Options versus Actions

The World is obsessed with actions. Stakeholders want them. Accountants value them. Politicians couldn’t survive without them.

In Physics, potential energy matters as much as kinetic energy. Employers hire potential, recognising that strength comes not just from proven action, but from having versatility under uncertain conditions. Astute buyers bypass one deal, knowing others will follow. Smart managers intuitively know the value of having options, whether accountants value them on the Balance Sheet or not.  Being light on your feet helps. But being able to exercise a portfolio of options AND pivot quickly is better.

Cultures progress because they’ve created options to evolve. A culture is visible in its actions – speeches about values, its spoken language, performing arts and time-honoured customs. But a culture’s strength comes from its resilience, adaptability, agility and how its representatives managing the options they make and hold. The Jewish people suffering in Nazi concentration camps endured, died and suffered. But the culture prevailed. The Jewish culture (including representation from deathcamp survivors) was easily strong and resourceful enough to outlast Nazi oppression.

For an SME business, developing a distinctive service or product is great. But flexibility promotes sustainability. Large, external shocks, whether global depressions, subprime credit crunches or virus pandemics will test fledgling businesses to the max. But those holding options will survive and prosper.

Therefore, both at a personal level and at a business start-up capacity, learn what you can about business flexibility (an umbrella term for resilience, adaptability, agility and options management). If only to improve your risk management practices.

Simon

Acting your age, not your shoe size?

We probably all know a few younger people who act old before their time. Not responsibly and maturely. But staid, conservative and self-limiting.  But how do older people stay young?

Some of the ways are to not think of retiring (ever), have friends in age-group-decades younger than yours, engage in sports & travel to new places and keep a good sense of humour.

Look after your boy (stay fit & supple) when you’re young, so your body will stay fit & health later in your life. And when you’re older, deliberately choose activities to keep you relatively fit & supple – gardening, dance, swimming, hiking, cycling and home DIY are some examples. Have reunions with old friends re-creating some activities you did in the past.

Appearance-wise, find a middle ground between being ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and thinking you are celebrating retro, but looking like you walked out of a Victorian period movie! Also on the subject of balance, all your best memories of fun times shouldn’t be from twenty years ago, but instead, they should be from every decade of your life.

Don’t keep harking back to ‘the good old days’, which after all had both their good and bad points, just like today’s World. And try harder to remember what you’ve said to various people, so you don’t get a reputation for repeating yourself, something older people are prone to doing.

Mental dexterity is a big part of staying youthful too. As you become a twenty something, thirty something, middle-aged, or late middle-aged, keep learning new things. to shake up your neural pathways – my dad started learning new languages well into his seventies.

Take the road less travelled to sharpen up your adaptability and improvisation skills. Challenge yourself to entertain young children at family gatherings, since they’ll be bored to death hanging around the other adults, who are making zero effort to make it fun for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you take photos, even on your smartphone, keep searching for new angles and compositions to make the pictures more interesting.

Having a mid-life crisis may be fashionable. But see it as just a passing phase in your longer journey to become a better person.

Stay up to date on technology & world politics. And always have at least one thing in your life that you’re rubbish at, but you’ve challenged yourself to improve on, bit by bit – it stops you feeling too comfortable and complacent.

Good luck!

Simon

Coping with Change using Character and Personal Flexibility

How best can we cope with change? The change in our personal lives might be a new-born baby, or a virus pandemic. It could be a betrayal by a friend, a natural disaster, or perhaps a new romantic relationship from a chance encounter.

In professional organisations, information systems can lead to frameworks & work politics (editorial bias). Which in turn can lead to forecasts & actions. While in our personal life, our character, with its qualities of inherent inner strength & flexibility, can lead to inner confidence – the confidence we feel about our understanding of a situation and our ability to handle a situation. Which in turn, generates an outer confidence (the style we present), leading to judgements and actions.

New change experiences in our lives, whether good or bad, help grow and shape our character. When it comes to inner confidence, we don’t always get it in synch with our underlying character. Sometimes our resulting judgement and actions are off because we felt overconfident about handling a situation – riding our first bike. Or taking our first steps upright. Sometimes we fret about a future event. And then surprise ourselves. By handling it well when the time comes.

Incidentally, does it matter that character and inner confidence are sometimes out of synch? Maybe. Afterall, it takes emotional energy to cope with that difference, when we reflect on the results afterwards and perhaps beat ourselves up mentally. But it can lead to beneficial results for our character too. Incidentally, character has other qualities such as integrity level and generosity level too, which won’t be further explored in this blog.

Now imagine two triangles joined together by a common base (a diamond shape, with its ‘sparkle’ being character and its ‘ring-finger presence’ representing impact). In one triangle, the two outer sides are personal efficiency (PE) and personal innovation (PI). The shared base of the triangle is personal flexibility (PFL). With the area of that triangle representing personal impact (on people, things and the World generally).  In the second triangle, the two external sides are focus and development. With the area of the triangle representing human character.  But first, what are focus and development?

Focus is about concentration on route with more efficiency. For example, coaches and athletes aspire for faster times, greater power or stamina, always looking for a more efficient training regime to achieve it. To cope with change, some kinds of leadership rely on focus – leading the way and mentoring others by showing the efficient way to do something. For example, parenthood, or leading a group of novices out of a storm to shelter, as quickly as possible.

Development is about finding new & better ways. Developing smarter plans. Uncovering superior technique and tactics. Perhaps enlisting expert help from stakeholders & allies to achieve it. To cope with change, some kinds of leadership rely on development. Inventing a solution in the moment to a problem never encountered before. Improvising using unfamiliar materials or unconventional techniques.

Returning to the diamond shape, hopefully for most of us, a life goal is for our character and personal impact to grow stronger – bigger impact, richer and more resilience i.e. for the size of the diamond to grow over time, as we experience more, handle more and reflect more.

Personal flexibility (PF) acts like an accelerator (or brake) on the pace that our personal impact and character develop. And PF is also the mechanism by which personal impact and character mutually reinforce each other – the more our character develops, the greater personal impact we can have. But equally, the more personal impact we have, the more our character can develop too.

I’m currently reading a really interesting book called ‘Anti-fragile’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (pub Penguin books 2012). Taleb says ‘when you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible-for deviations are more harmful than helpful. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictable in its approach and conversely, predictive systems cause fragility. When you want deviations and you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.

A final thought. For the diamond shape I’ve described to sparkle and be strong, the ‘fragile side’ (personal efficiency and focus) need personal flexibility to bring across some ‘antifragility’ from the personal innovation and development side of the diamond. This can only happen if someone strengthens their personal flexibility in the first place.

Food for thought?

Simon

Expanding the base by expanding the sides of the triangle

How can you grow your personal flexibility?  Imagine a triangle, with personal flexibility (PF) as the base and the sides being personal innovation (PI) and personal efficiency (PE).  The area of the triangle represents personal impact (on people, on things and on the World generally). Now think a little more deeply about each of the sides.

Personal innovation is about consciously breaking out of your comfort zone. Taking a new approach that has a step-change impact. Reinventing yourself and your destiny. Training can improve technique. But creative problem-solving under (tight) constraints requires improvisation. Putting together what at first seems some some unlikely combinations. Adapting nature’s approaches to human problems. I once visited a river valley in Peru with an old stone quarry on one side and a stone temple on the other side and a large, deep river inbetween. How did the people move the big stone blocks across the river? They simply stacked them up on the river bank and then went upstream and dug a channel to divert the course of the river, so the blocks were already on the far side! Genius.

Personal efficiency is about time management and the race to get a good result. It increases as you put personal learning to good use faster. And when you can engineer your reputation to preceed you (doors open before you reach them). Practice in advance (role-play your interview responses to a safe audience before the actual interview). Anticipate and use intuitive leaps where you can.

Work on PI and PE together and you will have demonstrated personal flexibility in action (expanded the base of the triangle).

Food for thought?

