Friends feed your heart. Soulmates settle your soul.

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.

Simon

Controlling the Centre

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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– become dynamic planners and become tolerant of multiple versions of the truth, perhaps caused by some versions being out of date faster than others.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…

Simon

Negative Personal Flexibility

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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.

Simon

Options and Plan Flexibility

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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?

Simon

Time and Personal Flexibility

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‘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?

Simon

Personal Flexibility and Discrimination

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Maybe those of us in a position of privilege (baby boomer white males like myself especially) can learn the most about personal flexibility from the people that society discriminates against the most. How they cope on a daily basis and their stories of struggle are probably the best examples of flexibility and the strength of the human spirit both.

I recently watched the first TV series ‘Pose’ – largely about the LGBT community in New York in the late 1980s. A review by the Guardian newspaper of the series is as follows:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/mar/21/pose-review-ryan-murphy-show-voguing-underground-ballroom-new-york

The hit series has lots of great lines, colourful characters, irony and great acting too. It’s also sparked some interesting post-series interviews and discussion with the main actors – refer You Tube interviews with Angelica Ross, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore, to name a few.

The series shows how the trans-gender community, particularly black trans-gender women were effectively at the bottom of the status pecking order and it’s an open question whether they still are. For the characters in the series, attending costume balls hosted by their LGBT community and running fashion houses to support the models attending those balls was about celebrating human expression, their identity and defining humanity on their own terms.

Often for many of us, giving feels like a one-way street. We might choose to work in Not for Profit roles, favouring mission over reward. Do some community volunteering. And/or reach out to family and friends in various ways. The Blanca character in Pose effectively sets herself up as a house mother and one person charity to those in the New York LGBT community. Yet has few resources and quite a bit of discrimination of her own to deal with. Her giving contribution is eventually validated by all concerned, but her leadership along the way is inspiring, for those of us walking the one way street.

What we can all do is discriminate and judge a bit less. The World will be a better place for it. There won’t be so much work for litigation lawyers, therapists, social workers, hospitals or the companies who make weapons. Like one of the characters in the series said ‘kindness doesn’t cost you anything.’

Simon

Surfing the ups and downs

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Surfers know about staying on their board to ride out the lows and enjoy the highs. Breaking right or left when the opportunity arises. Surfing away from danger if they spot a shark in the water.

How can companies or staff use flexibility to stay sustainable through boom & bust cycles? For companies, buying up distressed assets and companies in an economic downturn isn’t the only game in town. With companies desperately shedding cost by laying off staff, the downturn is a golden opportunity to pick up experienced talent in plentiful supply. Likewise for staff, stay open to new opportunities from those companies wanting the good people.

In the downturn, if they can’t justify hiring operations staff, firms can hire more developers instead, to deliver for the next bull run. Or better still (in a flexibility sense), acquire staff who develop in the downturn and do operations/marketing in the boom. For staff, think about widening your skills from operations into development and marketing too.

In a downturn, business ethics are tested by fear, not greed. Whether boom, bust or in between, staff can work hard to join up their personal morals with the business ethics of the business, to keep the customer love alive and thriving.

Finally for staff, if you’re not involved in development innovation (team leaders and middle managers), try to catch the eye of senior management, by helping them develop real options for the company’s future. For the company, having both innovations and real options is the equivalent of riding the surfboard through the ups and downs both.

Simon