The Power of One

person raising hands mid air sidewards while standing on gray steel railings
Photo by Sanketh Rao on Pexels.com

Think-tank charities typically advocate for reform, to influence decision making at government level.

Some nations (the US, France and the UK) appreciate the role independent think-tank charities have to play, both domestically and to help them evolve their foreign policies. Others including Japan, China and Germany seem to encourage such charities efforts where they’re already aligned to current government policies.

What value do think-tank charities add and what can we take from their approach to help us in our own lives?

Some problems don’t get solved by simply scaling up the current effort. Look at the US involvement in the Vietnam war as a case in point. Simply putting more police on the streets of London, or widening the London congestion zone, won’t solve knife crime or decrease air pollution respectively. What think-tanks can do is apply fresh thinking and find the best leverage points to effect positive change.

Can we all be our own think-tank charities to effect the changes we want to see? It does require self belief (confidence). It also requires flexibility thinking. Being our own, personal, think-tank charities (the power of one) will challenge us to use fresh thinking alongside existing (tired and sub-optimal) solutions. A bit like keeping your existing tool box. But adding more tools that can help with other DIY jobs. Half the job is the reflection & fresh approaches. The other half is the advocacy action taken.

Food for thought?
Simon

Photographers of Life

Is photography a recipe and metaphor for living? Should we make similar decisions about shutter speed, depth of field, subject composition and photo vantage point in our life, as we do taking pictures?

As photographers, we know that together, those four things add power and impact to the picture. We juggle them and toggle between them for the best combination. And we make a series of minor adjustments within each one too. Good photographers think rapidly and flexibly when we do all that. Who knew taking photos could be so complex!

Freezing motion or letting motion blur using camera shutter speed is like deciding what rate to absorb information at. We’re reading a news feed, listening to a funeral speech, or driving a vehicle. Do we absorb (and react) fast or slow? Do we do a deep dive into some specific detail. Or decide to keep just a general impression?

Having woken up to a new day or encountered a novel situation, depth of field is like choosing to combine various pieces of information together versus emphasising one in particular. A woman dates a guy. She finds him handsome, funny, kind to children and animals. But untrustworthy. Someone asks us to sign an agreement, or volunteer to help someone. What depth of field is appropriate?

Composition is about presentation. What combination of information will achieve the most impact for others? Should we mask our real feelings, or risk upsetting someone and killing their enthusiasm? Should we always project confidence? Will we look stupid if we ask a basic question?

As photographers, vantage point is largely under our own control, regardless of the subject matter. What do we choose to search out and take meaning from? Should we find the moral high ground? Can we step around an immovable obstacle to gain clarity?

A final thought. Perhaps it’s our flexibility to switch rapidly along the spectrum of shutter speed, of depth, of composition and of vantage point that gets us the best results of all.

Simon

From help me… to help me to help you

pexels-photo-2078268.jpeg
Photo by Martin Péchy on Pexels.com

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?

Simon

Flexibility shining through

grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs
Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on Pexels.com

Our choices create bridges to new aspects of our lives. And enable new branches on our family tree to develop too.

Our choices may be optimally timed, morally righteous and/or inherently wise. But their direction and sustainability are a product of the flexibility we have at the time.

Our family tree develops its height and shape due in a large part, to the flexibility our forefathers and mothers thought they had. There is perceived flexibility and reality flexibility. And not always great alignment between them. To elaborate, some of our forebears may have emigrated to new lands expecting a better life, simply because they perceived the flexibility they would have there to be almost infinite.

Where perceived flexibility greatly exceeds reality flexibility, we take risks. Where our perceived flexibility is significantly less than reality flexibility, we squander chances. Clearly we have to act too. But our effectiveness in acting is often due to flexibility we have, or think we have.

There are at least two things to improve, to enable our lives (and our family tree) to flourish. The first is to grow & maintain our flexibility per se (grow and keep our options open). The second is to keep trying to close the gap between our perceived and reality flexibility.

One tool to close that gap is flexibility itself. What’s a simple example? If we become more flexible on what we value (become less materialistic and more ambitious but for different things), our perceived flexibility can reduce to match reality flexibility. We then take jobs that involve fewer compromises and probably less stress. We live with less credit card debt. We seek less punishing avenues of stress relief – less gambling, binge drinking and sugar consumption. We sleep better and feel fitter, with fewer sporting injuries. In some cases, lowering the perceived flexibility can itself improve reality flexibility.

