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.
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A child is flexible in mind & body. They aren’t too proud to imitate others. Nor too self conscious to role play. For the child, unconscious competence slowly introduces itself to personal flexibility. They then become firm friends, all the way to secondary school.
The teenager suppresses their innate flexibility, for social group acceptance. Kind of ironic since that versatility and adaptability is their strength to the social group concerned. Fame, glory and sex appeal are cool. Staying physically flexible isn’t. Unless it leads to sporting prowess/physical strength, on the path to fame, glory and sex appeal. Conscious competence sits quietly in the back row, out of the spotlight. Until just the right kind of audience enters the theatre.
The twenty or thirty something embraces flexibility. Simply to cope with juggling career, relationships, finances, set backs and opportunities. Conscious incompetence staggers out of the back row. While walking up on to the stage, it looks within for character and its attitude is sheer bloody mindedness. Less addicted to the spotlight. More hoping its talent will rise up and face off its destiny.
The middle ager embraces a different kind of flexibility. They use decades of life experience. And memories of what worked when, to draw & channel the best response to a given problem. They don’t necessarily get things right. But notice that as their mental flexibility reigns, their physical flexibility wanes. Primed on stage, they visualise the perfect flexibility moves. The perfect actions. The delivery however is hit and miss. Their final act of flexibility is to learn to rationalise. To register the applause and count their blessings.
The senior, quietly watching the next generation project from the stage, finds they have to channel their waning mental flexibility to manage the reducing options of their physical flexibility. An ultimate indignity is their inability to clap & cheer the very talent that parades before them.
And so it goes.
If many people aren’t so much against us, just for themselves, then how can their behaviour and attitudes help us grow indirectly?
One obvious one that springs to mind is young children. They’re naturally self-centred as are on a steep learning curve about the World. Our job as adults is to help them cope and thrive in positive ways, to help make the future World a better place. Their feedback coaxes us as baby sitters or parents to behave better (be more patient and generous) and learn to improvise with just crying to go on. As a side benefit, the fresh way they look at the World helps us as jaded adults to look at things we take for granted. And see the beauty, the simplicity, or the humour that we previously overlooked.
For those of us that own pets or have gardens, our observation of the pet (or plant’s) response makes us a better pet companion, or a better gardener. Their ability to adapt sometimes surprises us. I saw a great Facebook post recently of a chimpanzee in captivity that could understand American sign language and one of the first things it taught its offspring was that sign language!
To some extent, other people’s problems become our opportunities. All we have to do is communicate well and take the time to listen. In return we get a sense of value, a feeling of satisfaction, a growing reputation and perhaps some kind of monetary reward too.
We might be under time pressure ourselves, but if we take the time to listen to someone under the same time pressure, solving their problem while buying time to solve our own problem, it can work out well for all concerned.
Food for thought?
Firstly, I don’t have a monopoly on parenting expertise. Or claim to have all the answers on good parenting. However I do have 13 years of experience of hands-on parenting that includes; parenting step-children, parenting step-children who grew up in another country and parenting three genders.
What might be interesting is to look at parenting through the lens of flexibility, to see if a fresh perspective might help some of today’s parents with some of today’s parenting challenges.
In the business and not for profit world, culture & policies blend with goals & support functions. You might think of it as ‘setting the tone’, mingling with ‘setting the scene’. In parenting, setting the tone and setting the scene are also important.
Setting the tone in a family is arguably about setting some kind of structure, responsibilities and boundaries. As well as providing guidance from those in charge. The family comes to develop some kind of family-level ethics and values, typically involving loyalty to the family. And one family member representing the rest at various events. The family is seen as bigger than any one member. Setting the tone doesn’t involve spending money, so much as intervening at the appropriate time with the appropriate message.
Setting the scene includes making commitments, often involving parents giving time & money to create an environment for the children to develop in. An extension of this is when parents choose to entrust the education of their children to a school and its teachers. Parents typically also tell their children that they are available at short notice. Whenever the children face a problem beyond their control.
How does all this relate to flexibility? Firstly kids love flexibility. Especially where they benefit directly from it. Real life requires some level of flexibility from parents too. Situations arise on a scale of serious to trivial. Life threatening to minor. Formal to informal. Urgent to non urgent.
