The Power of One

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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

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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

Exchange, acquire and shed

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Boredom can occur when we cannot or won’t seek out change. Or when we grow impatient waiting for something (passive boredom). Regarding the first type of boredom, a certain amount of repetition is reassuring. Too much just frustrates and exhausts us (active boredom).

In the workplace, boredom likely explains quite a bit of tense workplace interaction, job hopping and sub-optimal activity – the saying ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ springs to mind.

Outside the workplace, because of boredom, people become activists (not the only reason they become activists). Others gamble, take drugs and alcohol for escapism, persecute others, change their image, watch reality TV, have affairs, or indulge in sports that provide an adrenaline rush.

Regardless of what makes us bored, our boredom has a threshold (limit) and we have an appetite (a capacity & desire) to avoid boredom. We also have varying levels of control over our ability to avoid boredom.

If boredom is commonplace, why do we let it remain the unspoken elephant in the room? Do we think talking about boredom makes us seem self-indulgent or powerless? In the workplace, do managers never talk about their teams being bored, because it will indicate they hired the wrong people? And can’t find enough productive things for them to do?

Presumably for each of us, our boredom threshold varies by activity, by what kind of day we had before the repetition. By our level of familiarity with the repetition. By the level of compensation for the boredom endured. And whether we suffer the repetition alone, or in good company.

To make boredom more pleasant, we can try to control the repetition or the wait, using personal flexibility.

Returning to the title of this blog, exchange involves exchanging one king of repetition for another. At an aerobics class, instead of doing exercise in silence (and by ourselves), we dance to the music as a group. As WordPress bloggers, we produce a series of (hopefully) interesting blogs. Yet it’s just as important to appreciate the series produced by others too- we learn something by producing our own. Yet grow more as individuals by paying attention to what others have to say too.

Acquire includes obtaining options in advance, that give you the freedom to change the form or timing of the repetition. Options include controlling the speed of the repetitions. Or creating options that intersperse the repetitions with more exciting interludes.

Shed means develop flexibility to avoid the wait, convert it into productive time, avoid the repetitions. Or leverage them into something bigger. Ironically, our minds make us bored.  Yet our minds are the key to our personal flexibility too.

If you find these blogs interesting, feel free to recommend them to others.

Simon

Perception, Imagination and Focus

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History may be continuous, but continuous doesn’t always imply progress. Arguing or complaining needs something else for it to become constructive. Sometimes the slow progress of one approach is overtaken by someone else’s faster approach, using a different design entirely. Economic growth and human migration come in cycles. And not necessarily regular ones either. Human relationships (trust and power levels) can change for better or worse. Meanwhile, some things, ranging from art & fashion to political movements & street-slang turn out to just be passing fads.

In this blogger’s view, staying resilient and strong in the presence of such changes requires movement flexibility and mental flexibility. Or put another way, the state of our physical and mental health depends on personal flexibility.

To take one example, curing depression may be problematic. But coping with it needs help from perception, imagination and focus – focus being where we choose to focus our attention. After physical injury, physiotherapy helps our bodies recover something approaching useable function. Perception, imagination and focus become our ‘internal support group’ for this too.

So if we need to prepare for future times where there won’t be positive progress in our external environment and if we can expect some toll on our mental & physical health as a result, then maybe now is the time to become more agile at altering the combination of; how we perceive things, what we hope for and what we concentrate on.

Maybe we can learn to apply triage to situations – the way emergency service workers assess an accident scene that has suddenly come into view. Maybe we can become more adept at playing for time or buying time, in order to develop a richer assessment of the issues (perception shifting and daring to dream).

Problem solving in the face of apparent impasse might need to take a step back, in order to make a leap forward. I once saw a great example of this in a river valley in Peru. Basically, the local people were tasked with constructing stone fortifications on one mountainside, using stone that was quarried from the flanks of the mountain opposite. In the valley between both mountains ran a large, deep river. The question became, how to we move a lot of stone across the river fairly quickly. Their solution was to stack up loads of stone blocks on one river bank, then go upstream and dig a channel (take a step back) to change the course of the river, so the blocks were now already across. Genius.

Simon

A Daily Experience

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We all have stressful experiences and moments of uncertainty. Just this week, I accidently left my briefcase (satchel) on the overhead rack on a train.  No doubt, for the passengers who stayed on the train after I departed, it must have been stressful for them too, seeing an unattended bag with no obvious owner.

When we experience stress, having ‘coping reserves’ of patience & energy, as well as listening to our inner voice that is encouraging us to persevere and not panic, can help. Those are all intangible forms of coping reserves.

What about more tangible reserves to help us cope? If we choose to develop various reserves of personal flexibility, ones we can see, such as a duplicate wallet, a large bank balance, a credit card, a house key hidden in the garden (in case we lock ourselves out side by mistake), a car that we can drive to work should the train system fail, a few valuables we can sell if we have to, a trusted set of friends, they can all be an important way to cope too.