For some people the reverse is also true. By daring to dream and not settling for second best, they inspire those around them to lift their game, benefiting everyone. A low perceived flexibility can lead to self harm, anger issues, mental health problems, or turning to a life of crime. Beliefs become fatalistic and self fulfilling. Instead be realistic and recognise the value of real options ahead of time. Keep asking what are the things that open doors and keep on opening doors?

In summary, flexibility is like the sunlight and fertiliser for your life and your family tree both.

Simon

What flexibility can do

monochrome photo of palm trees
Photo by Mohamed Abdelsadig on Pexels.com

Flax, nikau palms and cabbage tree fronds to the Maori people of New Zealand are what bamboo is to the peoples of South East Asia i.e. a wonder material.

The Maori used flax fronds to weave fishing lines, rope, make mats, clothing items, lash decorative housing panels together and even as a fibrous fish hook to catch eels with. Meanwhile In Europe, it was stripped into fibres and woven into linen to make fine clothes.

The flax plant is lean and tough, yet thrives in windy conditions because it has no rigid stem. Even cabbage trees, with a flax clump at the ends of long bendy trunks, break up the wind and with leaves of minimal thickness that present little side resistance.

Translated into our personal and professional lives, if the winds represent change and buffet us without warning, what can the humble flax plant teach us about being more flexible?

Working as a group of leaves disrupts the force of the wind. The leaves deflect some wind, shedding some along the length of the leaves – the direction in which the leaf is strongest. As families, or as work teams, we can do the same with some forces of change. The ‘lengths’ of our skills allow us to shed some of the ‘wind’. Or use it to our advantage, blasting away troublesome pests.

We can take design inspiration from the flax plant too – a strong base and lean leaves to give integrity. Shiny in all weathers. Projecting in all directions and able to shelter smaller creatures. A toughness and benefit that even survives the death of a leaf.

Finally, the flax leaves have so many uses because of their strength combined with their flexibility. If we choose to develop both things together, personal and professional versatility should result.

Simon

Going the extra mile

The faster the pace in our lives, the more we take shortcuts to cope. Finding more shortcuts, or making shortcuts on the shortcuts are two solutions.

Controlling the pace of our lives is a third solution. That takes a different kind of flexibility. Sometimes it’s about:

• changing people’s expectations of us,

• changing our expectations of ourselves,

• recognising ahead of time how long something will really take,

• putting in place measures that mean when we do speed up the pace, the risk of crashing is lessened.

Using flexibility thinking, means switching from how and when to do more, to why do more? If working faster at work is desirable because the boss wants more done, ask yourself what you can do that will achieve the same overall result (make your boss look effective to their boss and help the customer to a greater extent) without taking shortcuts to work faster.

Perhaps gather some data from your observations of customer needs and if the volume of basic tasks can be outsourced to the customer as pre-transaction work, that frees you up to provide more meaningful services to the customer. Then everyone wins.

In a home setting, if it gets harder and harder to juggle; working a job, running a house and raising a family, taking more and more short cuts probably isn’t going to cut it (no pun intended). Instead, ask why am I the one doing so much. Who can I empower? Who else has a stake in making this work? Children learning new skills is how they grow as people. Extended family helping out is how they connect to your immediate family. Neighbours exchanging favours eg taking an Amazon delivery on behalf of the person next door, is how communities grow again.

Finally, if the increasing pace of life forces some time cuts elsewhere, switch to multi-tasking – swap dedicated gym workouts for physical house maintenance (painting and moving furniture, mowing the lawn, landscaping, lugging shopping back to your house, repairing stuff).

And if you have to cut time, make sure you shed some time exposed to negative things – listening to excessive or duplicated criticism, watching reality shows that don’t teach you something, or counselling people who aren’t going to change.

Simon

Catchphrases of life

art beach beautiful clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On a good day, we walk three paths. One with our feet. One with our hearts. And one with our minds.

Time with little ones is precious. A day spent with the under fives is worth a month of arguments with teenagers.

Meeting your soulmate is like two satellites orbiting around the relationship to be. Either you keep moving, or you commit to splashing down and creating a beautiful ecosystem.

Most beautiful thing in the universe -a mother’s love for her children. The most ugly thing – male vanity.

Simon