Time Management and Personal Flexibility

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run…’ Rudyard Kipling

‘Time and tide wait for no man’ Geoffrey Chaucer

‘Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day. Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way. Kicking around a piece of ground in your home town. Waiting for someone or something to show you the way’. Pink Floyd, from their song ‘Time’

‘When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity’ Albert Einstein

‘Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years’. Stephen Hawking

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We all have those moments.  Everything seems to happen at once. We spend the morning running to catch up. Or the opposite. We’ve put everything in motion and just have to play the waiting game.

We can’t change the rhythm of time. Any more than we can stop the sun rising on a new day. But we can try to make the best use of our time. We owe it to ourselves to collect significant and enjoyable memories. Memories forged in the fires of interesting experiences.

Maybe we can open ourselves up to interesting experiences, by deliberately surprising ourselves. If each of us embraced one new experience, however small, once a month, and we averaged a catch up with our friends, once every three months, that’s 3 fresh and interesting things to tell them about, each time we see them. And if they did the same, 3 fresh things for them to tell us about too.

If we started that ‘new experiences’ pattern at age 20 and kept it going for a mere 20 years, that’s 240 new experiences to consume! And 240 opportunities to boost our confidence. It’s also a great example of personal flexibility (PFL) in action.

Now imagine if 50% of those new experiences taught us a life lesson. Something to make us wiser and more skilful. That’s 120 training opportunities, however small. And 120 things of value we can pass on. And not just to friends. But to the next generation of our loved ones too.

Something to think about.

Simon

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Networks and Personal Flexibility

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Just as individuals at work make up teams, who make up organisations, so individual family members make up nuclear families who are part of wider family groupings too. Individuals also form networks with their friends, work colleagues and various online communities of interest in the wider world.

Each interaction the individual has may vary in; the length of the exchange, its style (level of structure, informality and language used). And in the baggage that comes with each communication. Is there a long history of frustration or rivalry? Is it a very new relationship? It there a lot of trust and goodwill built up between the parties involved?

It takes quite a bit of personal flexibility to compartmentalise all those interactions. To remember what you said to who. And when. What their reaction was. What they asked you to do. What you agreed with them. Or promised to do. What you need to do, now that other events have unfolded.

Clearly there are memory aids to help. Diaries, checklists and notepads. Your prompting children or spouse. But it’s hard to get through a lifetime of all those interactions, without getting it wrong at some point.

At best, relationships are a journey of discovery. Some might say a minefield. Over time, you find out people’s preferences. Their desires. What offends them. What sets off an emotional reaction that isn’t necessarily what you were expecting. And because human beings are complex and changing, you can’t expect that what used to work well in the past, will necessarily still work in the future.

Personal flexibility (PFL) comes into its own to cope. Accept a best efforts effort from yourself. If you learn and adjust, apologise even, people will give you marks for trying. Try trusting them to see the bigger picture.

You may even find yourself becoming the ‘switch’ in the network from time to time. The person others go through in their various exchanges. The person they ask advice from before they act. It’s ok to be exasperated when your friends or family don’t take the advice you give them. The important part is to keep growing and evolving as a person. No one predefines your life for you.

It’s your path to tread and your direction to choose. Bon voyage.

Simon

Managing Uncertainty and Personal Flexibility

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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.

As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Human Relationships and Personal Flexibility

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Flexibility and friendships

One form of personal flexibility (PFL) is in the crossover between personal friendships & workplace relationships. This blogger has first-hand experience of several professional relationships developing into personal friendships, forged from helping a friend-in-need, or through shared-conflict experienced. In this blogger’s view, the relationship combination works better where both parties are evenly matched.  Or think alike. And if the relations aren’t complicated by romantic love or lust.

Ideally, someone’s romantic partner should also be their best friend. It helps if they don’t work in the same professional team.  Especially if at different levels in the hierarchy.

Strong professional working relationships and strong personal friendships have some similarities:

  • mutual trust and mutual respect is high in both.
  • both have been tested and ‘weathered the storm’.
  • both have a high degree of openness.
  • both retain a foundation of shared experiences. And perhaps a shared triumph of beating the odds.

In fairness to the employer, two friends who work together, need to put their work relationship first. And make sure there is no perceived bias in the workplace.  But that merit prevails. Otherwise there is likely to be a perceived conflict of interest.

The trust in one domain (personal or professional) should carry into the other, speeding up some actions. However, for the parties concerned, try and avoid calling in favours in the workplace, from any favours previously done in a personal capacity. It doesn’t seem to be such a problem when the reverse situation happens. In fact, speaking from experience several times over, that approach can launch a solid, personal friendship.

Flexibility and romantic relationships

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There are two phases to this – a relationship-building phase and a relationship-nurturing phase. Initially, the people involved should use flexibility to break convention and create ‘wow’. And be flexible enough to handle love & lust together.

