Complexity and Personal Flexibility

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall
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As our lives become more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), personal flexibility can be helpful as a coping mechanism. It gives us piece of mind and options.

Eventually, many of us will encounter certain life events like; retirement, moving countries, or ‘empty nest’ down-sizing. Such events might help us shed cost and excess physical capacity.  But not necessarily the life complexity we’d like to simplify.  How so?  We can anticipate that downsizing will likely be undermined, when complexity compliance acts as a brake. One simple example is that empty nest parents don’t stop being parents (or offspring of their own, perhaps ailing parents), just by downsizing their house, after the kids leave home.

So how can we achieve matching, so that downsizing and simplifying the complexity of our lives go together?

Using personal flexibility as a tool to alter the complexity before downsizing is one avenue to explore. On this, we can take inspiration from our own brains. Each night, our brains exhibit personal flexibility, in relaxing the body (reducing the complexity of physical activity) in preparation for sleep.

Another personal flexibility example is time flexibility – buying time to reduce complexity before we downsize. For example, hiring specialists to help us ‘get our affairs in order’ and simplify the maintenance time required.

Reducing complexity and downsizing together is another option. For example, we can build up a passive income portfolio, to replace the need for us having to work a 40 hour week, therefore downsizing the number of hours worked. And the complexity of handling a full-time job.

Regarding complexity, in the same way that households and wage earners have fixed & variable costs to pay for, (think of rent/mortgage payments and food bills respectively), complexity can also be described as fixed or variable. There is however no direct relationship between cost type and complexity type – you can have any mix of both. But in a VUCA environment, some combinations are likely to be more troublesome than others. For example, high fixed cost, high life complexity.

Some examples of fixed complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of family members in our immediate family group,
  • the number of places we can physically be at any one time,
  • regular bill paying tasks each month e.g. utilities and rent/mortgage.

Some examples of variable complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of key relationships and purchases we manage each month,
  • the range of improvements we try to make each month,
  • the range of disagreements or arguments we have each month,
  • the number of crises we face each month.

Personal flexibility thinking is about designing both costs & complexity to be as variable as possible, regardless of our (own perceived) level of expertise, other people’s dependency on us, our career success, or our bank account balance.

Why is variable complexity in our lives desirable? Fixed complexity doesn’t stay fixed forever, so by coping with variable, we can cope with fixed complexity (inevitably) becoming variable. Assuming fixed complexity may lead to complacency and stop us looking for improvements i.e. personal growth opportunities. Some types of fixed complexity in our lives may be an illusion. When the unexpected occurs, for example our teen or adult children bring home a partner and behave differently in the partner’s presence, this reminds us not to make assumptions.

Simon

Flexibility fuss

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The best is ahead of us when we create uncomfortable choices. When we settle into a comfortable rut, the World starts looking for an epitaph for us.

Play your cards well.  But keep a spare pack up your sleeve.

Flexibility stands, we run.

Style flexibility – celebs who put skin in the game. Believe they have a duty to entertain. Grab media attention, based on the celebs’ style.

Substance flexibility – emergency services workers who put skin in the game. Believe they have a duty to serve. Grab people in danger, based on the emergency service workers’ substance.

Simon

Brace for impact

boy playing on slide in playground
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Yesterday with my wife, I did what turned to be an 8 mile walk along a river canal near Milton Keynes in the UK. We usually take a few pics on our smartphones along the way – photogenic narrow boats, rolling green landscapes and any wildlife we see. And the occasional selfie too. As you do.

Anyway, at one point along the walk, we passed over a short, concrete aqueduct, with a concrete spillway channel coming off it at right angles, to take excess water down to a lower channel, some 70m away from the main canal path.

I sometimes see a photo opportunity in my head ahead of time and thought I could pose, standing in the middle of the spillway, while my wife took a pic from above. At first glance, the spillway looked fairly dry and not a drop of water was trickling down it. I climbed partway down the waste ground (about the first 20m in distance from the main canal) next to the spillway and stepped down onto it, with my wife watching from the top. The spillway seemed walkable at first and not too steep to walk across. My hands left the side wall of the spillway and I gingerly started walking across it, to the mid point.

I noticed in the bottom section of the spillway, about 50m from where I was, that it flattened out. There were a series of concrete pillars on the flat section, regularly spaced. Each pillar was about one metre high – presumably to stop tree branches or other debris from going any further along the drainage channel.

Suddenly, both feet started gently sliding downwards. I used to roller blade and ski. So I knew about upper body balance, when you start moving in a diagonal direction. It was one of those moments when several things start flashing through your mind in quick succession. My first thought. This isn’t going to plan! The surface isn’t as dry as I thought. I can’t retrace my footsteps. Or quickly put a hand on the side wall of the spillway. I seem to be picking up speed. I can’t seem to use the edge of my walking boots to create any friction.

By now, most of me is touching the slimy surface and I’m moving my hands outwards for balance. I look below and see the row of concrete barriers that I’m heading for. As I approach, my speed is accelerating. I’m out of other options, so I brace for impact.

I think about trying to hit the barriers with both feet fairly close together, my knees slightly bent. I hope I’m going to hit one barrier square on and not slip half through the gap between them. My body is like a child’s body going down a slide in the playground. I’m not panicking.  But I do have time to wonder how hard I’m going to hit. I decide to use my legs as a giant shock absorber and hope for the best.

The soles of my feet hit and I keep travelling. I’m still wondering whether my legs will stop me in time. Then just before my torso slams into the concrete, I stop. I have a second to register that nothing is broken and that I’ve made a clean landing.

It could have gone much worse. If I’d have panicked, or not acted quickly, I probably would be in hospital right now, with parts of my body in a plaster cast. If I’d been less lucky and there had been some metal or wood debris clogging up the concrete pillars, my landing would have been a lot more painful. Ditto if the spillway was longer or steeper. Or had potholes in it.

On the positive side, my wife is still speaking to me and I haven’t lost all credibility for making judgements. I also surprised myself in acting quickly in the heat of the moment. It’s been a long while since I’ve been in an unplanned adventurous situation, with skin in the game i.e. being out of control with a likely painful and hazardous ending coming for me personally.

What did I learn? That sometimes in life, the unexpected overrides your plan. That when it does, you become resourceful real fast, or suffer the consequences. That you can’t always change the unexpected. But you can ride it out and try to control the outcome. And also, that the work you put in earlier (lots of walking previously to strengthen my legs), sometimes pays off big time in a momentary crisis situation. And most of all, have faith in yourself and don’t panic. Brace for impact instead and hope for the best!

Simon

Not for the faint hearted…

Have just been listening to several Ray Kurzweil TED talks about the pace of technology.

Apart from the speed, one of the most interesting & surprising things is how well technology progress measures, of all kinds, over the last few decades, fit an exponential curve. It got me thinking more about those curves in our own lives:

Since exponential curve behaviour is transforming our lives, understanding the properties of those curves is arguably the most important maths we all need to master.

Perhaps our biggest blind spot is not seeing when we’re on the ‘flat plains’ of a curve. One with the ever-steeper ‘mountain face’ of the curve ahead, still cloaked in mist. And like mountaineers approaching a steep mountain face to climb, our options are greatest before the ascent.

The least blurry view of the curve is early on, before the meteoric rise kicks in and things change at the fastest rate.

Some technology exponential curves must surely accelerate others. Probably less a case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ and more a case of ‘hold tight with both hands, for the ride of a lifetime!’

The more exponential curves swerve and jolt our lives, the more flexibility in the driving seat we require. And the bigger the flexibility toolset we’ll need for the ride. Note to self: spend more time thinking about the relationship between flexibility and exponential curve behaviour.

What do you think?

Lastly, if you find these blogs interesting, feel free to click ‘follow’.

Simon

Reflections H-P

Health living – is a series of choices. Unhealthy dying is a consequence of not making the right choices. You may not care what others think, but ultimately, your body will care.

Hope – is like gravity. It anchors us to a great planet, surrounded by people we can help. And those who will reach out to us, if we let them.

Human creativity – a lucky dip inside your head, planting an action point in someone else’s head. Mentally reaching for the sky, flying solo with eagles and rainbows, then making a perfect landing. Problems in our neighbourhoods cry out for design ideas in our heads and courage in our hearts. The creative process is more Picasso, Dali and Pollock. The dependency process is more still life and pointillist.

Management – bountiful control over scarce resources needs to become scarce control over bountiful resources.

Parenthood – a mission to the outer limits of your character. To boldly go where you never thought you would go before. Starring as the support actors in your own long-playing, family adventure movie. Becoming a parent is like being a fashion photographer. You get to help the subject on their own road to success, yet they think they alone have all the talent!

Personal growth – life isn’t about finding Nemo. It’s about creating yourself. Making progress depends both on finding truths and accepting them as friends. Look on the bright side – the winds of change take us through some pretty amazing scenery.

Politicians – some politicians hope to use politics to achieve a beautiful result. Some supermodels use beauty to achieve a political result.

If you like these posts, feel free to follow my blog for future posts.

Simon

Flexibility and Internet downtime

business computer connection data
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Last week in my home, I had an internet outage.  Presumably somehow related to contractors putting in fibre broadband in the nearby streets. It was a good test of dependency on the internet controlling how we can be productive.

Fortunately, reflecting time & planning time are different from online-research time & trend-monitoring time. Waiting for digital service restoration is simply an opportunity for more thinking and reflection time. A chance to review previously downloaded files that are stored locally, not in the Cloud. To improve the online filing system on my laptop i.e. spring cleaning.

Instead of taking reassurance from online sources, I had to look within.  Fortunately, I don’t yet have a self-employment business heavily reliant on internet connectivity. Note to self – today is a lesson in making such a business more flexible. And even if such a business was internet dependant, I can still drive to a nearby town and use their café wifi, to keep such a business operating.

Spotify might be inaccessible. But the iTunes library on my nano lets the music play on. TV, radio and the mobile phone network are unaffected too. I can cook on electric or gas cooking devices. Getting some lunchtime exercise and taking a hot shower afterwards are options too. I may not be able to do any internet banking.  But I can always visit an ATM for cash and review my account balance.

The outage reminded me that Plan B’s have to be scalable. People need to remain productive and contribute.  Whether it’s just a local outage, or a wider one. Like in a romantic relationship, if the other party steps away for a bit, your life needs to go on regardless.

In the age of the machine, people need to be bigger than digital. And keep an identity outside of digital too.

Simon

Reflections D-G

Dignity – the quiet dignity of old people should be the quiet dignity of everyone.

Education – education opens a door to awareness. Awareness opens a universe to discovery.

Ego – make ego an acronym for enthusiasm, generosity and originality.

Envy – if we spend excessive time bashing the wealth creators, instead of upskilling, we’ll get the economic wasteland we deserve.

Family legacy – where your children become investors in the parent company.

Fashion – the magical stitching that binds values with expression. Jewellery- the best is elegance without extravagance. Hats – fashion landscapes for the head. Hairstylists – cut away tangled confusion to reveal the style underneath. And like international diamond traders, live for style, cut and colour.

Fitness – sweat the small stuff in the gym. Enjoy the big stuff everywhere else! Fitness feeds the body, the way information feeds the mind and friendship feels the soul.

Friends – are the mirror lens to help us see things afresh. Old friends are like a roaring fire. They warm our bones, radiate light, crackle with life and make short work of dull objects. With friends, you don’t just walk the journey together for a while, you carry new destinations along the way. Reunions with friends help us over-write the mistakes of the past, with the goodwill of the present and some fun plans for the future.

Goodwill – goodwill banks are the best banks of all, allowing a person to put in at least as much as they take out. The less you deposit, the more risk you take.