Or a dramatic decrease. This is a fascinating area worthy of future study, to see if certain kinds of personal flexibility generally drop away fast/gradually on any kind of predictable basis.
However, because the subjects of business and personal flexibility are still emerging, the research hasn’t been done. The nearest we have are economists look at marginal utility and finance professors who look at the value of options held.
Because personal flexibility is a wide subject and since flexibility can take many forms, all we can do is monitor for negative flexibility at a personal level, until theory catches up with reality.
Options Flexibility is having one master plan, but deliberately developing a number of tactics to achieve it, not just relying on one tactic. Sports teams often win games by changing their tactics during the game. Under dynamic competitive conditions, so do companies.
A student who wanted to enrol at a university but not incur a high student debt (tuition and accommodation debt) might consider each of the following tactics;
- Work first and save to pay their fees.
- Study and work part time together.
- Get their employer to sponsor them while they study (cadetship/apprenticeship).
- Start a small side-business to partly fund their studies.
Plan Flexibility is having several master plans at once. That way if one fails, you can activate another one quite quickly, because the options you’ve built up already, work well for each of your master plans.
The master plans might be to be the best ‘you’ that you can be & be the best partner you can be. By building up a strong personal network of trusted friends, generating goodwill with your partner’s family, taking some personal development courses and/or doing some activities outside your comfort zone, you’ll build confidence, insight and skills. These things give you options to help you achieve both or either master plan.
Someone might reach a ‘watershed moment’ where they need to move from Options Flexibility to Plan Flexibility. For example, becoming a refugee and having to flee their native country. Deciding whether to come out, or finding they need to change career.
In any case, when conditions are especially uncertain, or likely to change rapidly, why not boost your personal flexibility by using both Options and Plan Flexibility together?
‘Time and tide wait for no man’, so the saying goes. Time flexibility is about controlling time.
Three opportunities (or tactics) are to play for time, buy time or re-invent time. Playing for time is to delay something or stall someone, in order to provide more time. Buying time is to somehow increase the time available. And reinventing time is to change the definition of time itself e.g. re-branding time, redefining time or taking a different view of time.
Examples of playing for time include:
- The TV news playing in a doctor’s surgery or bank, for patients/customers waiting to be seen.
- When you go to see your professional advisor (lawyer, accountant etc) and they delegate a task to an associate, while continuing your client meeting and covering other things in the meantime.
- A sports team running down the clock.
- A school student who takes subjects that allow them to keep their options open, if they’re unsure about what to do after graduating.
Examples of buying time include:
- Having pre-order input screens in a fast-food restaurant (meal production can start as soon as the order is received).
- Travelators in airports and lifts/escalators in train stations to move people to the departure lounges/platforms quickly.
- Setting your phone alarm earlier than usual, to make an earlier than usual start.
- Hiring an expert (with knowledge built up over years and fast execution).
- Buying a specialist tool or labour-saving device.
- Pre-recoding a TV programme and fast-forwarding the adverts when you watch it.
- Standing in line at the supermarket checkout. There aren’t enough till operators, so they buzz to get more staff to come and serve customers.
- Timetabling software, ready meals, kitset furniture and plant seedlings.
- Covert pre-assembly (partial assembly in anticipation of future demand).
- Someone saying they can’t deliver a solution in the short term. But upping the ante by promising a much better solution in the longer term.
- Parallel running parts of a process (shorten the critical path to completion).
- ‘Infinite capacity planning’. This involves hiring more resources to work concurrently to meet a tight deadline. This is applicable where the penalties for missing the deadline exceed the additional, short-term cost.
Examples of re-inventing time include:
- Reverse mentoring (young IT savvy workers mentor older workers who have different skills say),
- A company exploiting people’s selective memory of history to sell their products or services. For example, a company marketing nostalgic/vintage/retro products rather than new ones.
- Forcing the pace/bringing forward a deadline. For example, a political party calling an early election, to play to its strengths. A department store runs a large sale with 50% off normal price, to bring forward future sales.
It’s clearly hard to think of and deliver a really good solution when you’re under time pressure. Therefore, for people wanting to manage their time better, why not play for, buy or reinvent time. Or do some combination of these things.
Food for thought?