It’s important to be flexible (FL) about pace – sometimes ‘still waters run deep’ and first impressions aren’t necessarily reliable. People should strive to be the best they can be.  But even more importantly, be authentic. In fact, be FL-authentic!

In the subsequent relationship-nurturing phase, the people involved should try to oscillate between honeymoon period and enduring partnership as often as they can. Happiness comes partly from magic.  And magic comes from unpredictability & mystery.

Both partners should realise that what they start out loving about a person, may not be what they end up loving about them. This is true of general friendships also.

Relationships are a journey, not a status. For love to develop, it takes an FL-mindset. Otherwise it’s just endurance.

Case study: In the 1997/98 Hollywood movie ‘As Good as it Gets’, directed by James Brooks, starring Jack Nicolson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear, against extraordinary odds, the characters show enough personal flexibility to grow and improve their life situations. Interestingly, although each character has a very different situational struggle and a different mindset, their personal flexibility created enough of a relationship, for love and friendship to eventually blossom.

Flexibility and parenthood

Firstly, parenthood is simultaneously a marathon, a relay race, a hurdles race & a sprint. Arguably, the price of sanity & safety is eternal vigilance. No parent is born an expert. Fortunately, the person gets to learn and practise every day that they show up for parenting duty. No one expects them to do parenting completely alone. Therefore, they need to be flexible and reach out to friends and family for help, as necessary.

Secondly, a person arguably stops being a child when they become a parent. That said, plenty of childless adults make very good grown-ups. Role models, babysitters, mentors, aunties and uncles too!  Having one child will utterly transform someone’s life. Having more than one child will transform their bank balance. Either way, roll with it!

Thirdly, parenthood, like falling in love with someone – an act of supreme flexibility. In both cases, the person just knows it will be a life-changing experience, testing their boundaries, their patience and their self-view. There will be apologising.  And learning from mistakes made along the way. That’s all personal flexibility at its best.

As a parent how can you use PFL to be more effective at parenting?  One approach is to promote FL in the things that you are a parental stakeholder in. To elaborate, none of the following things are set in stone. Every day brings a fresh opportunity to alter those things for more positive outcomes. On striving for more positive outcomes, this blogger has figurative scars and skin in the parenting game, having been a step parent to two children for 13 years, as well as the parent of a trans-gender child.

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Things you are a parental stakeholder in:

  • Your child’s school. Try to become engaged in the parent-teacher association (PTA) at the school, even if for just a few hours a year. If the school is not be catering for the learning and social development needs of children like yours, use the PTA as a platform for change.
  • Your child’s health.
  • Your child’s future career and leadership opportunities. More about this in a future blog on career’s advice and career management.
  • Your child’s confidence level. This needs parental PFL to create a dynamic mix of; realism, successes, structure, authority, grief, love and setbacks. It hopefully involves your child improvising and ‘winging it’ when they have to.
  • Your child’s relations with wider family members. Them learning to interact with a variety of family ages and personalities will help their PFL and confidence develop.
  • Your child’s memories of growing up. A parent’s job is arguably to balance any bad memories with some good ones too.
  • Your child’s inheritance.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others. Constructive comments are also welcome.

Simon

Real Options and Personal Flexibility

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What has flexibility got to do with options?

Quite simply if you have more options, you have more flexibility. In uncertain situations, or if you are somehow keen to grow (wealth, skills, influence, reputation, character development), having options is valuable.

Of course, having more options isn’t useful if you can’t make a decision when time is pressing. And having a set of options that aren’t relevant to the problem you’re facing isn’t particularly helpful either. Unless you can trade them for the ones you actually want.

What are real options?

They’re not as scary as they sound. Wikipedia says ‘a real option itself, is the right—but not the obligation—to undertake certain business initiatives, such as deferring, abandoning, expanding, staging, or contracting a capital investment project’. In the personal flexibility sense, real options are rights we have paid for in the past and hold.  If the conditions are right, they can be used (exercised) at some point in the future, to buy or sell something to benefit ourselves.  Or benefit those we choose to help.

There are a couple of different types of real options. Call options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to buy something. Put options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to sell something.

What are some examples of call options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us PFL in the present and future?

  • Loyalty points, or frequent flier points accumulated, that are still valid. Purchase qualifying items and you have the right to use the points to obtain discounts on future purchases.
  • Multiple passports (the legitimate right to citizenship in multiple countries). Pay the application fee and once the passport is issued, you then have the legal right to buy the same things the other citizens can buy.
  • Insurance policies with a claim excess. Pay the insurance premium, make the claim, pay the claim excess and the item will then be replaced.
  • Personal credit cards and overdraft facilities. Pay the annual account fee and any interest charges to access the credit amount.
  • Fitness, health and knowledge you’ve built up, if they qualify you for access to something fairly exclusive in the future, that costs money.
  • Physical and data security measures and investments made. Pay the fee, log your security breach event, pay for the investigation and hopefully damage will be remedied.
  • Divorce papers – once signed and the divorce lawyer costs are paid, the papers give you the right to legally marry another person (providing they’re not already still married).

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What are some examples of put options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us (or our loved ones) the right to sell and hence PFL in the present and future?

  • Trial period agreements.
  • Product warrantees, price-matching features and money-back guarantees.
  • Sublease clauses. For example, you rent a two-bedroom flat and there’s a clause in the lease agreement allowing you to rent out the second bedroom for financial benefit.
  • Your estate (once you’ve paid the solicitor to draw up your will). Ownership of this option transfers to the beneficiaries of your estate, upon your death.

Real options and student career advice

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In the general education system, little emphasis seems to be given to teaching students how to manage their real options. Then, when students graduate & join the workforce, they lack awareness about real options management in the workplace. Instead, at best, students receive advice from relatives, friends or teachers about getting a good education and working hard, to open up more life choices to them.

Perhaps too many young people learn from life experience – the ‘school of hard knocks’ (why doesn’t Western culture strongly preach the folly of learning this way?). And learn from repeat situations (once bitten, twice shy), that having choices is valuable.

What the young people need is more advice on how not to get bitten. And coaching to position themselves to have choices other than getting bitten. Young adults may also learn from observation – being inspired by designers to mimic the design flexibility that they see.

In the view of this blogger, one of life’s ironies is that for many young people, by the time they realise that older people’s advice to them on the above things is just as relevant today as in yesteryear, the consequences of have few options and choices is already hitting them hard.

In summary, holding real options in our personal lives, is a tangible form of personal flexibility. It follows that if we want to increase our PFL, we should accumulate real options in advance, in the areas of PFL that we want to improve.

Some areas to look at, if personal growth and uncertainty management are some of your goals; obtaining real options concerning wealth, skills, influence, personal reputation and/or character development. A key point is to build up an ‘options portfolio’ i.e. don’t just concentrate on obtaining real options relating to one of them.

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Periodically, we will use or ‘exercise’ many of the real options we hold, so another key point is to replenish our stocks of real options regularly.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others. Constructive comments are also welcome.

 Simon

Parenting and Personal Flexibility

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’.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Poverty of Ambition and Flexibility

‘We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential.’ Barack Obama

This particular blog centres on personal flexibility (PFL) in business start-ups.

In my view, Obama was right, but greed and instant gratification aren’t the only forms of poverty of ambition. Some parents should want more for their children’s future too. And amongst small business start-ups, the goal might simply be:

  • grow the business to a point where you can sell it at a good profit. Or,
  • grow the business to a point where you can hire a manager to manage it. And then draw off a significant annual dividend, regardless of the profits or loses made in a given year.

The first approach hands the real potential of the business to the buyer. And leaves the seller retiring from business altogether.  Or ready to start over with another business venture. Which if at a different point in the economic cycle, or with different risks, may not succeed half as well as the first venture.

The second approach creates a lifestyle business. But without the ongoing investment to grow the business into something amazing.

For the owner of a small business start-up, it takes personal flexibility as well as courage (dare to dream), to overcome the poverty of ambition (PoA). To think bigger and become the best business model in the sector.

One step to overcome the PoA is to appoint business experts (business services accountants, management consultants, tax advisors, bankers and contract lawyers) who can ensure operating compliance with efficiency.  But also appoint the ones who can nudge the business towards best practice in that sector, regardless of how best practice is changing. An implication is that the business professionals and the business owner need to know and agree what best practice looks like. On this, best practice isn’t just about operating efficiency or customer relationship management. But business strategy too.

This blogger can briefly share one story contrasting operating compliance with efficiency. It concerned a London-based organisation, setting up a new office in continental Europe, where English isn’t an official language (on government forms). Contacting legal and accounting professionals in the local jurisdiction was an obvious and early step. What was surprising was the lack of an efficient process to help set up the offshore office in short order. The goal of the business advisors, both legal & accounting, was simply to provide compliance, not efficiency (their own poverty of ambition).

A second example was a recent conversation with a seasoned business services accountant working in a large chartered accounting firm in the UK. He remarked on the general poverty of ambition (not his exact words) amongst his client base of small business start-ups, across a range of sectors. My response was as outlined in this blog. His follow-on reaction was interest – it chimed with what his partners were telling him about developing higher value-added services for the clients. And he said his intention was now to clarify best practice in each client sector.

Mental agility (process, style and skill at jumping paths) as well as other forms of personal flexibility (creating new paths) are needed to overcome the poverty of business ambition. Obtaining real options early in the journey of business growth, should provide business flexibility to manage uncertainty. And achieve more sustainable earnings growth too.

A final thought on personal flexibility in business. If the goal is to build an enduring, value-for-money brand, one that will outlast the lifetime of the business founder, then improving personal flexibility (greater imagination, appetite for success and openness to changing the business model to adapt to new conditions) and business flexibility (acquiring options, building extra capacity, investing in flexiscribes) is needed to cope with the change & uncertainty issues that will challenge business sustainability.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon