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– become dynamic planners and become tolerant of multiple versions of the truth, perhaps caused by some versions being out of date faster than others.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

Design, Control, Film Directing and Personal Flexibility

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‘A good director makes a playground and allows you to play.’ Martin Landau

‘People think that the director’s direct actors. No. Really, what the director’s doing is directing the audience’s eye through the film.’ Julianne Moore

‘Directing is very close to choreography; you deal with space, time, emotions, lighting, making beautiful images.’ Benjamin Millepied

‘I prefer directing to acting. There is huge freedom that comes from being behind the camera. It brings a lot of responsibilities as well but is intensely rewarding.’ Angelina Jolie

‘Directing is so interesting. You know, it just sort of encompasses everything that you see, that you know, that you’ve felt, that you have observed.’ Barbra Streisand

Can we learn more about personal flexibility (PFL) from film directors, to help us in our daily lives? Do film directors have more PFL than the rest of us? But learn to harness it in their design & control work, to make a successful movie?

Firstly, what do film directors actually do? Arguably, they use control (like paramedics) & design (like architects) to adapt an adaption according to their expression. In other words, they use the medium of film and a multitude of design choices, to take a story that’s (probably) been adapted into a screenplay. And bring that story to dramatic life (crafting & control).

So can someone be a good film director without great design & control? And more fundamentally, can someone achieve great design & control in their life, without inherent personal flexibility?

Since it’s difficult to prove a yes answer to both questions conclusively, let’s take a leap of faith, assume yes and skip straight to how PFL might drive design & control.

Like successful architects, great film makers exploit their personal flexibility to achieve the best design, given the production constraints (time, money, available talent etc). That process of creating good design necessarily involves imagining, improvising, trying and reviewing.

Regarding control, emergency workers such as paramedics, arrive at the scene of a traffic accident and rapidly assess the situation at hand, taking control of events. Film directors do likewise. The personal flexibility exhibited is about:

  • Expecting the unexpected.
  • Managing expectations.
  • Quickly finding ways to relate to a host of questions, complaints & cries for help.
  • The uncertainty for the paramedic or film maker, regarding the resources to hand. A bit of trial and error is needed. Eventually, there is resolution. Patients are conveyed to hospital. The film takes are completed. And the movie content passed to the editing team to work on.

So what can we take away from these examples & embrace, to make our lives more flexible?

  1. Something magical can be created from nothing but time, raw talent & money. It just takes good design & control to craft a good solution. Therefore, give yourself more credit. To embrace your role as the director of your own life movie.
  2. By taking control of a life (and death) situation, it doesn’t mean you close down all available options. Control includes continuing to hold options in your head & heart, about what you might next do. There is an interplay between options & control, at all points of the ‘journey’.
  3. Spectators will watch your movie being made, or your heroic actions at the scene of the accident and silently judge your efforts. You will get credit for trying. Clearly, people can be bitchy and critical. But when we remind ourselves that we reap what we sow (what goes around comes around), we are capably of quickly adjusting our view to a sense of fairness.

If you find these blogs useful, feel free to share with others. Likewise, comments are welcome too.

Simon