Exchange, acquire and shed

photography of a woman sitting on the chair listening to music
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Boredom can occur when we cannot or won’t seek out change. Or when we grow impatient waiting for something (passive boredom). Regarding the first type of boredom, a certain amount of repetition is reassuring. Too much just frustrates and exhausts us (active boredom).

In the workplace, boredom likely explains quite a bit of tense workplace interaction, job hopping and sub-optimal activity – the saying ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ springs to mind.

Outside the workplace, because of boredom, people become activists (not the only reason they become activists). Others gamble, take drugs and alcohol for escapism, persecute others, change their image, watch reality TV, have affairs, or indulge in sports that provide an adrenaline rush.

Regardless of what makes us bored, our boredom has a threshold (limit) and we have an appetite (a capacity & desire) to avoid boredom. We also have varying levels of control over our ability to avoid boredom.

If boredom is commonplace, why do we let it remain the unspoken elephant in the room? Do we think talking about boredom makes us seem self-indulgent or powerless? In the workplace, do managers never talk about their teams being bored, because it will indicate they hired the wrong people? And can’t find enough productive things for them to do?

Presumably for each of us, our boredom threshold varies by activity, by what kind of day we had before the repetition. By our level of familiarity with the repetition. By the level of compensation for the boredom endured. And whether we suffer the repetition alone, or in good company.

To make boredom more pleasant, we can try to control the repetition or the wait, using personal flexibility.

Returning to the title of this blog, exchange involves exchanging one king of repetition for another. At an aerobics class, instead of doing exercise in silence (and by ourselves), we dance to the music as a group. As WordPress bloggers, we produce a series of (hopefully) interesting blogs. Yet it’s just as important to appreciate the series produced by others too- we learn something by producing our own. Yet grow more as individuals by paying attention to what others have to say too.

Acquire includes obtaining options in advance, that give you the freedom to change the form or timing of the repetition. Options include controlling the speed of the repetitions. Or creating options that intersperse the repetitions with more exciting interludes.

Shed means develop flexibility to avoid the wait, convert it into productive time, avoid the repetitions. Or leverage them into something bigger. Ironically, our minds make us bored.  Yet our minds are the key to our personal flexibility too.

If you find these blogs interesting, feel free to recommend them to others.

Simon

Perception, Imagination and Focus

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History may be continuous, but continuous doesn’t always imply progress. Arguing or complaining needs something else for it to become constructive. Sometimes the slow progress of one approach is overtaken by someone else’s faster approach, using a different design entirely. Economic growth and human migration come in cycles. And not necessarily regular ones either. Human relationships (trust and power levels) can change for better or worse. Meanwhile, some things, ranging from art & fashion to political movements & street-slang turn out to just be passing fads.

In this blogger’s view, staying resilient and strong in the presence of such changes requires movement flexibility and mental flexibility. Or put another way, the state of our physical and mental health depends on personal flexibility.

To take one example, curing depression may be problematic. But coping with it needs help from perception, imagination and focus – focus being where we choose to focus our attention. After physical injury, physiotherapy helps our bodies recover something approaching useable function. Perception, imagination and focus become our ‘internal support group’ for this too.

So if we need to prepare for future times where there won’t be positive progress in our external environment and if we can expect some toll on our mental & physical health as a result, then maybe now is the time to become more agile at altering the combination of; how we perceive things, what we hope for and what we concentrate on.

Maybe we can learn to apply triage to situations – the way emergency service workers assess an accident scene that has suddenly come into view. Maybe we can become more adept at playing for time or buying time, in order to develop a richer assessment of the issues (perception shifting and daring to dream).

Problem solving in the face of apparent impasse might need to take a step back, in order to make a leap forward. I once saw a great example of this in a river valley in Peru. Basically, the local people were tasked with constructing stone fortifications on one mountainside, using stone that was quarried from the flanks of the mountain opposite. In the valley between both mountains ran a large, deep river. The question became, how to we move a lot of stone across the river fairly quickly. Their solution was to stack up loads of stone blocks on one river bank, then go upstream and dig a channel (take a step back) to change the course of the river, so the blocks were now already across. Genius.

Simon

Relatedness, Risk and Personal Flexibility

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I learned about the concept of relatedness while recently reading a fantastic book called ‘The Origin of Wealth’ published in 2006, by Eric Beinhocker. Beinhocker is now the Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Oxford, England.

