Networks and Personal Flexibility

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Just as individuals at work make up teams, who make up organisations, so individual family members make up nuclear families who are part of wider family groupings too. Individuals also form networks with their friends, work colleagues and various online communities of interest in the wider world.

Each interaction the individual has may vary in; the length of the exchange, its style (level of structure, informality and language used). And in the baggage that comes with each communication. Is there a long history of frustration or rivalry? Is it a very new relationship? It there a lot of trust and goodwill built up between the parties involved?

It takes quite a bit of personal flexibility to compartmentalise all those interactions. To remember what you said to who. And when. What their reaction was. What they asked you to do. What you agreed with them. Or promised to do. What you need to do, now that other events have unfolded.

Clearly there are memory aids to help. Diaries, checklists and notepads. Your prompting children or spouse. But it’s hard to get through a lifetime of all those interactions, without getting it wrong at some point.

At best, relationships are a journey of discovery. Some might say a minefield. Over time, you find out people’s preferences. Their desires. What offends them. What sets off an emotional reaction that isn’t necessarily what you were expecting. And because human beings are complex and changing, you can’t expect that what used to work well in the past, will necessarily still work in the future.

Personal flexibility (PFL) comes into its own to cope. Accept a best efforts effort from yourself. If you learn and adjust, apologise even, people will give you marks for trying. Try trusting them to see the bigger picture.

You may even find yourself becoming the ‘switch’ in the network from time to time. The person others go through in their various exchanges. The person they ask advice from before they act. It’s ok to be exasperated when your friends or family don’t take the advice you give them. The important part is to keep growing and evolving as a person. No one predefines your life for you.

It’s your path to tread and your direction to choose. Bon voyage.

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

Thinking Flexibly

You hear a lot these days about the need for businesses to pivot quickly and be agile. Use agile techniques to develop software, or run projects. Be lean. Be observant. Watch for opportunity. Be bold and creative. The same applies in sports, to win the game.

There is a lot of online coverage relating to physical flexibility. Aerobics classes, yoga, pilates, tai chi, martial arts. The Olympics. World Cup football and rugby. Golf and tennis events. Fitness trials. Marathons, Iron man and other endurance events. But what about the mental side?

Creating personal and business flexibility both involve thinking flexibly and practising mental agility (MA). But what’s the difference?

Thinking flexibly is heavy on design – creating more avenues and pathways. Can we tunnel or fly instead? Rather than continue the journey, can we influence the other party to come to us instead? Can we send someone in our place? In a progress review, how do we solve or redefine the problem we’ve encountered? 

Mental agility is about process and style – having regular progress reviews. Jumping pathways well and picking when to jump (timing). Calculating, applying, comparing, prioritising. How do I verify the information? What needs more testing? Can I inspire the team to reach for their best? Will some humour lighten the mood? Should I change my communication style for the audience.

One timely illustration of the difference is the Brexit debate in the UK at present. If more ‘thinking flexibly’ had occurred at prior to the voter referendum back in 2016, the process and style aspects (mental agility needed to avoid a ‘hard Brexit’ outcome), wouldn’t be so terrible now.

Thinking flexibly includes:

  • radiating outwards from one concept to multiple applications.
  • oscillating between possibility and feasibility.
  • blending logic and emotion (head and heart).
  • selecting amongst personal life experiences (the ‘school of hard knocks’), advice we received and taught concepts.

Thinking flexibly also includes self-challenge (making new paths). Because often, fresh thinking is needed to solve tired problems.

  • thinking of a first solution, then continuing to think of other solutions, before selecting the best one.
  • thinking laterally (de Bono style).
  • seeking out analogies that might help.
  • reasoning in new situations, where reliable data isn’t yet available.
  • deliberately looking beyond the herd (established patterns), to search for the interesting outliers and anomalies.

For someone facing a situation of conflicting views, or multiple versions of the truth, other than staying in denial, what options are there:

  • Gather more facts. Parents do this when two of their children have opposite stories. A real-life business problem faced by this blogger involved a new computer system creating phantom financial entries. Initially it wasn’t clear whether this was a staff-training problem. Or a software system bug. Or both. What to do? Talk to the (software) experts. Survey a range of people (users or witnesses) who have encountered the problem before. Do some testing (simulations, role-play or trials) to gather more information. Independently verify the data.  Perhaps coax the experts to develop new theories, if their existing explanations don’t ring true.
  • Develop new theories or new approaches yourself. These may put apparent conflict into a cohesive setting. An example of this was used in science to explain the behaviour of light.  To elaborate, scientists created two concurrent models – a particle model and a wave model of light that together explained what they observed. Another science example is how atomic theory explains two apparently opposing behaviours – physical material expansion when heat is applied (e.g. water into steam say).  But how the physical volume that ice occupies, contracts when heated from zero to four degrees Celsius at sea level atmospheric pressure.
  • Become comfortable and skilled at juggling multiple, concurrent things. For example, apply your existing skills (as an board member, volunteer, mentor or parent say), while learning new things in real time, as a novice. Achieve relationship compromises (if there are clashes in values, varying levels of enthusiasm, or different priorities arising between the team members). But set limits and practice ‘tough love’ as well. Take a rational approach.  But also trust your instincts. Choose to remain the student, even when you think you have become the master. On the later, keep asking ‘why’ questions, including about any anomalies & exceptions discovered. Keep asking yourself ‘is it still relevant’, since theory and practice seldom stand still. Arguably, the only way to be a true master is by permanently remaining a student – committing to constant improvement.  Even while practicing as a relative master. Some areas where this is particularly true are parenthood, leadership & management.  Each is a lifelong challenge to master!

Are there any interesting examples of physical flexibility partnered up with mental agility? Jazz improvisation amongst a group of accomplished musicians is probably one good example of this. Where the music is going is unpredictable and changing at a rapid rate. Instrument flexibility and concentration is needed to create a harmonious but creative result. Fighter pilots staying in flying formation at speed are another example.

Are there any interesting examples of thinking flexibly, partnered up with physical agility? Emergency services workers encountered a mass-casualty situation with a series of challenging environmental constraints are an example.

How does thinking flexibly related to personal flexibility (PFL) more generally?

Part of mastering PFL includes thinking flexibly (building options). Other aspects include managing existing risks. And building spare capacity ‘for a rainy day’.

Perhaps the definition of a FL student is the person who knows about flexibility.  But doesn’t practice it. The FL convert is someone who links established options to situations and then decides & acts. In contrast, the FL master is someone who manufactures options (ideas and real options) for situations, generating more as required. FL masters who are financial budget holders are one example. They are encouraged to form one view and outcome.  Yet use FL as a tool to secure the best outcome, regardless of the budget that was set and approved.

Some people seek out variety, perhaps to fulfil a basic human need. Food lovers, party goers and veteran travellers all seek exciting new places and sensory experiences. They probably wonder if there is a better experience just around the corner.  Slightly out of view.  Meanwhile, fashionistas, artists and performers chase more sublime forms of human expression & recognition. Each group seems willing to embrace personal flexibility as a means to an end. However, although being open to opportunity is a great example of PFL (Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Yes Man’), using personal FL well is the thing that builds confidence.

What are some other personal flexibility approaches?

  • Remain flexible by changing the angle of view. Some famous drawings exhibit 2 images, simply by re-looking at the image outlines differently. The Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher was a case in point.
  • Reframe the problem, emphasising options and choices. For example, looking for another job while simultaneously doing your best in the current role.
  • Reward ingenuity and audacity – ‘yes we can!’
  • Grab opportunities as they arise. For example, a new employee could strive to set a new high standard of work. With the aim of changing internal roles to become an internal trainer. Likewise, someone arriving at a social gathering and realising there is no suitable food for young children, or no soft drinks for the designated driver, could use one of the relatively new food delivery services such as Uber Eats, to order a fast delivery directly to that event venue.
  • Accept that the experience gathered on a journey, may be as important as the destination reached. Frank Sinatra apparently once said ‘I’d rather show you my scars, than my medals.’
  • Don’t remind yourself to think outside the box. Tell yourself there is no box!
  • Zoom in and stand back from a problem, for perspective and to see wider patterns. For example, a motion-sensor, high-speed strobe camera, a drone-mounted video-camera and a wall-mounted CCTV-camera can each record the same events. But in very different ways.

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

Simon

Personal Flexibility (PFL) Calling

‘A flexible mind has a better chance to think differently and take a unique path in the life journey.’ Pearl Zhu

Have you seen the Jim Carey movie ‘Yes Man’ (2008, Warner Bros)? I thought it was a great idea to base a movie on, back when it came out. Essentially, the movie’s message is that by embracing the power of yes (being more flexible) in our personal lives, we can be happier, both in our personal and professional lives.

Perhaps the best gateways we encounter in life are those that shimmer & sparkle with possibility – career choices, lifestyle choices, parenthood, new friendships, important event invitations, romantic encounters, volunteer roles as leadership opportunities. The chance to work in another country. The chance to embark on a business start up.

Perhaps also, the best people to trust in life are the ‘type P’s for which it is a risk to trust them – type P’s being a small risk with big possibilities. Not ‘type R’s’ – a big risk with small possibilities. The trick is first finding them. And then distinguishing between the two types.

A question for you: in our lives, should we try and have high hopes, but low expectations? What’s your view?

And how does having high hopes but low expectations relate to personal flexibility? Perhaps the best chance for personal happiness & success, is to be flexible on hope. Be thorough in your preparation. Be skilful in your follow through too. But remain rigid & low in your expectations? The military have an acronym for it – snarfu!

Some everyday examples of personal flexibility:

  • When some people step outside their front door, they carry clothing for different weather conditions.
  • Some people sacrifice and save money ‘for a rainy day’. And may use a savings account (or piggy bank) with flexible access, for the same reason.
  • Parents tell their children to study hard & gain qualifications. Ones that will be valued by more than one employer.
  • People reserve their judgement when they meet strangers.
  • Some people commit to things one step at a time, to ‘keep their options open’.
  • Some people store up political favours or wealth, as a form of future insurance.
  • Some people prize physical flexibility, perhaps indulging in dance, yoga, gymnastics or martial arts.
  • People move cities or countries, hoping to take advantage of job opportunities in other locations.
  • People adjust their mode of living as their needs change. For example, as a child or teenager, living with their parents. Living in student-share accommodation while studying At university. Living in a shared flat while starting their career. Living in nuclear-family accommodation to raise a family. Downsizing their accommodation needs when the children leave home. Moving into a care home when needing supervised care.
  • People date strangers. They simultaneously try to present their best side, meet in a public place and ‘try on different potential partners for size.’
  • Adventurous people seek out other places to experience other cultures and value systems.
  • Some wealthy old people delay making a bequest. When tactfully asked by fundraisers why they delay, they reply ‘I might change my mind’.
  • Close-knit communities create food stockpiles, seed stores and water wells, to cope with supply shortages or uncertain future weather conditions.
  • Some communities create time capsules, music, dance, drama, museums, written diaries, film and photographs. They see this as a way to preserve their cultural identity in an uncertain world.
  • We populate the planet with ever more people to preserve and enhance human society. Just in case.

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In short, flexibility isn’t a novel concept. We’ve been practising it and paying lip service to it for years! What is new, or at least overdue, is creating a framework for both personal & business flexibility. And some new language about flexibility the subject. Long overdue in my view.

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

Simon