Brace for impact

boy playing on slide in playground
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

Yesterday with my wife, I did what turned to be an 8 mile walk along a river canal near Milton Keynes in the UK. We usually take a few pics on our smartphones along the way – photogenic narrow boats, rolling green landscapes and any wildlife we see. And the occasional selfie too. As you do.

Anyway, at one point along the walk, we passed over a short, concrete aqueduct, with a concrete spillway channel coming off it at right angles, to take excess water down to a lower channel, some 70m away from the main canal path.

I sometimes see a photo opportunity in my head ahead of time and thought I could pose, standing in the middle of the spillway, while my wife took a pic from above. At first glance, the spillway looked fairly dry and not a drop of water was trickling down it. I climbed partway down the waste ground (about the first 20m in distance from the main canal) next to the spillway and stepped down onto it, with my wife watching from the top. The spillway seemed walkable at first and not too steep to walk across. My hands left the side wall of the spillway and I gingerly started walking across it, to the mid point.

I noticed in the bottom section of the spillway, about 50m from where I was, that it flattened out. There were a series of concrete pillars on the flat section, regularly spaced. Each pillar was about one metre high – presumably to stop tree branches or other debris from going any further along the drainage channel.

Suddenly, both feet started gently sliding downwards. I used to roller blade and ski. So I knew about upper body balance, when you start moving in a diagonal direction. It was one of those moments when several things start flashing through your mind in quick succession. My first thought. This isn’t going to plan! The surface isn’t as dry as I thought. I can’t retrace my footsteps. Or quickly put a hand on the side wall of the spillway. I seem to be picking up speed. I can’t seem to use the edge of my walking boots to create any friction.

By now, most of me is touching the slimy surface and I’m moving my hands outwards for balance. I look below and see the row of concrete barriers that I’m heading for. As I approach, my speed is accelerating. I’m out of other options, so I brace for impact.

I think about trying to hit the barriers with both feet fairly close together, my knees slightly bent. I hope I’m going to hit one barrier square on and not slip half through the gap between them. My body is like a child’s body going down a slide in the playground. I’m not panicking.  But I do have time to wonder how hard I’m going to hit. I decide to use my legs as a giant shock absorber and hope for the best.

The soles of my feet hit and I keep travelling. I’m still wondering whether my legs will stop me in time. Then just before my torso slams into the concrete, I stop. I have a second to register that nothing is broken and that I’ve made a clean landing.

It could have gone much worse. If I’d have panicked, or not acted quickly, I probably would be in hospital right now, with parts of my body in a plaster cast. If I’d been less lucky and there had been some metal or wood debris clogging up the concrete pillars, my landing would have been a lot more painful. Ditto if the spillway was longer or steeper. Or had potholes in it.

On the positive side, my wife is still speaking to me and I haven’t lost all credibility for making judgements. I also surprised myself in acting quickly in the heat of the moment. It’s been a long while since I’ve been in an unplanned adventurous situation, with skin in the game i.e. being out of control with a likely painful and hazardous ending coming for me personally.

What did I learn? That sometimes in life, the unexpected overrides your plan. That when it does, you become resourceful real fast, or suffer the consequences. That you can’t always change the unexpected. But you can ride it out and try to control the outcome. And also, that the work you put in earlier (lots of walking previously to strengthen my legs), sometimes pays off big time in a momentary crisis situation. And most of all, have faith in yourself and don’t panic. Brace for impact instead and hope for the best!

Simon

Flexibility and Internet downtime

business computer connection data
Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

Last week in my home, I had an internet outage.  Presumably somehow related to contractors putting in fibre broadband in the nearby streets. It was a good test of dependency on the internet controlling how we can be productive.

Fortunately, reflecting time & planning time are different from online-research time & trend-monitoring time. Waiting for digital service restoration is simply an opportunity for more thinking and reflection time. A chance to review previously downloaded files that are stored locally, not in the Cloud. To improve the online filing system on my laptop i.e. spring cleaning.

Instead of taking reassurance from online sources, I had to look within.  Fortunately, I don’t yet have a self-employment business heavily reliant on internet connectivity. Note to self – today is a lesson in making such a business more flexible. And even if such a business was internet dependant, I can still drive to a nearby town and use their café wifi, to keep such a business operating.