Simon

Personal Flexibility Shout Out

It’s been awhile since I last posted. Sorry about that- I put mainly it down to COVID! But speaking of COVID, I wanted to shout out to: the adapters, the researchers, the treaters, the carers and the social distancers. Little kids who struggle to get what the virus is. Teens trying to keep budding romances alive by distance. Parents taking on new roles as home-school teachers. Key workers making the essential supplies & services happen. TV producers adapting their shows for lockdown. Fiancés deferring long-awaited wedding plans. And the families of Corona victims, coming to terms with not being able to hold a public funeral for their loved ones.

All of it is the human spirit, taking a deep breath, taking in the changes and not forgetting to breathe, as they pivot and move forward.

Sometimes people seek out adventure, sometimes adventure (or virus pandemics) find them. Either way, Adaptability, Resilience, Agility and Options are the assets in the personal flexibility ‘toolbox.’ The ones to go along for the ride.

After COVID will come a restart for some and a rebirth for others. Let’s make it a good one!

Simon

Reflections

If credibility gives leaders the personal flexibility they need, then hypocrisy is the acid that dissolves away leadership credibility.
Underdogs and outsiders are voted in as leaders, when mainstream politics just deliver more of the same.
Artificial intelligence will fill the leadership gap when human stupidity and human stubbornness drive away common sense.
People don’t generally vote for evil. But evil once in power, generally votes for less people.

Redemption- is it the best human quality?

adult art artist artistic
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Redemption involves two important things – feeling a need to redeem yourself (combining awareness, self reflection and urgency). And transforming from negative to positive (becoming something better).

Redemption is about thinking & doing not thinking & being. You can be your own judge of how much redemption is enough. You can look to others to judge. Or take a balanced approach.

Feeling a need to redeem yourself has at least one positive indicator. It typically follows some kind of situation that tested you – one that allowed you to gain experience and grow from it and further develop your character.

How is redemption related to personal flexibility? Redemption is about why, where and when. Personal flexibility is about how. If you can develop personal flexibility, you can increase your chances of redeeming yourself at a later date, when that need arises. That said, be flexible on how you do good. Don’t be flexible in blurring good and bad together. Don’t be flexible in how many ways you can be bad either.

Finally, is there such a thing as too much redemption? This might be relevant to some people working in the not for profit sector, working as volunteers, or being a parent. Where feeling the need to redeem yourself is driven by guilt, but then you discover that the more you redeem, the harder it seems to shed the guilt you feel, you have to then impose limits and boundaries. Or risk losing your sanity. This blogger’s counsel is to take advice from those you trust & respect. And listen to the voice of reason within yourself too.

Simon.

Controlling the Centre

two women performing yoga on street at daytime
Photo by theformfitness on Pexels.com

Strong squash players dominate the central zone of the court. This helps them in several ways. It helps them handle uncertainty i.e. where the next shot from their opponent will come from. And it helps them with ‘growth’ i.e. shortening the average time to hit the ball and maximising the time they have to set up their own future shots.

So what is the relevance of squash strategy to personal flexibility?

Firstly, imagine a two-dimensional matrix with columns for personal planning (strong or weak). And rows for direction (clear or unclear). There are 4 quadrants in the matrix.

Those whose natural inclination is strong planning and clear direction forward are thought of as strategic and focussed. And unkindly, as ‘control freaks’. For the control freaks, if operating in a turbulent or increasingly uncertain environment, their supporters (employers, sports coaches, parents, teachers or tutors) can help them become more comfortable with uncertainty and more agile under turbulent conditions – become dynamic planners and become tolerant of multiple versions of the truth, perhaps caused by some versions being out of date faster than others. Football goalies are perhaps a sports example of control freaks.

Those whose natural inclination is strong planning but weak direction forward are the long suffering, ‘steady eddies’.  For the steady eddies, their supporters can reassure them on direction and encourage them to rely on more dynamic planning approaches – less detailed and less complex plans, more empowerment and more self-belief. Civil servants serving politicians (especially under UK Brexit) are perhaps a workplace example of steady eddies.

Those whose natural inclination is weak planning and unclear direction, are the go with the flow, ‘fatalists’. People who are fatalistic in their home life probably need supporter encouragement to build some hopes and aspirations. Anything that gets them to experience the taste of success is a good start. Supporters can help them to become better planners, project members or team players. Spectators at a sports game are perhaps an example of fatalists in the sense not of supporting their team, but of being an onlooker.

Finally, those whose natural inclination is weak planning but clear direction forward are ‘opportunists’, making their own luck. For the opportunists, their supporters need to encourage them to create more control for more benefit. With control coming from teamwork, planning and quicker influence. Football strikers are perhaps a sports example of opportunists.

Now imagine a world of constant and accelerating change – not change in everything. But change as a rhythm or backbeat to everyday life. In such conditions, a medium level of both planning and direction is desirable, like the central zone for playing squash. But requires personal flexibility from those in all four quadrants to achieve i.e. travel a similar distance towards the centre zone, but from a unique direction, with a unique rationalisation.

Families, voters, groups of volunteers and groups of friends rarely encounter the structure and rules that simple games prescribe. Therefore, all could benefit from seeking out the ‘central zone’ of the matrix to achieve good progress. It’s not just about tolerance. But appreciation of the merits of opposing outlooks too. Work is needed to seek out commonality and win-wins. But not achieve the extreme of groupthink. All that remains is to forge some cultural pathways towards the central zone for each social group concerned…

Simon

Negative Personal Flexibility

ancient arches architecture art
Photo by Lorenzo Pacifico on Pexels.com

As for having evermore business flexibility, having evermore personal flexibility isn’t necessarily good. On the later, seeking ever more friends to build your personal network means spending less time supporting the friends you already have. Trying endless activities gives you a life of rich, but shallow variety (think of sampling many kinds of sweets in a sweet shop, rather than having one satisfying meal instead).  Encouraging your children to do what they like, eventually leads to some bad outcomes. Paying for ever more features and options becomes expensive and counter-productive. Committing to help in areas where the workload fluctuates wildly (or going beyond healthy lifestyle choices) won’t have a happy ending for your health.

So is there an optimal level of personal flexibility – enough to give someone a rich and rewarding life. But not enough to exceed the limits of their health or good reputation?  Probably. All we can do is try and figure out if having more personal flexibility is an improvement over the current state.

The point after optimal personal flexibility might be a gradual decrease in benefit. Or a dramatic decrease. This is a fascinating area worthy of future study, to see if certain kinds of personal flexibility generally drop away fast/gradually on any kind of predictable basis.

However, because the subjects of business and personal flexibility are still emerging, the research hasn’t been done. The nearest we have are economists look at marginal utility and finance professors who look at the value of options held.

Because personal flexibility is a wide subject and since flexibility can take many forms, all we can do is monitor for negative flexibility at a personal level, until theory catches up with reality.

Simon

Options and Plan Flexibility

person writing on white book
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Options Flexibility is having one master plan, but deliberately developing a number of tactics to achieve it, not just relying on one tactic. Sports teams often win games by changing their tactics during the game. Under dynamic competitive conditions, so do companies.

A student who wanted to enrol at a university but not incur a high student debt (tuition and accommodation debt) might consider each of the following tactics;

  • Work first and save to pay their fees.
  • Study and work part time together.
  • Get their employer to sponsor them while they study (cadetship/apprenticeship).
  • Start a small side-business to partly fund their studies.

Plan Flexibility is having several master plans at once. That way if one fails, you can activate another one quite quickly, because the options you’ve built up already, work well for each of your master plans.

The master plans might be to be the best ‘you’ that you can be & be the best partner you can be. By building up a strong personal network of trusted friends, generating goodwill with your partner’s family, taking some personal development courses and/or doing some activities outside your comfort zone, you’ll build confidence, insight and skills. These things give you options to help you achieve both or either master plan.

Someone might reach a ‘watershed moment’ where they need to move from Options Flexibility to Plan Flexibility. For example, becoming a refugee and having to flee their native country. Deciding whether to come out, or finding they need to change career.

In any case, when conditions are especially uncertain, or likely to change rapidly, why not boost your personal flexibility by using both Options and Plan Flexibility together?

Simon