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

Personal Biases and Personal Flexibility

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Once bitten twice shy. Do our various biases hold us back from trying again? Is more personal flexibility (PFL) the best medicine for our biases?

Our mental architecture (the neural pathways in our brains) might favour strengthening various well-worn pathways, as a coping mechanism for the daily onslaught of sensory information we face.

• We sample what is convenient & comfortable to sample (selection bias).
• We notice the things that confirm the views we already hold (confirmation bias).
• We like to associate with those like ourselves (group or ‘me too’ bias).
• We over-estimate how soon improvements happen, but under-estimate their impact (judgement bias).
• We leap into action at the first opportunity, telling ourselves we should be more spontaneous and that it makes us look more powerful, by being decisive (action bias).

Then there are a load of other biases that (biased?) psychologists tell us we suffer from.
There are so many biases swirling around, it’s a wonder we achieve anything useful, ever! That said, can personal flexibility (PFL) help us counter, or at least moderate our biases? And if so, what form might that PFL usefully take?

1. Holding two opposing views at the same time is one form of PFL. Less a case of madness. More a case of seeing the merits of both sides of an argument. More strange still, our opposing views can happen implicitly – the risk aversion bias many of us have (to trying new things in case they don’t work out), works against a risk-minimising strategy of diversification (not putting all your eggs in one basket).

2. Forcing ourselves to take a second, more considered look is another PFL technique. For example, looking at a radical painting in an art gallery to think more about the artist’s message to the viewer. Or in the animal kingdom, a shark circling its potential prey, is partly waiting for more information.

Simon

Fake News and Personal Flexibility

‘There is no sickness worse for me than words that to be kind must lie.’ Aeschylus

‘People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.’ Otto von Bismarck

‘People can choose between the sweet lie or the bitter truth. I say the bitter truth, but many people don’t want to hear it.’ Avigdor Lieberman

‘Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.’ Eric Hoffer

‘For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.’ Bo Bennett

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So-called fake news is an age-old problem. And an annoying fixture in our personal and business lives.

So-called fake news can include:

  • accidental distortion– a version-control problem, information-relay error, false logic, false assumption, static, a reference error or typo. Or something misheard – perhaps generating a colourful rumour on the office grapevine.

A famous example of accidental distortion is about the WW1 message conveyed from the front-line trenches, shouted from trench to trench, back to the high command. It started off as the request ‘send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’. And ended up arriving as ‘send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance’.

  • deliberate distortion – an exaggeration, something taken out of original context. Maybe an outright lie, generated for commercial or personal gain.

Sometimes politicians rather than lie, simply evade the question, answering a different question, or changing the subject instead. At other times, their truth may be more damaging than fake news – a politician might promise one thing, but once elected, change their party’s policy entirely. Here the ‘news’ is real.  It’s the direction that has changed.

The method of collecting information to inform decision making, introduces opportunity for error at multiple points in the process. This blogger once served as a court juror and was surprised when a seemingly impartial police witness made a ‘rookie error’ on the time an event was alleged to have happened.

Court jurors weight the evidence testimony. Each juror has to do a mental-sorting exercise of the information presented – what is probably true and what is probably false. Incidentally, this mental-sorting exercise can be a form of personal flexibility – emotion fighting against rationality (heart and head). In this situation, it’s worth the jurors reassuring themselves that it is entirely natural to have an internal conflict. And that sometimes the internal ‘battle’ needs to rage, to make the resulting view more just. But that for something approaching justice to be done, a jury decision must be given, so a personal view on innocence/guilt must ultimately be taken by each juror.

‘It is well known that in war, the first casualty is truth – that during any war truth is forsaken for propaganda.’ Harry Browne

The method of information collection can introduce delay too. Or introduce selection bias in the data collected. The story about the drunk person searching for their lost car keys at night under the street light, because it was easier to look for them under the street light, is perhaps one example. For a court juror, it there’s been a ‘trial by media’ for the accused person before the court case even started, they may have to fight their own preconceived views from the start.

How can personal flexibility (PFL) counter so-called fake news?

  • be open to engaging other inputs, from trusted sources.
  • sample quick then sample slow.
  • investigate and fix errors. Ask yourself, is the motive of the fake news to cover up something? Or take attention away from something more concerning?
  • rely on independent verification.
  • lower the stakes regarding a wrong decision made.
  • consider publicly discrediting fake news sources, when you find them (whistleblowing).

The combination of the above 6 approaches demonstrates PFL at work.  And how it can be used to counter fake news.

Simon

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

A walk on the Flexibility wildside

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I’m an adventurer at heart. I’m comfortable in big cities of the World, but it’s fair to say that the outdoors are my second home.

People who aren’t adventurers, think adventurers must be miserable. And never content with what they have. My view, and I know I don’t necessarily speak for other adventurers, is that adventurers do appreciate the novel and the familiar. We love our families and our friends. So much so that we try to make both groups bigger. We invite others to make new adventures with us. If we’re wise, we accept it, when they don’t necessarily say yes.

The spouses and children of military or emergency services workers, come to accept that part of what makes their father or mother that military or emergency services person, isn’t to get away from those they love. Instead, it’s a deep-seated part of the adventurer’s life to do other things. For their country, for their community, for themselves.

In the last few years, I feel lucky enough to have walked a novel path along the flexibility (FL) journey. Like those who travel to experience other cultures. What I can say is that the further I’ve travelled on the FL journey, the more I’ve found out about flexibility that there is to be discovered, made sense of and described to others who might be interested.

I discovered soon after I started along the FL journey, that it seems to come in two types, twice over. There is business flexibility (BFL) and personal flexibility (PFL). There is also mental and physical flexibility.

I also quickly came to the realisation that flexibility is like maths for an engineer. Language for a lawyer. Health and strength for an athlete. Or a Swiss Army knife for the army and civilian alike. In other words, it’s a useful toolkit to solve multiple problems. Ones that relate to (personal) growth and uncertainty (resilience & risk management) especially. Hopefully, lots of other people have come to, or are coming to this realisation too.

It follows that flexibility thinking is about how you use the FL toolkit. FL thinking can help you get out of a rut. To bypass an impasse. Or to redirect a moving vehicle away from driving over the cliff edge.

By getting into the habit of consciously practising personal flexibility (PFL), it can help you in business. And visa versa. Because many of today’s problems are complex, because the costs of complexity are high, because markets are complex and because bureaucracy often gets in the way of well-intentioned growth, we need to move from not using flexibility or flexibility thinking. To instead use both FL and FL thinking together to solve problems.

Lastly, the Fisccollection collection of blogs concentrates on personal flexibility in its various forms & applications. Just like with a multi-page food menu at a restaurant, if you’re hungry every day and you like to explore new choices, the ‘flexibility menu’ of these blogs, ought to help.

Simon

Making Judgements and Personal Flexibility

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A work colleague told me you shouldn’t judge people.  The trouble is, our economic, political and legal systems depend on someone judging something. Judgement of a chief exec’s ability to build customer support and create shareholder wealth. Voters on Election Day judging the government and its leader’s performance to date. Jurors deciding whether someone accused of a crime is guilty, beyond all reasonable doubt. We even make a safety judgement, when we let another person drive us somewhere in the car.

So if at times, we have to judge, does having more personal flexibility (PFL) make for better judgements? Ones that are fairer or more accurate?

Take a moment to think about how you make a judgement. Is it:

  1. First impressions rule ok.
  2. I’ll stay unconvinced until you prove it to me.
  3. I just don’t believe the so-called evidence you’re providing and serving up more of it won’t change my view (I suspect you’re lying).
  4. I’ll go with what I think is the most moral option.
  5. Which option will benefit me the most?
  6. Which option is the least risky?
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So how can Personal Flexibility help? One way is to select from a wider set to tools, on a case-by-case basis. In other words, don’t just apply one of the above approaches to all situations needing your judgement. In more other words, first judge which approach to use for the situation at hand. Maybe try making a second judgement (of the same situation) using one of the other approaches. See if you get the same result. If not, try adding a third approach and go with two out of three. If you face a really tricky situation, where you have to make a judgement call, apply all of the above, putting different weighting’s on the approaches if you have to. And add up the overall score (for or against).

Another way is to make a judgement. Observe the result with an open mind, And then change your judgement if need be. Changing your judgement isn’t weakness. Instead it’s evolution. Smart researchers who go on to develop wonder drugs, clever engineering solutions, or win Nobel prizes, aren’t afraid to evolve their theories if need be. Brave and respected politicians likewise.

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A further way to decide is the ‘Benjamin Franklin’ approach. Write down a list of pros and cons. Then go with the overall result, taking into account that some on the list might be significant and others minor (split each list into significant and minor items if need be).

If you find these blogs useful and meaningful, feel free to tell others.

Simon