Spotify might be inaccessible. But the iTunes library on my nano lets the music play on. TV, radio and the mobile phone network are unaffected too. I can cook on electric or gas cooking devices. Getting some lunchtime exercise and taking a hot shower afterwards are options too. I may not be able to do any internet banking.  But I can always visit an ATM for cash and review my account balance.

The outage reminded me that Plan B’s have to be scalable. People need to remain productive and contribute.  Whether it’s just a local outage, or a wider one. Like in a romantic relationship, if the other party steps away for a bit, your life needs to go on regardless.

In the age of the machine, people need to be bigger than digital. And keep an identity outside of digital too.

Simon

Destiny and Flexibility

What goes around comes around.

When things go wrong, sometimes you get a second chance to fix your mistake. Your determination and your time to reflect, may mean delivering a significantly better version the second time round. Compared to achieving a modest result if you did it error-free from the beginning.

What about when things go well? There should be both an observable improvement and some recognition, right? But getting recognition is a two-step, flexibility shuffle. Step one is doing stuff to make the World a better place. You have to be flexible to think like that and to achieve it. Even then, people won’t necessarily notice your efforts straight away. Let alone give you direct credit. You might donate some money to a worthy cause. Give credit where it’s due. Or show a stranger a random act of kindness.

Incidentally, doing stuff to help teaches you something. To look outward. To be observant and appreciate what you see, including noticing the semi-hidden efforts of other unsung heroes. Doing helpful stuff teaches you that you’re not pre-destined to follow the rut of one, self-serving, materialistic pathway. It makes you a better parent or career. You can forge a more interesting & ultimately a more satisfying path. Doing stuff to help also teaches you to give more efficiently. And more graciously.

The World’s orbit runs further. And suddenly, you get someone else’s help. Or their high praise. That help benefits you in all kinds of ways you hadn’t thought of. It might come in the form of visible mentoring. Or as less visible patronage. The benefit endures, enlightens, reassures and entertains you.

The second shuffle is you pivoting to bigger, better things. Running on the legs of self confidence and observer applause.

The length of your orbit is determined by your flexibility to grow. The recognition, your destiny.

Simon

The price of flexibility

person sitting beside concrete building
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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

Reflections A-C

Ambition – pride and confidence become the legs for ambition to run on. However, too much speed is fatal. Too little speed means watching the world go by without us.

Anniversaries – rest the clock for a day to the feelings we had when we first met. Anniversaries are like fishing nets, dragging in time to nourish us. They make us untangle the moments we value the most.

Café society – one person’s caffeine arrival is another person’s great escape. Offering coffee on sublime time and a five-finger response to a one-finger world. Express expresso expression.

Career planning – is like skating on ice. You can only go in a straight line for so long. And even then, the surface ahead is of uncertain strength.

Comfort zones – personal comfort zones are footprints in a circle, that slowly become one foot in the grave. Opportunity zones are paths leading to the horizon, that lure the human spirit on a quest.

Computer gaming – if Einstein had been a modern day, patent office clerk, would he have spent his time playing online computer games, instead of reshaping the field of physics?

Conflict – warring countries are like athletes fighting on the starting line, while other countries go on to win medals and fame. National progress relies more on inventors and teachers. And less on soldiers.

Conservation – global warming needs cold air solutions, not hot air discussions.

The march of time’s flexibility

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.

Simon

Twin strands in your job

Just as twin strands make a rope stronger, is it smart career management to seek out twin-role jobs? One form of these is doing a combination of department & project roles, to build different kinds of skills and experiences.

Another form is to line-manage several functions. How can this be achieved if you have qualifications and work experience in one function only? Volunteer for short term tasks that give you that broader function exposure. Offer to take an oversight role of another support function in addition to your core one. In your next organisation, apply for a wider role.

As some organisations rationalise their senior management team, they’ll then want managers with wider functional experience. As people get promoted, more functions will inevitably come under their remit. Either way, the twin-strand form of business flexibility comes into its own.

Simon