Upskilling and Personal Flexibility

‘The idea of Juilliard was that it would give you this toolbox full of skills that you could take with you and apply to anything.’ Robin Williams

‘I think educational systems have to be more nimble, have to be more adapted to today’s realities where students can go in different directions and professionalize even faster. Constant retraining and reskilling and upskilling, whatever you want to call it, of the workforce.’ Roberto Azevedo

‘Dancers work and they work and they work, and they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back… That’s the mentality that I’m trying to create, recreate and hold on to forever.’ Pete Carroll

‘Motivation aside, if people get better at these life skills, everyone benefits: The brain doesn’t distinguish between being a more empathic manager and a more empathic father.’ Daniel Goleman

Upskilling is like travelling to new places. The action itself opens up new opportunities.  Upskilling might involve improving throughput (efficiency). For example, using better skills to achieve a greater amount of the same outputs, for the time spent. It could also mean investing in getting extra impact – being more effective with your time spent.

Why upskill in the first place? Because of change, demand alters. Even so called ‘fixed costs’ or ‘fixed prices’ are seldom fixed in the medium term. Because of change, the future remains uncertain too. Because of change & growing interaction, the future is becoming more complex. Together, these factors encourage people to invest in upskilling in various ways to cope.

Personal reasons for upskilling can include wanting to do something:

  • more meaningful,
  • more challenging,
  • more rewarding.

Or to get more variety in your life.

Professional reasons for upskilling can include:

  • widening or deepening your skill base, in order to obtain a new job,
  • to be promoted in your current job,
  • to win more business or retain customer loyalty,
  • to make some tasks in your job easier (let the software summarise & monitor for you.

What should you upskill in is a more difficult question. And one that is highly personal. That said, people generally seem to benefit from achieving a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy. One way to think of the ‘what to upskill’ question, is to re-examine your passions and your abilities. Things that score highly in both will make upskilling a whole lot easier. But not necessarily be the most useful to you i.e. sometimes a trade-off is needed.

When to upskill? Sometimes, regarding a personal hobby, you can be on a structured programme where proficiency improves the longer you stayed committed. For example, the grade system in music. Or the belt system in martial arts. The ‘when’ question is answered for you.

In other situations, judgement is needed. If in doubt, stagger your upskilling effort. And diversify it too.

How to upskill? The choices in the digital age have widened. There are numerous ‘how to’ You Tube videos. Self-help smartphone apps help you learn a new language. Or do ‘brain training’. You can hire coaches, guides, therapists, enablers, or instructors in person. You can people watch and mimic their techniques & ideas e.g. in rollerblading and dance. Sometimes, the best way to upskill is to experiment and learn what works. For example, in jazz improvisation. Or being a parent.

What kind of skills are there to consider upskilling in?

One useful split is into physical and mental skills. Mental skills including thinking skills. These might encompass; imagining, planning, identifying, recognising, comparing, reasoning, controlling your emotions (to some extent), reflecting and reviewing. AI might replace some of these things over time. Humans therefore owe it to ourselves to become adept in the others. For as long as possible.

Is it possible to upskill your instincts?

You can sensitise your senses (the ‘gas pedal’) to influence your instincts. You can also rationalise and use self discipline (the ‘brake pedal’) to moderate your instincts. In the sense of getting more skilful at using the ‘brake’ or ‘gas’ pedal (signals control), it can be thought of as upskilling.

So how is upskilling related to flexibility and personal flexibility in particular?

Flexibility is both a reserve of power and a characteristic to deploy. Upskilling in the right areas can also be these things.  If upskilling makes you more agile and if agility (jumping paths) is a subset of flexibility (which includes creating paths in the first place), then upskilling can be a part of creating flexibility. Flexibility is also needed to change skillsets, best summed up in the following Kofi Annan quote. In the view of this blogger, what Annan says about countries, could equally apply in the transition from childhood into a fully-fledged adult, raising a family.

‘The skills you need to fight the colonial power and the skills you need to gain independence are not necessarily the same you need to run a country.’ Kofi Annan

If flexiscribes are things that code for extra flexibility, then is upskilling something that will achieve this? The answer is not always. You might upskill in more narrow areas of scope. Or in achieving things that use rigid techniques to achieve fixed structures. In doing so, you might achieve personal benefit. But not personal flexibility (PFL).

When else does upskilling not lead to more personal flexibility (PFL)?

  1. When its applications are strictly professional. For example, a soldier is trained to kill enemy combatants. This probably doesn’t translate well into civilian life.
  2. When skills are gained. But lead directly into bad habits. For example, a newbie golfer or snow boarder in their eagerness to try out the activity, skips over getting any lessons and in doing so, builds up some bad habits. I myself did this as a novice skier some years ago. Later, as progress becomes increasingly more limited, the person takes lessons from a professional, which tend to go back to the basics. And replace poor technique with a foundation of good technique to build on further.