Beinhocker describes ‘jump distance’ in a business plan landscape as having three dimensions; relatedness, risk and time horizon. Relatedness is essentially how far your plans are from current skills and knowledge held. Beinhocker describes time horizon as the expected time to payoff from the experiments.  Beinhocker describes risk as ‘all the uncertainties that can affect the outcome of an … experiment. And the degree of irreversibility of the commitment (made)’. In this blogger’s professional experience, risk is commonly calculated in a relative way by assessing probability (likelihood) and magnitude (effect) of the risk. And then ranking risks from big to small.

What Beinhocker’s book didn’t outline was how the relatedness, risk and time horizon dimensions are related. Or how they relate to flexibility.

Using a famous physics formula that velocity = distance/time, we can estimate that progression rate (to achieve a personal goal say) = distance covered/time taken. And that a high progression rate (promotion to greater power say) is proportionate to a high degree of relatedness (patrons, mentors, special knowledge, influential networks to pave the way).

What about Risk? How does that relate to relatedness and time horizon? In relation to the velocity =distance over time equation, risk is that the planned velocity varies significantly in reality.  Perhaps because the distance covered in the allotted time varies significantly from plan.

On a personal level, we can consider progression rate = distance/time as it applies to three things; emotional maturity (in human relationships), wisdom and coping skills.

The progression rate of a teenager in achieving advanced emotional maturity can be raised if there are good role models to learn from. And few things (like peer pressure, stress and negative reinforcement) holding back the advancement of emotional maturity. Or if the maturity time can be shortened somehow. For example, with incentives to mature faster. Or with time substitution – shortening the time by applying other resources in its place.

Regarding improving the progression rate to achieve wisdom and coping skills, the distance covered (quality and depth of wisdom and skills developed) can be improved with safe trials/simulations, analysis practice, improved data storage and retrieval, integrated systems and leverage in learning (learn three key things from one simulation say). Or if the time can be shortened somehow. For example, with incentives to learn and cope faster. Or with time substitution – shortening the time by applying other resources in its place.

Finally, how can the application of personal flexibility (PFL) help to improve the progression rate in the above examples? With emotional maturity, collecting options of good role models to learn from is a good start. Different people’s styles and thought processes can be observed for different situations encountered. Timeflex (the action of buying time, playing for time or reinventing time) is relevant too. Using romance as the example, buying time might involve talking to lots of people about your date’s past track record. Playing for time might involve playing hard to get. Reinventing time might be expanding the honeymoon!

With wisdom, using the flexitypes of design flexibility, process flexiblity and systems flexibility can help improve information management. An example of process flexibility is committing to both advanced education and lifelong learning (more analysis tools and more case studies observed). Timeflex is also relevant. The ‘FLIRS’ acronym of flexibility to leverage to impact to results to stories is also relevant i.e. use flexibility to create leverage, with results being the eventual wisdom obtained.

With life coping skills, using the flexitypes of design flexibility is also relevant. As is styflex (style flexibility), timeflex and FLIRS.

What do you think?

Simon

Families, Mission Statements and Fresh Thinking

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In our personal lives, including family life or partnership life, do we need to achieve a bit less blame culture. And a bit more of a family/partnership learning-points culture instead?  As an aside, why do we blame in the first place? Is it our way of venting our frustration, the way a kettle pushes steam out of the neck of the vessel? Is it to put distance between our own shortcomings and someone else’s? Like complaining about an inaccurate weather forecast, causing us to get wet, but really it was because we didn’t bring a coat? Is it to make ourselves look better by making someone else look worse?  Like a magician using misdirection to achieve glory from the audience?

Returning to families, would some families benefit from developing their own mission statement? For some, it might make the point of a family more obvious.

If some families decided to have a mission statement, should it be:

  • to live in the moment?
  • one where while every family member looks out for themselves – essentially a ‘survival of the fittest’, adapt as-best-you-can goal?
  • to build something bigger than its members acting alone, with or without carrying passengers. ­And then carry to that momentum forward to the next generation intact? Incidentally, what’s being carried forward isn’t just the family estate (financial resources). But also, less tangible things like; wider family ties. And goodwill within the wider community (the opposite of vendettas).

For a quiet life, do parents want their children to simply get along, without arguing? Or do what smart, professional organisations ask of their staff i.e. use opportunities to cross-sell, up-sell & collaborate on various things.

