The Power of One

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Think-tank charities typically advocate for reform, to influence decision making at government level.

Some nations (the US, France and the UK) appreciate the role independent think-tank charities have to play, both domestically and to help them evolve their foreign policies. Others including Japan, China and Germany seem to encourage such charities efforts where they’re already aligned to current government policies.

What value do think-tank charities add and what can we take from their approach to help us in our own lives?

Some problems don’t get solved by simply scaling up the current effort. Look at the US involvement in the Vietnam war as a case in point. Simply putting more police on the streets of London, or widening the London congestion zone, won’t solve knife crime or decrease air pollution respectively. What think-tanks can do is apply fresh thinking and find the best leverage points to effect positive change.

Can we all be our own think-tank charities to effect the changes we want to see? It does require self belief (confidence). It also requires flexibility thinking. Being our own, personal, think-tank charities (the power of one) will challenge us to use fresh thinking alongside existing (tired and sub-optimal) solutions. A bit like keeping your existing tool box. But adding more tools that can help with other DIY jobs. Half the job is the reflection & fresh approaches. The other half is the advocacy action taken.

Food for thought?
Simon

What flexibility can do

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Flax, nikau palms and cabbage tree fronds to the Maori people of New Zealand are what bamboo is to the peoples of South East Asia i.e. a wonder material.

The Maori used flax fronds to weave fishing lines, rope, make mats, clothing items, lash decorative housing panels together and even as a fibrous fish hook to catch eels with. Meanwhile In Europe, it was stripped into fibres and woven into linen to make fine clothes.

The flax plant is lean and tough, yet thrives in windy conditions because it has no rigid stem. Even cabbage trees, with a flax clump at the ends of long bendy trunks, break up the wind and with leaves of minimal thickness that present little side resistance.

Translated into our personal and professional lives, if the winds represent change and buffet us without warning, what can the humble flax plant teach us about being more flexible?

Working as a group of leaves disrupts the force of the wind. The leaves deflect some wind, shedding some along the length of the leaves – the direction in which the leaf is strongest. As families, or as work teams, we can do the same with some forces of change. The ‘lengths’ of our skills allow us to shed some of the ‘wind’. Or use it to our advantage, blasting away troublesome pests.

We can take design inspiration from the flax plant too – a strong base and lean leaves to give integrity. Shiny in all weathers. Projecting in all directions and able to shelter smaller creatures. A toughness and benefit that even survives the death of a leaf.

Finally, the flax leaves have so many uses because of their strength combined with their flexibility. If we choose to develop both things together, personal and professional versatility should result.

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

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

Managing Uncertainty and Personal Flexibility

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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

Real Options and Personal Flexibility

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What has flexibility got to do with options?

Quite simply if you have more options, you have more flexibility. In uncertain situations, or if you are somehow keen to grow (wealth, skills, influence, reputation, character development), having options is valuable.

Of course, having more options isn’t useful if you can’t make a decision when time is pressing. And having a set of options that aren’t relevant to the problem you’re facing isn’t particularly helpful either. Unless you can trade them for the ones you actually want.

What are real options?

They’re not as scary as they sound. Wikipedia says ‘a real option itself, is the right—but not the obligation—to undertake certain business initiatives, such as deferring, abandoning, expanding, staging, or contracting a capital investment project’. In the personal flexibility sense, real options are rights we have paid for in the past and hold.  If the conditions are right, they can be used (exercised) at some point in the future, to buy or sell something to benefit ourselves.  Or benefit those we choose to help.

There are a couple of different types of real options. Call options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to buy something. Put options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to sell something.

What are some examples of call options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us PFL in the present and future?

  • Loyalty points, or frequent flier points accumulated, that are still valid. Purchase qualifying items and you have the right to use the points to obtain discounts on future purchases.
  • Multiple passports (the legitimate right to citizenship in multiple countries). Pay the application fee and once the passport is issued, you then have the legal right to buy the same things the other citizens can buy.
  • Insurance policies with a claim excess. Pay the insurance premium, make the claim, pay the claim excess and the item will then be replaced.
  • Personal credit cards and overdraft facilities. Pay the annual account fee and any interest charges to access the credit amount.
  • Fitness, health and knowledge you’ve built up, if they qualify you for access to something fairly exclusive in the future, that costs money.
  • Physical and data security measures and investments made. Pay the fee, log your security breach event, pay for the investigation and hopefully damage will be remedied.
  • Divorce papers – once signed and the divorce lawyer costs are paid, the papers give you the right to legally marry another person (providing they’re not already still married).

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What are some examples of put options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us (or our loved ones) the right to sell and hence PFL in the present and future?

  • Trial period agreements.
  • Product warrantees, price-matching features and money-back guarantees.
  • Sublease clauses. For example, you rent a two-bedroom flat and there’s a clause in the lease agreement allowing you to rent out the second bedroom for financial benefit.
  • Your estate (once you’ve paid the solicitor to draw up your will). Ownership of this option transfers to the beneficiaries of your estate, upon your death.

Real options and student career advice

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In the general education system, little emphasis seems to be given to teaching students how to manage their real options. Then, when students graduate & join the workforce, they lack awareness about real options management in the workplace. Instead, at best, students receive advice from relatives, friends or teachers about getting a good education and working hard, to open up more life choices to them.

Perhaps too many young people learn from life experience – the ‘school of hard knocks’ (why doesn’t Western culture strongly preach the folly of learning this way?). And learn from repeat situations (once bitten, twice shy), that having choices is valuable.

What the young people need is more advice on how not to get bitten. And coaching to position themselves to have choices other than getting bitten. Young adults may also learn from observation – being inspired by designers to mimic the design flexibility that they see.

In the view of this blogger, one of life’s ironies is that for many young people, by the time they realise that older people’s advice to them on the above things is just as relevant today as in yesteryear, the consequences of have few options and choices is already hitting them hard.

In summary, holding real options in our personal lives, is a tangible form of personal flexibility. It follows that if we want to increase our PFL, we should accumulate real options in advance, in the areas of PFL that we want to improve.

Some areas to look at, if personal growth and uncertainty management are some of your goals; obtaining real options concerning wealth, skills, influence, personal reputation and/or character development. A key point is to build up an ‘options portfolio’ i.e. don’t just concentrate on obtaining real options relating to one of them.

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Periodically, we will use or ‘exercise’ many of the real options we hold, so another key point is to replenish our stocks of real options regularly.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others. Constructive comments are also welcome.

 Simon

Parenting and Personal Flexibility

Parenting is both complex and practical. Having raised two step children from the ages of 8 and 10 years onwards (now aged 21 and 23 respectively) and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to share some insights about how personal flexibility (PFL) can help people become better parents.

Like many parents, I’ve said things in the heat of the moment, that I wish I hadn’t said to my children. It’s a testament to their character that they saw the bigger picture. And thankfully saw me as a flawed human being, trying to become a better person and a better parent over time. It’s still a work in progress!

I’ve said to various people that the life change from not being a parent, to suddenly becoming a parent is huge, compared to the change from moving say from the parent of two children to three.

Becoming a parent is like a marathon. But with random sprints inserted into the event as well. The sprints arise if the parent suffers a momentary loss of focus on a young child and it gets into trouble. For example, at the top of some stairs. Or following a stranger away from a playground setting.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of very young children?

The child’s needs are initially quite physical. Sleep deprivation for one or both parents is a problem, as the baby’s sleeping patterns and feeding cycles are short. And very different from those of the parents. The parents feel an enormous sense of responsibility for a tiny, defenceless individual, who is totally reliant on them.

Over time, the child’s awareness builds. It bonds with the parent(s), as the centre of its world. Progressively, the child becomes more active in exploring its world. It makes its wishes known. And more of its personality becomes obvious to onlookers.

Taking shared parental leave from the workplace (extra parental capacity) increases the PFL to cope with the initial demands of parenthood. Rooms at home have to be modified, medical checkups arranged, baby clothes, cribs, high chairs, car seats and baby strollers bought. in a PFL sense, these things help to build capacity, create options and manage uncertainty.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is not to overwhelm the young child. To create some structure, some reassurance and to set limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Probably, the parents are constantly adjusting their parenting approach to help support the child, as best they can. They are still discovering their child’s personality and its preferences – the things it likes and hates. The beauty of parenthood is that although no one is born an expert, you get to practise being a better parent every day (patience and endurance). A key message is that being a better parent comes from exercising some PFL along the way.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of pre-teen children?

The child’s identity, passions, talents and abilities become clearer in pre-teen children Their friendship group develops beyond family members. School education becomes a feature of their lives. Their parents aren’t always present when they suffer mishap or injury.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is again, not to overwhelm the child with things it can’t handle. To create structure, reassurance and some kind of limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Parental PFL involves oscillating between support & stepping back to watch your child progressively forge its own path in the world.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of teenagers?

Puberty kicks in, hormones fluctuate. And there is a constant tension between the teen wanting more freedom. But not being able to be fully independent. Progressively, the teen’s identity shifts to become not only a family member, but a member of its own social tribe of friends. Dating and relationships become a feature in teenagers lives. Social pressure to conform becomes intense.

For the parents, there is frequent and unpredictable challenge to their authority in many cases. The parents may feel underappreciated or unappreciated. The dialogue they used to have with their pre-teen child, may have become replaced by a sullen, tense battle of wills & values.

For the parents, PFL is aided by wider family support to both teens & their parents. Parents need to decide which battles to fight. And which ‘stylistic differences’ to concede. Another expression of PFL for the parents is in keeping an open-door policy to be there when the teen wants to talk. Somehow the parent has to keep an eye on the family ‘light at the far end of the tunnel’. While providing logistical support to the teen. And periodic emotional support too.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of adult children?

Once into their twenties, perhaps graduating from university and/or becoming establishing in their first or subsequent jobs, the child has become a fully-fledged adult.

The biggest PFL issue for the parent is probably to re-establish a positive relationship with their child, on an adult-to-adult basis.

In summary, PFL is valuable at all stages of the parent ‘journey’.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon