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

Flexitypes for Personal Growth

‘Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again.’ Mary Pickford

‘Sometimes I think women are lucky because they can develop in ways men can’t. The old boy network may be oppressive to women, but it actually stunts men in terms of personal growth.’ Willem Dafoe

‘Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.’ Douglas MacArthur

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Flexitypes are useful for directing your personal growth. While Flexiscribes are helpful for emotional health & strength. What’s the difference? Flexitypes are simply types of flexibility – dimensions of freedom, if you will. Flexiscribes code for flexibility. But more about them in other blogs.

When it comes to business flexibility, there are at least 14 flexitypes that this blogger has discovered and analysed. An improvement in any of them leads to greater business flexibility. For the record, the 14 business flexitypes are; design flexibility, communications flexibility, resource flexibility, product flexibility, service flexibility, process flexibility, system flexibility, project flexibility, channel flexibility, procurement flexibility, contract flexibility, management flexibility, business model flexibility and stakeholder (including customer) flexibility.

But what about personal flexibility?   A similar set of flexitypes are present. And again, improvement in any of them leads to greater personal flexibility.

1. Personal plans are a bit like business design flexibility. Just don’t be rigid on the plans!

2. Choosing to change our style & how we talk to specific people, is similar to business communications flexibility.

3. We are but one person. So choosing how, how much and when we make an impact, is like business resource flexibility & business channel flexibility.

4. What we do, based on our opportunities, our talents, our influence & our reputation is like business product & service flexibility.

5. Creating flexibility concerning our ways & methods, is like business process flexibility.

6. How we enlist support to help others, who we approach and what we concede in return, is like business procurement flexibility & contract flexibility.

7. Our moral frameworks & the scope of our efforts (our sensitivity to giving) resemble business model flexibility.

8. How we operate within our relationships and our expectations of friends & family resemble business stakeholder flexibility.

In summary, if we take say 20 minutes once in a while, to work our way through various flexitypes relating to our own personal flexibility, we can uncover and discover more ways to embrace PFL for personal growth & problem solving.

As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to spread the word.

Simon

A walk on the Flexibility wildside

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I’m an adventurer at heart. I’m comfortable in big cities of the World, but it’s fair to say that the outdoors are my second home.

People who aren’t adventurers, think adventurers must be miserable. And never content with what they have. My view, and I know I don’t necessarily speak for other adventurers, is that adventurers do appreciate the novel and the familiar. We love our families and our friends. So much so that we try to make both groups bigger. We invite others to make new adventures with us. If we’re wise, we accept it, when they don’t necessarily say yes.

The spouses and children of military or emergency services workers, come to accept that part of what makes their father or mother that military or emergency services person, isn’t to get away from those they love. Instead, it’s a deep-seated part of the adventurer’s life to do other things. For their country, for their community, for themselves.

In the last few years, I feel lucky enough to have walked a novel path along the flexibility (FL) journey. Like those who travel to experience other cultures. What I can say is that the further I’ve travelled on the FL journey, the more I’ve found out about flexibility that there is to be discovered, made sense of and described to others who might be interested.

I discovered soon after I started along the FL journey, that it seems to come in two types, twice over. There is business flexibility (BFL) and personal flexibility (PFL). There is also mental and physical flexibility.

I also quickly came to the realisation that flexibility is like maths for an engineer. Language for a lawyer. Health and strength for an athlete. Or a Swiss Army knife for the army and civilian alike. In other words, it’s a useful toolkit to solve multiple problems. Ones that relate to (personal) growth and uncertainty (resilience & risk management) especially. Hopefully, lots of other people have come to, or are coming to this realisation too.

It follows that flexibility thinking is about how you use the FL toolkit. FL thinking can help you get out of a rut. To bypass an impasse. Or to redirect a moving vehicle away from driving over the cliff edge.

By getting into the habit of consciously practising personal flexibility (PFL), it can help you in business. And visa versa. Because many of today’s problems are complex, because the costs of complexity are high, because markets are complex and because bureaucracy often gets in the way of well-intentioned growth, we need to move from not using flexibility or flexibility thinking. To instead use both FL and FL thinking together to solve problems.

Lastly, the Fisccollection collection of blogs concentrates on personal flexibility in its various forms & applications. Just like with a multi-page food menu at a restaurant, if you’re hungry every day and you like to explore new choices, the ‘flexibility menu’ of these blogs, ought to help.

Simon

Self Determination and Personal Flexibility

‘Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible’ Audrey Hepburn

group of people sitting on white mat on grass field
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As an adult, each day we influence the World. And the World influences us back. On the bad days, it all seems a bit David and Goliath. On the good days, a simple walk in a public park, shows us the big, open skies.  Something amusing, the beauty of nature. Some clever landscape design. Some businesses & brands selling us yummy food and drink. A bit of structure and boundaries. And a diverse bunch of people of all ages having fun together. A microcosm of the wider World.

On the David and Goliath days, it’s natural to think we have little lasting influence over others. Meanwhile, the World bombards us with endless messages. We personally see bad things happen to good people. And the media focus on negative, sensational news, makes us weary of human behaviour. And the future generally.

Perhaps our own influence (the power of one and the power of self belief) is bigger than we think. While the World’s ability to sap our spirit & bend our goals, isn’t as strong as it first appears.

Life is full of surprises. And the rate of progress uneven – exponential is the new linear. A part of Personal Flexibility (PFL) is about running with a baton in each hand – the plans in one hand and the means to cope with surprises in the other.

Personal Flexibility should be more than free will. Or more than free will put into action. We owe it to ourselves to create choices. To do worthwhile and worthy projects in our lives (create meaning).

If we build strong relationships and solve significant problems, the rewards will buy us the freedom to determine our own futures, within reason – in a word, self determination.

Self determination exists at the level of the person and at the level of the family. In the same way the family’s identity is the sum of the identities of its members, a family’s self determination is also the sum of the self determinations of its family members. For family self determination; the family traditions, referencing your roots, the guidance passed down from one generation to another, all clash and contrast with the headstrong actions of individual family members, to break free from the past. To copy their friends. And change with the times.

Self determination also exists at the level of the community (think neighbourhood watch schemes, block parties, local business actions, recycling ventures, local stadium events, community festivals). And it exists at the level of the state (in the UK, think Brexit. Elsewhere, think independence from colonial rule).

For self determination, if the whole is the sum of the parts, PFL takes on a vital role in one respect. Balancing off individual self interest (greed & self benefit) versus achieving benefits for a wider good. Even the richest people know their money is of little value; if the air is toxic, if rising oceans flow over their land, if too many people populate the Earth. If there is no future for their own children.

photo of woman looking at the mirror
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A final thought. At the person level and even at the family level, if self determination is somewhere on the road to happiness, PFL is a warm, friendly vehicle to offer us a faster ride in that direction. What do you think?

As always, if you find these blogs interesting, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Household Budgeting and Personal Flexibility

Firstly a caveat: this particular blog isn’t meant to offer specific financial advice to the reader about what investment products or investment classes to invest in. Readers should seek professional advice to help them understand the risks and choices available relating to financial products made available by particular providers.

What is a household budget?

It is simply looking at a period of time, such as the next 12 months. And listing both household income and expenditure over that period, with a reasonable degree of accuracy. If there is little accuracy, the list is merely a dream.

Secondly, try not to confuse precision with accuracy. Precision might estimate items on the list to the nearest penny. But that doesn’t mean those numbers are accurate. Accuracy is about being broadly right (to the nearest one thousand dollars or pounds say).

Fixed costs and volatile costs

Some household spending items are easy to estimate. And won’t change for the foreseeable future. For example, agreed mortgage payments, or room rent.  Others are inherently uncertain. For example, repair costs. Or the earnings & duration of the next ‘gig’ for gig workers.

Volatile costs are a form of uncertainty. And uncertainty can be managed by improving your personal flexibility (PFL). See my blog on ‘Personal Flexibility and Uncertainty’ for more on this.

When you put together your annual household budget, try to identify which items are fixed (reliable) and which line items are volatile. How volatile? Plus or minus 20% volatile? If there are lots of volatile items and the level of volatile (plus or minus) is significant, you could usefully do a ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ version of your expected budget. Then as you monitor your actual progress against your budget during the year, you can start to take steps. For example, if your household budget increasingly moves towards the worst case version, then as soon as possible, start cutting back on discretionary spending. Or increase the income sources. Likewise, if the actual budget increasingly moves towards the best case version, try to actively save those extra funds ‘for a rainy day’. By increasing your household savings, you are making your PFL stronger.

Lines of credit

It is tempting to use your lines of credit (bank account overdraft or credit cards) to bridge the gap between household income and spending. Try to resist living your life on credit. That resistance will save you money. And increase your PFL, by giving you more short-term options if you need money in a crisis.

Budgeting for time-poor budgeters

The household annual budgeting can be as much of a chore as you want to make it. For my own household budget, I spend as little time preparing & monitoring actual spending as I can get away with. And it certainly isn’t itemized to two decimal places of precision!

Budgeting for big ticket items

How do you budget for big items on your annual household budget? The solution is to slowly save up for them. And buy them when you can finally afford to. Or to use bank loans to buy them. And pay off the loan at a rate you can comfortably afford over time. You’ll need a good credit history to get a bank loan, so bear this in mind.

You will have more personal flexibility, if you slowly save up (no interest costs) to buy the big ticket items. Perhaps think about taking out a loan to only buy big items that will go up in value themselves over time. But where you get a benefit from them every day. For example, a property comprising a home on some land you own. That said, buy at a good price and try not to buy land in an area prone to flooding, coastal erosion, hurricanes etc to reduce your risk.

Quick wins and small triumphs

Try if you can, to have some items in your annual household budget that give you & your family some quick wins and small triumphs. You can’t live your entire life saving up for the things you want. And never actually see any benefits along the way.

Single benefits and family benefits

Try if you can, to include some items in your household budget that benefit the whole family. Not just one or two members. It’s a bit like in the workplace, if the employer offers a pension scheme, all staff can benefit. If they only offer childcare support, or a commuter train travel loan, staff will benefit unevenly.

Time and money trade-offs

To some extent, budgets are a trade-off between time and money. For people who are time-poor but money rich, they pay for more support services and that is reflected in their household budget. For those in the opposite position, they have more of a do-it-yourself culture and save money by say growing their own food, doing childcare inhouse and cooking their own meals. Be realistic about your budget and what trade-off will work for your household.

Budget trade-ons versus budget trade-offs

One way to improve your budget is to look for tradeons rather than tradeoffs. A trade-on is like a double benefit. For example by cutting back on expensive entertainment and doing some self-study instead, you increase your marketable skills (to earn more income), but save money in your household budget as well.

If you prepare a first version of your annual budget and don’t like the result, look for some trade-ons to make the budget more viable.

There tends to be a positive correlation between trade-ons and PFL i.e. the more of one, the more of the other is possible.

Lastly, if you find these blogs useful, please spread the word, so others can benefit too.

Simon

Managing Uncertainty and Personal Flexibility

black and white road landscape travelling
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How does personal flexibility (PFL) help to manage uncertainty? First, let’s look at what uncertainty is and how it arises.

What uncertainty is

Firstly, uncertainty can be positive as well as negative. Why positive? Not knowing who your future soul mate is, or whether you will even find one, makes life exciting. And probably changes your behaviour for the better too.

Two kinds of uncertainty are:

  • The known unknowns. We might know the current membership of those we are related to by blood. What we don’t know, is exactly when that membership will change (births and deaths). Another version of this is the second-order unknowns. We don’t know the names of our children’s children if we haven’t had children of our own yet.
  • The unknown unknowns. This includes unconscious incompetence. We aren’t sufficiently aware that we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. We wade in and act. And then anything is possible!

Our influence on uncertainty can vary too.

  • A small intervention on our part, can have a large influence on the level of uncertainty present. For example, we visit our doctor/dentist before the effects of a persistent ache become a bigger problem for us.
  • The level of effort on our part can essentially match the change in the resulting uncertainty.
  • It might take a large intervention on our part, just to achieve a small change in the level of uncertainty in something we encounter – think of raising a teenager.

We might put in place some risk mitigations to deal with uncertainty. The trouble is that we aren’t so good at identifying if we have enough types of mitigations. Belt alone? Belt and braces? Belt, braces and seatbelt too? Belt, braces, seatbelt and airbags? We aren’t so great at judging the relative strengths of those mitigations either. That’s one place where personal flexibility is helpful – design, test, assess then modify.

How does uncertainty arise?

  • Unknowns can arise because of big external changes. War is declared. Brexit is activated. A massive natural disaster hits an area.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of information. For example, customer demand for a new product can only be estimated. Until the market reaction is seen. And actual trends understood.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of time. For example, time to research the facts and solve a mystery is lost, as new events create new crises that take priority.
  • Unknowns can arise because of attitude– progress is undermined due to bias. For example, people with control of certain information choose to discriminate and not make it available. ‘Need to know’ and early tip-offs are related examples.
  • Unknowns can arise because of volatility. For example, rescue services, trying to assess actual threat to life in a hurricane, is hampered while conditions of extreme turbulence prevail.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of buying power to control or influence certainty. If we can’t afford to buy real options, it can be hard to acquire them.

How can personal flexibility help? 

Broadly, if you see more uncertainty emerging, increase your PFL to compensate. Widen your skill base and diversify your income sources. Teach your children to become more independent e.g. earn their own money. Or shop & cook for themselves.

In the UK, with uncertainty over the Brexit outcome in March 2019, some people are reducing their personal debt levels. Or stockpiling canned foods in the short term. Just in case.

PFL can influence the speed at which uncertainties arise or reduce. One idea is to use PFL to develop some ‘brakes’ and ‘accelerators’ on uncertainty. The point being that just like driving a car, you as the driver control the speed. A simple example is diversifying your income sources to act as a brake on the effects of economic downturn.

Avoidance (risk transfer) can reduce your uncertainty. Hedge some key risks. For example, with professional advisors, influential friends, or insurance products.

As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to tell others.

Simon