Perhaps parents can achieve a double benefit – give themselves less of a home war-zone and help their children build positive relationships (starting at home), if they actively seek out opportunities for their kids to collaborate at home. And encourage siblings to promote each other’s talents to outsiders (cross-sell and up-sell).

Perhaps why some families lose a family member to a street gang is that they fail to achieve both the cross-sell and collaboration activities within the family. Leaving the gang to step into the vacuum instead. Clearly there are other factors operating too.  But it follows that the stronger and more close-knit one ‘club’ becomes, the harder for another ‘club’ to lure away the members.

What do you think about families mimicking & adapting some things from the business world?

Simon

Self Determination and Personal Flexibility

‘Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible’ Audrey Hepburn

group of people sitting on white mat on grass field
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As an adult, each day we influence the World. And the World influences us back. On the bad days, it all seems a bit David and Goliath. On the good days, a simple walk in a public park, shows us the big, open skies.  Something amusing, the beauty of nature. Some clever landscape design. Some businesses & brands selling us yummy food and drink. A bit of structure and boundaries. And a diverse bunch of people of all ages having fun together. A microcosm of the wider World.

On the David and Goliath days, it’s natural to think we have little lasting influence over others. Meanwhile, the World bombards us with endless messages. We personally see bad things happen to good people. And the media focus on negative, sensational news, makes us weary of human behaviour. And the future generally.

Perhaps our own influence (the power of one and the power of self belief) is bigger than we think. While the World’s ability to sap our spirit & bend our goals, isn’t as strong as it first appears.

Life is full of surprises. And the rate of progress uneven – exponential is the new linear. A part of Personal Flexibility (PFL) is about running with a baton in each hand – the plans in one hand and the means to cope with surprises in the other.

Personal Flexibility should be more than free will. Or more than free will put into action. We owe it to ourselves to create choices. To do worthwhile and worthy projects in our lives (create meaning).

If we build strong relationships and solve significant problems, the rewards will buy us the freedom to determine our own futures, within reason – in a word, self determination.

Self determination exists at the level of the person and at the level of the family. In the same way the family’s identity is the sum of the identities of its members, a family’s self determination is also the sum of the self determinations of its family members. For family self determination; the family traditions, referencing your roots, the guidance passed down from one generation to another, all clash and contrast with the headstrong actions of individual family members, to break free from the past. To copy their friends. And change with the times.

Self determination also exists at the level of the community (think neighbourhood watch schemes, block parties, local business actions, recycling ventures, local stadium events, community festivals). And it exists at the level of the state (in the UK, think Brexit. Elsewhere, think independence from colonial rule).

For self determination, if the whole is the sum of the parts, PFL takes on a vital role in one respect. Balancing off individual self interest (greed & self benefit) versus achieving benefits for a wider good. Even the richest people know their money is of little value; if the air is toxic, if rising oceans flow over their land, if too many people populate the Earth. If there is no future for their own children.

photo of woman looking at the mirror
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A final thought. At the person level and even at the family level, if self determination is somewhere on the road to happiness, PFL is a warm, friendly vehicle to offer us a faster ride in that direction. What do you think?

As always, if you find these blogs interesting, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Personal Flexibility and Time Management Revisited

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The Royal Trinity Hospice in London apparently has a motto ‘living every moment’. It’s a great one for terminally ill people, to make the most of the life they have left. Essentially it’s about enriching time.

If you’re pushed for time, try the technique of playing for time. Tell someone you can come up with a good answer or solution – perhaps better than they’re expecting. But you need another x hours to do so. This blogger has been in a couple of life-threatening, outdoor situations, slammed by multiple problems at once. Playing for time (the plan ‘B’), can literally save your life.

Staying in time (being a slave to the rhythm) can ease the burden. Especially if learning something new like; dancing, singing, swimming, marching, relay races or three-legged races in some parent-child, school event. Making love or debt repayments. Or following that car in front of your one.

Paying for time is a great solution for income-rich, time-poor people. Or those doing online grocery shopping because they don’t want to spend time driving to the store and shopping in person.

Making time and keeping time are like what you should do with promises. Choose carefully how to spend your allotted time (and choose your promises carefully too, preferably under-promise and over-deliver). Keep track of whether the time (and effort) invested is paying off in some way for you. We don’t have to charge for our time. But it’s ok to have expectations.  That in return for your valuable time, something positive should result.

Leveraging time is about reaping multiple benefits from one action. Lazy people love it.

