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