Surfing the ups and downs

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Surfers know about staying on their board to ride out the lows and enjoy the highs. Breaking right or left when the opportunity arises. Surfing away from danger if they spot a shark in the water.

How can companies or staff use flexibility to stay sustainable through boom & bust cycles? For companies, buying up distressed assets and companies in an economic downturn isn’t the only game in town. With companies desperately shedding cost by laying off staff, the downturn is a golden opportunity to pick up experienced talent in plentiful supply. Likewise for staff, stay open to new opportunities from those companies wanting the good people.

In the downturn, if they can’t justify hiring operations staff, firms can hire more developers instead, to deliver for the next bull run. Or better still (in a flexibility sense), acquire staff who develop in the downturn and do operations/marketing in the boom. For staff, think about widening your skills from operations into development and marketing too.

In a downturn, business ethics are tested by fear, not greed. Whether boom, bust or in between, staff can work hard to join up their personal morals with the business ethics of the business, to keep the customer love alive and thriving.

Finally for staff, if you’re not involved in development innovation (team leaders and middle managers), try to catch the eye of senior management, by helping them develop real options for the company’s future. For the company, having both innovations and real options is the equivalent of riding the surfboard through the ups and downs both.

Simon

 

Brace for impact

boy playing on slide in playground
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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

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

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

Personal Flexibility and Cycling

Over Easter, I was lucky to go on a 140 mile, 3 day cycling trip with some friends, around the south of England. And I learned some interesting things about personal flexibility that I’d like to share.

The first example was on the train, travelling down to the start point of the ride. I got chatting with one of the other cyclists, a fellow parent. I asked what his school age son wanted to do after finishing secondary school (high school). The dad’s approach was to encourage his son (who like many kids, didn’t know what he wanted to do after graduation) to take subjects that would simply help him keep his options open. This has two aspects, taking a wide range of subjects. And taking some universally useful subjects like English and maths (literacy & numeracy heavy). In short, more doorways beat fewer. And some doorways serve as portals to bigger worlds.

Once we all assembled to start the ride, it was obvious that the amount of cycle luggage varied from one cyclist carrying everything for every eventuality (resource versatility), through to another travelling light to conserve energy (event versatility). Both are forms of personal flexibility, just emphasising different types.

Another example once the cycling trip had started in ernest was the relative positioning in the riding group i.e. each rider staying fluid and flexible to help the others as needed. And to chat to different members of the group.

Some of the cycle route involved smooth road-riding in designated cycle lanes, or along disused railway embankments. Other sections however involved descent down bumpy, gravel-heavy tracks. It dawned on me that those of us who coped best had previously done broader preparation (road riding and off road riding) i.e. choosing to move forward by moving further out of your comfort zone to widen your coping skills for situations you might encounter.

One night on the trip, we camped and all 4 of us chose a different shelter approach. One chose a large tunnel tent. I chose a simple basha (tent fly), hung between two trees. Another slept in a tiny minimalist tent for one. And the fourth, unhappy with his tent, slept in the open, next to the campfire instead. Most importantly, it wasn’t a resource competition and we weren’t critical of each others shelter arrangements, Each person simply observed alternative shelters, while making their own as comfortable and effective as possible. At the campsite, we also had to improvise with the materials at hand.

On the trip, when the subject of road user behaviour and planet-friendly transportation came up. It struck me that to have an informed discussion, you really have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, before you critique things from your own perspective.

Thanks for the flexibility insights and the adventure guys!

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

What flexibility can do

monochrome photo of palm trees
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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