If you find these blogs useful, spread the word so others can benefit also.

Simon

Flexibility and Flexiscribes

It’s hard to talk about flexiscribes without first referring to flexibility. Flexibility like air, fitness or financial savings is invisible. But vital.

We go to great lengths to monitor our personal savings. We aren’t so good at monitoring our air quality, our fitness, or our levels of personal flexibility (PFL). Perhaps now is the time to change that.

Flexibility like fitness, savings, career options, or even a tidy house, is something that can dissipate over time. A university graduate or aspiring actor considering their first serious role, might have various choices about which area to specialise in. Further along their career path, they’re perceived to have become more typecast.

The key point is a simple one. That net flexibility in your life will disappear. Unless you try to replace it at a similar rate that it is disappearing at. Or better still, grow your net flexibility above the current level.

A device to replenish your flexibility is a flexiscribe. In other words, a flexiscribe is a mechanism that codes for flexibility. The coding might be automatic. Or only happen via manual effort.

For people of all ages, working in what they regard as a declining industry, or for people who might be at the tail end of their working career, perhaps thinking about an encore career, or doing flexible portfolio work, flexiscribes are probably of particular interest.

Ownership/control versus choice

Business range (choice) can help create personal flexibility. An example of growing choice is the range of rental services from businesses that are available to consumers – the rise of the so called ‘sharing economy’. But business range isn’t a flexiscribe for PFL. Access is firstly about entitlement, then choice. Therefore, access to the range is the flexiscribe.

Business flexiscribes helps create business flexibility (BFL). Likewise, ownership/control of personal flexiscribes help create personal flexibility (PFL).

A key general point is that by consciously thinking about creating flexiscribes, you increase the chances of flexibility occurring.

Regarding business and personal flexiscribes, what are some examples of each type? Some business flexiscribes operating in R&D businesses, or education (universities and high schools) might include the organisations:

  • having multipurpose rooms,
  • having multiskilled staff. In universities, the staff may be good at both research and teaching. Or be staff who are talented in two fields of research,
  • having high free cash reserves,
  • having flexible working practices and incentives. For example, project secondments. These will force new experience to emerge, which itself will encourage new skills development.
  • owning some intellectual property e.g. patents and trademarks that enable commercial success,
  • holding some real options – more about these in a later blog.

What are some personal flexiscribes? Firstly, if Personal flexibility can be divided into PFL relating to ‘be’ (personal identity and image) and ‘do’ (personal actions), then perhaps that’s a useful way to split out the personal flexiscribes too.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to identity and image are as follows:

  • Continuing professional development (CPD) hours. By having to do a minimum number of training hours each year to remain registered with a particular professional body, it forces the person belonging to the membership body to develop new skills, techniques & knowledge. The advice of this blogger is to make at least some CPD training in areas transferable beyond your current sector & role. Ideally, invest in training that’s relevant to sectors where you have a good chance of working in the future.
  • Developing a strong CV and network of contacts. Both can promote your achievements and skills to date.
  • The daily work commute by train or bus. If your work commute is a decent length e.g. about an hour or more and you don’t have to cycle, or drive yourself to work, then there is enforced time available to build knowledge. Which itself builds flexibility. Building knowledge might be in the form of reading text articles, watching YouTube ‘how to’ guides, or listening to say Ted Talks on relevant subjects.
  • Personal savings. Clearly, if you can save some funds, your scope to access anything that money can buy will increase.
  • Family support. For families that help one another when things become hectic, or rally round when one family member suffers a set back, simply having that support creates more PFL for the person concerned.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to ‘doing’ activities are as follows:

  • Working in the ‘gig’ economy. Typically, each assignment is different in scope, duration, location and the issues also vary. This variety encourages skills development and adaptability from the gig worker.

  • Doing volunteer work. Obviously you need to continue paying your bills. And maintain relationships with friends & family. Therefore the time commitment and the quality of effort you make is about achieving balance with those things. Because it is voluntary, the scope of activity is flexible and you have more power to direct how your time is used to gain useful skills and achieve impact, for a win-win outcome.
  • Renting rather than buying. Access to the rental, not the rental itself (choice) is the flexiscribe. Using the power of access, extra capacity is only rented when needed. Specialist items are hired at short notice for one-time events. People take advantage of ‘try before you buy’ offers, to manage uncertainty. A side question for the reader – if the ‘sharing economy’ is rapidly growing amongst both established and new entrant providers, e.g. in room rentals & transport, then business providers boost consumer flexibility. Is there then an opportunity for the reverse to also happen? To elaborate, in the sharing economy, the values of some consumers may emphasise; minimalism (small storage footprint), variety, instant access, group access and/or personal image not tied to asset status. Can those values be accessed & harnessed, not only to boost demand for business products & services. But to also code for business flexibility itself?

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

Simon