Surfing the ups and downs

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Surfers know about staying on their board to ride out the lows and enjoy the highs. Breaking right or left when the opportunity arises. Surfing away from danger if they spot a shark in the water.

How can companies or staff use flexibility to stay sustainable through boom & bust cycles? For companies, buying up distressed assets and companies in an economic downturn isn’t the only game in town. With companies desperately shedding cost by laying off staff, the downturn is a golden opportunity to pick up experienced talent in plentiful supply. Likewise for staff, stay open to new opportunities from those companies wanting the good people.

In the downturn, if they can’t justify hiring operations staff, firms can hire more developers instead, to deliver for the next bull run. Or better still (in a flexibility sense), acquire staff who develop in the downturn and do operations/marketing in the boom. For staff, think about widening your skills from operations into development and marketing too.

In a downturn, business ethics are tested by fear, not greed. Whether boom, bust or in between, staff can work hard to join up their personal morals with the business ethics of the business, to keep the customer love alive and thriving.

Finally for staff, if you’re not involved in development innovation (team leaders and middle managers), try to catch the eye of senior management, by helping them develop real options for the company’s future. For the company, having both innovations and real options is the equivalent of riding the surfboard through the ups and downs both.

Simon

 

Management and Leadership

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On environmental pollution, managers collect rubbish and send it to landfill sites. Leaders ensure consumer products are biodegrade.

On Brexit, managers coax passengers into making the trip. And pressgang the rebels on to any boat that floats. Leaders engineer the journey of a lifetime, on a robust, spacious ocean liner, designed to make the journey trouble-free.

On housing, managers write up the waiting lists, set the criteria for allocation and fix the rents. Leaders spread the jobs regionally, deliver modular housing units for the masses and reform planning regulations to fast-track construction.

Managers push sentiment change to get regime change. Leaders keep suggesting reform of unpopular practice, until the weight of popular opinion drives mass momentum towards a useful outcome.

Managers create a one door pathway. Leaders create a many door environment for followers to choose from.

Managers move movers & shakers to move forward. Leaders shake shakers to shake movers forward.

Managers downplay rigid to progress. Leaders practise flexibility to progress.

Simon

Looking forward

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True flexibility makes options. It also leaves the options not chosen, available for later use.

Arguably we all need to be futurists. Embracing flexibility will make futurism less daunting.

Are dairy farmers a model for how man-machine partnerships should work? Dairy farmers made hay and mud bricks until they discovered milk production was more lucrative. Cows are the intelligence that convert grass into a substance that gives our physiological systems the ability to be more healthy and act in smarter ways. The rest is up to us!

The best markets have the greatest flexibility. Both in trading and in regulatory compliance.

In the same way data security software monitors data networks, automated regulators need to monitor market trading and evolve as fast as markets evolve.

Regulatory agents aren’t there to impede trading per se. But to limit the task of their peers in welfare means-testing (or UBI) for parts of the community that markets don’t reach.

AI needs to become an acronym for assisted initiatives, absent inequality and augmented innovation.

Simon

Personal Flexibility Acronym

P=Plan flexibility (Plan A, Plan B, Plan C).

E=Enlist support & ideas. Good ideas come from anyone, anywhere, anytime!

R=Rotate when you need to. Rotate, Reset, Relax.

S=Select amongst style & substance flexibility.

O=Options management. It’s as important as accumulation.

N=Name your epitaph. What do you want to be remembered for?

A=Analyse the situation. Unless you want to rely on dumb luck!

L=Lay out encouragement and praise like a new carpet. You might get a magic carpet in return!

 

F=Flexiscribes & flexitypes to flex your flexibility.

L=Limit your pessimism, limit your downside, limit your limitations.

E=Explore new routes. Life’s meant to be a great adventure.

X=X on the trade-off spectrum.

I=Invest, invest, invest in more options.

B=Brace for impact, brace for success.

I=In it for the long haul.

L=Leverage for impact. Small lever, big technique!

I=Initiative & innovation.

T=Turn to & tune up the talent of the team.

Y=You are never surprised the way you surprise yourself!

 

Simon

 

Complexity and Personal Flexibility

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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

The price of flexibility

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If someone spends effort (time and money) to journey from a ‘one door’ environment (inflexibility) to arrive at a place of many doors, that effort (and the effort to open the door) is the price of flexibility. The value of flexibility is then realised after they open the new door. A simple example is getting an education.

Maybe as a society, we spend too much time trying to value what’s behind the closed doors. And forget to invest in the first part – the price of moving (back) to the place in front of the doors. It’s worth noting that this part is both easier to measure and clearer to see.

It works in reverse too. As someone specialises (in their career say), they progressively leave the ‘many door’ environment behind. However, as long as the value of specialisation exceeds the value of flexibility (often true in low risk environments), life is good.

Life gets more complicated when there is fog rolling in and you only occasionally catch a glimpse of a set of doors to approach. Or when the environment changes so rapidly, that there are new sets of doors appearing on a frequent basis.

The need for (career path) reinvention comes with environmental change (also true of parenthood, by the way). By continuing to invest in flexibility while you specialise (transferable skills, wider skills), the reinvention process is lubricated.

Reinvention requires more than just agility (reaction time & expertise in jumping paths). You also need to find or create a new door environment in advance. And it’s worth bearing in mind that making your own new door (self employment) can be more powerful and more liberating than standing in a vast queue outside the new door you choose, but don’t construct yourself.

What do you think?

If you find these blogs useful, please share with others too.

Simon