One idea in a two parent active family (active parenting by both parents), is to alternate the roles of setting the tone and setting the scene between the two parents. Why? Through alternating the roles, there is more scope for consistency. And if one parent is absent, the other can perform either ‘setting’ role more confidently.
A final thought. Can parenting be enriched by pairing up all nine combinations of setting the tone (ethics, structure and mentoring) with setting the scene (scope, sponsorship and logistics)? For example, can the parents emphasise family ethics and parental logistics together? Or family structure and parental scope together? In other words if delivering a serious, dry message on tone, balance it with a more positive message on setting the scene as well. At worst, it will deliver fresh, rounded messages to the kids. At best it will strengthen the pace of their development.
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?
‘The idea of Juilliard was that it would give you this toolbox full of skills that you could take with you and apply to anything.’ Robin Williams
‘I think educational systems have to be more nimble, have to be more adapted to today’s realities where students can go in different directions and professionalize even faster. Constant retraining and reskilling and upskilling, whatever you want to call it, of the workforce.’ Roberto Azevedo
‘Dancers work and they work and they work, and they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back… That’s the mentality that I’m trying to create, recreate and hold on to forever.’ Pete Carroll
‘Motivation aside, if people get better at these life skills, everyone benefits: The brain doesn’t distinguish between being a more empathic manager and a more empathic father.’ Daniel Goleman
Upskilling is like travelling to new places. The action itself opens up new opportunities. Upskilling might involve improving throughput (efficiency). For example, using better skills to achieve a greater amount of the same outputs, for the time spent. It could also mean investing in getting extra impact – being more effective with your time spent.
Why upskill in the first place? Because of change, demand alters. Even so called ‘fixed costs’ or ‘fixed prices’ are seldom fixed in the medium term. Because of change, the future remains uncertain too. Because of change & growing interaction, the future is becoming more complex. Together, these factors encourage people to invest in upskilling in various ways to cope.
Personal reasons for upskilling can include wanting to do something:
- more meaningful,
- more challenging,
- more rewarding.
Or to get more variety in your life.
Professional reasons for upskilling can include:
- widening or deepening your skill base, in order to obtain a new job,
- to be promoted in your current job,
- to win more business or retain customer loyalty,
- to make some tasks in your job easier (let the software summarise & monitor for you.
What should you upskill in is a more difficult question. And one that is highly personal. That said, people generally seem to benefit from achieving a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy. One way to think of the ‘what to upskill’ question, is to re-examine your passions and your abilities. Things that score highly in both will make upskilling a whole lot easier. But not necessarily be the most useful to you i.e. sometimes a trade-off is needed.
When to upskill? Sometimes, regarding a personal hobby, you can be on a structured programme where proficiency improves the longer you stayed committed. For example, the grade system in music. Or the belt system in martial arts. The ‘when’ question is answered for you.
In other situations, judgement is needed. If in doubt, stagger your upskilling effort. And diversify it too.
How to upskill? The choices in the digital age have widened. There are numerous ‘how to’ You Tube videos. Self-help smartphone apps help you learn a new language. Or do ‘brain training’. You can hire coaches, guides, therapists, enablers, or instructors in person. You can people watch and mimic their techniques & ideas e.g. in rollerblading and dance. Sometimes, the best way to upskill is to experiment and learn what works. For example, in jazz improvisation. Or being a parent.
What kind of skills are there to consider upskilling in?
One useful split is into physical and mental skills. Mental skills including thinking skills. These might encompass; imagining, planning, identifying, recognising, comparing, reasoning, controlling your emotions (to some extent), reflecting and reviewing. AI might replace some of these things over time. Humans therefore owe it to ourselves to become adept in the others. For as long as possible.
Is it possible to upskill your instincts?
You can sensitise your senses (the ‘gas pedal’) to influence your instincts. You can also rationalise and use self discipline (the ‘brake pedal’) to moderate your instincts. In the sense of getting more skilful at using the ‘brake’ or ‘gas’ pedal (signals control), it can be thought of as upskilling.
So how is upskilling related to flexibility and personal flexibility in particular?
Flexibility is both a reserve of power and a characteristic to deploy. Upskilling in the right areas can also be these things. If upskilling makes you more agile and if agility (jumping paths) is a subset of flexibility (which includes creating paths in the first place), then upskilling can be a part of creating flexibility. Flexibility is also needed to change skillsets, best summed up in the following Kofi Annan quote. In the view of this blogger, what Annan says about countries, could equally apply in the transition from childhood into a fully-fledged adult, raising a family.
‘The skills you need to fight the colonial power and the skills you need to gain independence are not necessarily the same you need to run a country.’ Kofi Annan
If flexiscribes are things that code for extra flexibility, then is upskilling something that will achieve this? The answer is not always. You might upskill in more narrow areas of scope. Or in achieving things that use rigid techniques to achieve fixed structures. In doing so, you might achieve personal benefit. But not personal flexibility (PFL).
When else does upskilling not lead to more personal flexibility (PFL)?
- When its applications are strictly professional. For example, a soldier is trained to kill enemy combatants. This probably doesn’t translate well into civilian life.
- When skills are gained. But lead directly into bad habits. For example, a newbie golfer or snow boarder in their eagerness to try out the activity, skips over getting any lessons and in doing so, builds up some bad habits. I myself did this as a novice skier some years ago. Later, as progress becomes increasingly more limited, the person takes lessons from a professional, which tend to go back to the basics. And replace poor technique with a foundation of good technique to build on further.
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How does personal flexibility (PFL) help to manage uncertainty? First, let’s look at what uncertainty is and how it arises.
What uncertainty is
Firstly, uncertainty can be positive as well as negative. Why positive? Not knowing who your future soul mate is, or whether you will even find one, makes life exciting. And probably changes your behaviour for the better too.
Two kinds of uncertainty are:
- The known unknowns. We might know the current membership of those we are related to by blood. What we don’t know, is exactly when that membership will change (births and deaths). Another version of this is the second-order unknowns. We don’t know the names of our children’s children if we haven’t had children of our own yet.
- The unknown unknowns. This includes unconscious incompetence. We aren’t sufficiently aware that we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. We wade in and act. And then anything is possible!
Our influence on uncertainty can vary too.
- A small intervention on our part, can have a large influence on the level of uncertainty present. For example, we visit our doctor/dentist before the effects of a persistent ache become a bigger problem for us.
- The level of effort on our part can essentially match the change in the resulting uncertainty.
- It might take a large intervention on our part, just to achieve a small change in the level of uncertainty in something we encounter – think of raising a teenager.
We might put in place some risk mitigations to deal with uncertainty. The trouble is that we aren’t so good at identifying if we have enough types of mitigations. Belt alone? Belt and braces? Belt, braces and seatbelt too? Belt, braces, seatbelt and airbags? We aren’t so great at judging the relative strengths of those mitigations either. That’s one place where personal flexibility is helpful – design, test, assess then modify.
How does uncertainty arise?
- Unknowns can arise because of big external changes. War is declared. Brexit is activated. A massive natural disaster hits an area.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of information. For example, customer demand for a new product can only be estimated. Until the market reaction is seen. And actual trends understood.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of time. For example, time to research the facts and solve a mystery is lost, as new events create new crises that take priority.
- Unknowns can arise because of attitude– progress is undermined due to bias. For example, people with control of certain information choose to discriminate and not make it available. ‘Need to know’ and early tip-offs are related examples.
- Unknowns can arise because of volatility. For example, rescue services, trying to assess actual threat to life in a hurricane, is hampered while conditions of extreme turbulence prevail.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of buying power to control or influence certainty. If we can’t afford to buy real options, it can be hard to acquire them.
How can personal flexibility help?
Broadly, if you see more uncertainty emerging, increase your PFL to compensate. Widen your skill base and diversify your income sources. Teach your children to become more independent e.g. earn their own money. Or shop & cook for themselves.
In the UK, with uncertainty over the Brexit outcome in March 2019, some people are reducing their personal debt levels. Or stockpiling canned foods in the short term. Just in case.
PFL can influence the speed at which uncertainties arise or reduce. One idea is to use PFL to develop some ‘brakes’ and ‘accelerators’ on uncertainty. The point being that just like driving a car, you as the driver control the speed. A simple example is diversifying your income sources to act as a brake on the effects of economic downturn.
Avoidance (risk transfer) can reduce your uncertainty. Hedge some key risks. For example, with professional advisors, influential friends, or insurance products.
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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’.
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