Personal flexibility (PFL) isn’t generally a product you can buy at the local store. Instead, it’s a form of strength you hold. Some people pay good money to do weight training at the gym. They are essentially buying an exercise programme that leads to strength and fitness. With that strength helping them weather uncertainty, look good and feel better about themselves. Other people pay for professional therapy to improve their emotional strength. Political lobbyists essentially win or buy influence from politicians.  Some people upskill and pay for advanced education, to improve their chances of future employment, professional success and promotion. In summary, PFL is valuable as a means to an end.

Can personal flexibility help us in other ways too? We can be happy on the surface, if we never challenge ourselves, or take a risk. To be happy beneath the surface likely involves moving out of our comfort zone.  Taking some calculated risks. Accepting that we may stumble. And that we may have to do the equivalent of kissing a few frogs to find a prince. What goes with that more colourful life journey, is success defined in our own terms. In other words, to become happy beneath the surface, we may have to redefine what happiness is, including;

  • being happy about simple things,
  • being happy about small, incremental victories,
  • being happy for other people,
  • the journey making us happy, not just the destination making us happy.

If other people’s inflexibility makes us annoyed or unhappy, can we counter that with our own flexibility instead? One way is having enough PFL to avoid their inflexibility. Another is to use our PFL to moderate their inflexibility. A simple example is where various companies use crowd management techniques– making us wait in lines or queues for something. Corralling us is their inflexibility to cope, translating into inflexibility for us on our speed and direction. We can moderate this by using our waiting time constructively – using our smartphone to research or learn something while we wait.

A final thought. What would our lives be like if, each day we tried to actively manage our reserves of personal flexibility? It would likely involve monitoring which bits we are losing (or cashing in) and actively finding replacement forms of PFL, for those PFL things lost.

With growing PFL, we may feel happier and more confident. Better able to cope with uncertainty. And more able to grow as people. What do you think?

Simon

Help Wanted Ad – Personal Flexibility

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Thriving planet with unlimited potential for great ideas, invites applications from interested candidates.

Essential Criteria:
Must be 100% human, with creases and scars to prove it.

Must have a strong self-belief, without being delusional.

Must see being flexible & practising flexible thinking as a calling. Not a chore.

Must be willing at interview to provide examples of how has used the principle of flexibility to solve numerous real-life problems. Ones involving tired, grumpy children, over-critical mother in laws, commuter transport strikes, natural disasters. Poor internet connection. And being accused unfairly of flatulence in a public elevator space.

Must be able to appreciate that although crowds of people can create stress, they also represent a talented collection of colourful, amazing human beings.

Desirable Criteria:
Able to make friends with time, any bank manager and a glass that is half empty.

Able to handle sporting upsets involving your favourite team.

Able to cope with the occasional wet day, when you left your umbrella at home.

Looks at problems both as problems and opportunities.

Isn’t a perfectionist.

Can look in the mirror and like what they see.

Apply within.

Simon

2019 Resolutions and Personal Flexibility

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas Edison

‘Fall seven times and stand up eight.’ Japanese proverb

‘Success is not final, failure is not final. It is the courage to continue that counts.’ Winston Churchill

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2018 is almost over. I hope it’s been a great year for you. For my part, it’s been a mixed bag.

With the new year about to start, is making some new year resolutions a good thing? And why do we make them?

I guess it’s inherently human to want to make a fresh start. To set a new goal. To look for some variety. To make an improvement.  Or do some self-development. Nothing wrong with that. Which of the following groups we fit into and the extent to which we move between them (at different points in our lives) is partly down to our Personal Flexibility (PFL).

Some people make resolutions the way they make a daily ‘to do’ list. Something to focus on and achieve, bit by bit. They are true believers and simply allocate their new year resolutions into their daily lists and get on with it. Some of this group are probably perfectionists as well as true believers.  Always chasing perfection.  But having to constantly redefine it too. Why? They realise that doing more things, or doing some things to a higher standard, isn’t the same thing as achieving perfection in everything.

Other people (I suspect the vast majority), make some new year resolutions, some of which are relatively quick & easy to achieve. With some of their other goals being are really difficult. Or requiring a lot of luck, outside the person’s direct control. 

People might join a gym, give up smoking, enrol in a course, or take up a new hobby. But their commitment to do the activity gets overtaken by other life events (and temptations), breaking the momentum. In this group, some learn to change the goals to ones that are more achievable and join the perfectionist/true believer group. Others learn to cope with mixed success, sometimes thriving on it (adventurers and managers are usually pragmatic people). They may become society’s leaders, because they succeed in the big things.  Yet small failure helps them stay grounded and accessible. Some become disillusioned and turn into non believers.

Finally, there are people who refuse to jump on the new year resolution band wagon – non believers from the start. The wagon moves forward and they stay in the field, watching it go. They may be perfectly happy and know what makes them happy. Like the seasons, they have a rhythm to their life.  And don’t need harsh judgement from the other groups.

In the end and in the round, it probably matters less which ‘resolutions group’ you fit into. But more, whether you live your own life according to a decent set of standards.

Happy New Year!

Simon