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Use your daily work commute productively, not simply as an entertainment opportunity. Let your car’s onboard computers automatically handle more support aspects of your driving experience. So you can have a rewarding conversation with passengers instead.

Juggling time (or thin-slicing your time) is about juggling lots of loose ends, when you face delays and lead times. This blogger was recently given the job at work of setting up a new office in a foreign (non English speaking) country in Europe. As you can imagine, loads of signed form originals and ID documents were required, all referring to each other. Since you can’t complete any one aspect in its entirety, juggle the steps in the various processes concurrently instead. It is effectively filling in the waiting time with productive work. Accept that progress is uneven and therefore do planning ahead of time. And fact-find in the quiet times.

As always, if you find these blogs inspiring or thought provoking, spread the word for others to benefit too.

Simon

Handling Set-backs and Personal Flexibility

Roller coaster rides remain exciting because of their ups and downs. Ditto the stock market, alpine landscapes and city rooftops. Watching a loved one’s heart rhythm on a hospital heart monitor, is to hope for a steady pattern of highs and lows. Not a flat line. And so it is with life – the set-backs provide variety, challenge, a chance to learn from mistakes. Prompts to develop your character (prompts to us become edits by us). And make you appreciate the highs that much more.

Variation with limits is a form of flexibility. A greater form of flexibility comes from putting in intermediate control points, allowing you to influence the degree of variation (variation with sub limits). Guitar players do this when they put a capo (clamp) on their strings to change the pitch of the sound. Car designers use ABS technology to prevent full-on braking by the driver, from locking the car wheels into a skid. Martial arts teachers require role play and play fighting from their students, to train them without bodily injury. All are examples of variation with sub-limits.

When it comes to life’s minor set-backs and disappointments, personal flexibility takes the form of tempering frustration. And converting it  into hope. Hope for cessation, improvement or avoidance.

When the set-back or disappointment is more severe, the process of overcoming shock, a sense of injustice and conversion into positive thoughts, takes more time. And more emotional energy.

When the set-back is large, e.g. the loss of a loved one, redundancy, marital failure, loss of personal reputation or business failure, the tempering & converting needs to become a transformation instead. There is an entire grief cycle to work through. People who see you suffer these extreme set-backs may intervene. But not always constructively. Or when you most need them.

This blogger has experienced some of those larger set-backs. Redundancy was one. After the initial surprise, I had to concede to myself, that in my decades-long career, it would inevitably and eventually strike. And to rationalise the experience in a few different ways. For example, whether applying for a job, or being made redundant, you have to continue believing in yourself. Otherwise, how can you expect others to? For example, seeing job redundancy as simply being surplus to requirements of one employer at a particular stage in their journey. Not as being made redundant from the human race per se. Marital failure. Again, to learn from the experience of marriage and ‘get it right the next time around’. The death of both parents. To see death as a regular part of the cycle of life. To remember all the good things that my parents taught me. To remember them well and to pay something forward. Weirdly, the more you carry forward those peoples’ influence (happy memories, words of support, guidance & advice), the more you also feel their loss. But because you carry it forward and because you’re now a fully-fledged adult, the less you feel it too.

Personal losses and set-backs are a strange thing. For some people, each loss of a loved one, each redundancy experience, or job application declined, simply fuels their negative feelings. And dents their self-image. Where those feelings manifest in a negative self image, a rigid, negative spiral sets in. It can take a lot of emotional energy to get your rationalising head to rule your emotional heart. But you have to ask yourself, what other choice is there?

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that it won’t work.’ Thomas Edison

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas Edison

So how can building up your personal flexibility (PFL) help to cope with life’s set-backs? Firstly, by building your PFL in the good times, your resilience to set-backs will increase, helping you cope in the bad times. Build up goodwill, friendship and family ties when you don’t need them. People who care will then reach out to you when it matters.

Second, build up some financial savings in the good times. To have the freedom to engage a counsellor or therapist in the bad times. You never know in advance just how strongly a future set back will  make you feel. And how strongly that need to reach out for professional help.

Arguably, for more severe set-backs you need a combination of loved ones and detached professionals to reach you in different ways. The professional can hopefully get you adjusted to return to regular life. Your friends and family will keep you there.

A final thought. Survival and adjustment to loss are fundamental aspects of life. Their gift to you is to give you the credibility and insight to help those who come after you and suffer similar set-backs. Keep your personal flexibility intact to help them the most.

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

Simon