Complexity and Personal Flexibility

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall
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As our lives become more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), personal flexibility can be helpful as a coping mechanism. It gives us piece of mind and options.

Eventually, many of us will encounter certain life events like; retirement, moving countries, or ‘empty nest’ down-sizing. Such events might help us shed cost and excess physical capacity.  But not necessarily the life complexity we’d like to simplify.  How so?  We can anticipate that downsizing will likely be undermined, when complexity compliance acts as a brake. One simple example is that empty nest parents don’t stop being parents (or offspring of their own, perhaps ailing parents), just by downsizing their house, after the kids leave home.

So how can we achieve matching, so that downsizing and simplifying the complexity of our lives go together?

Using personal flexibility as a tool to alter the complexity before downsizing is one avenue to explore. On this, we can take inspiration from our own brains. Each night, our brains exhibit personal flexibility, in relaxing the body (reducing the complexity of physical activity) in preparation for sleep.

Another personal flexibility example is time flexibility – buying time to reduce complexity before we downsize. For example, hiring specialists to help us ‘get our affairs in order’ and simplify the maintenance time required.

Reducing complexity and downsizing together is another option. For example, we can build up a passive income portfolio, to replace the need for us having to work a 40 hour week, therefore downsizing the number of hours worked. And the complexity of handling a full-time job.

Regarding complexity, in the same way that households and wage earners have fixed & variable costs to pay for, (think of rent/mortgage payments and food bills respectively), complexity can also be described as fixed or variable. There is however no direct relationship between cost type and complexity type – you can have any mix of both. But in a VUCA environment, some combinations are likely to be more troublesome than others. For example, high fixed cost, high life complexity.

Some examples of fixed complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of family members in our immediate family group,
  • the number of places we can physically be at any one time,
  • regular bill paying tasks each month e.g. utilities and rent/mortgage.

Some examples of variable complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of key relationships and purchases we manage each month,
  • the range of improvements we try to make each month,
  • the range of disagreements or arguments we have each month,
  • the number of crises we face each month.

Personal flexibility thinking is about designing both costs & complexity to be as variable as possible, regardless of our (own perceived) level of expertise, other people’s dependency on us, our career success, or our bank account balance.

Why is variable complexity in our lives desirable? Fixed complexity doesn’t stay fixed forever, so by coping with variable, we can cope with fixed complexity (inevitably) becoming variable. Assuming fixed complexity may lead to complacency and stop us looking for improvements i.e. personal growth opportunities. Some types of fixed complexity in our lives may be an illusion. When the unexpected occurs, for example our teen or adult children bring home a partner and behave differently in the partner’s presence, this reminds us not to make assumptions.

Simon

Flexibility and Internet downtime

business computer connection data
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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

Reflections D-G

Dignity – the quiet dignity of old people should be the quiet dignity of everyone.

Education – education opens a door to awareness. Awareness opens a universe to discovery.

Ego – make ego an acronym for enthusiasm, generosity and originality.

Envy – if we spend excessive time bashing the wealth creators, instead of upskilling, we’ll get the economic wasteland we deserve.

Family legacy – where your children become investors in the parent company.

Fashion – the magical stitching that binds values with expression. Jewellery- the best is elegance without extravagance. Hats – fashion landscapes for the head. Hairstylists – cut away tangled confusion to reveal the style underneath. And like international diamond traders, live for style, cut and colour.

Fitness – sweat the small stuff in the gym. Enjoy the big stuff everywhere else! Fitness feeds the body, the way information feeds the mind and friendship feels the soul.

Friends – are the mirror lens to help us see things afresh. Old friends are like a roaring fire. They warm our bones, radiate light, crackle with life and make short work of dull objects. With friends, you don’t just walk the journey together for a while, you carry new destinations along the way. Reunions with friends help us over-write the mistakes of the past, with the goodwill of the present and some fun plans for the future.

Goodwill – goodwill banks are the best banks of all, allowing a person to put in at least as much as they take out. The less you deposit, the more risk you take.

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

Comfort Zones and Personal Flexibility

If a person’s comfort zone is basically their attitude projected onto physical space and time, then personal flexibility might be a useful device at both ends of the projection.

At the source end, flexible thinking can work on attitude – sometimes we surprise ourselves at our own bravado, patience and tenacity. Feeling good, we might offer up a extra patience, a random act of kindness, or generosity. Or have an epiphany, and make a paradigm shift accordingly. One example of this is going from being a (romantic) relationship partner with a fear of dying, to becoming the parent of a new born, where you would literally die to save them from dying (apologies to the relationship partners who already think that about their partner).

Meanwhile, flexible provisioning works on time and space. If we change the range of resources available in our environment, make the timing of their availability more under our control, or alter the resource capacity, our comfort level can quickly change too.

A tyrant or bully has a comfort zone that exists in the space beyond and below the moral high ground. Their comfort zone can be countered by action to change their attitude (changing their incentives, imposing penalties, or threatening retaliations). Or by altering resources in the environment they seek to dominate. For example, downplaying the value or lending out the resource to another strong party in the short term.

If the bully is inside our own heads, a similar personal flexibility approach might apply. Therapy and friendship networks can help on attitude. Medication and smaller steps (to progress) can influence the resources available.

Ultimately we need to keep shifting our comfort zones. If only to cope with ongoing change and uncertainty. And to grow as human beings.

Simon

The Power of One

person raising hands mid air sidewards while standing on gray steel railings
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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