Household Budgeting and Personal Flexibility

Firstly a caveat: this particular blog isn’t meant to offer specific financial advice to the reader about what investment products or investment classes to invest in. Readers should seek professional advice to help them understand the risks and choices available relating to financial products made available by particular providers.

What is a household budget?

It is simply looking at a period of time, such as the next 12 months. And listing both household income and expenditure over that period, with a reasonable degree of accuracy. If there is little accuracy, the list is merely a dream.

Secondly, try not to confuse precision with accuracy. Precision might estimate items on the list to the nearest penny. But that doesn’t mean those numbers are accurate. Accuracy is about being broadly right (to the nearest one thousand dollars or pounds say).

Fixed costs and volatile costs

Some household spending items are easy to estimate. And won’t change for the foreseeable future. For example, agreed mortgage payments, or room rent.  Others are inherently uncertain. For example, repair costs. Or the earnings & duration of the next ‘gig’ for gig workers.

Volatile costs are a form of uncertainty. And uncertainty can be managed by improving your personal flexibility (PFL). See my blog on ‘Personal Flexibility and Uncertainty’ for more on this.

When you put together your annual household budget, try to identify which items are fixed (reliable) and which line items are volatile. How volatile? Plus or minus 20% volatile? If there are lots of volatile items and the level of volatile (plus or minus) is significant, you could usefully do a ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ version of your expected budget. Then as you monitor your actual progress against your budget during the year, you can start to take steps. For example, if your household budget increasingly moves towards the worst case version, then as soon as possible, start cutting back on discretionary spending. Or increase the income sources. Likewise, if the actual budget increasingly moves towards the best case version, try to actively save those extra funds ‘for a rainy day’. By increasing your household savings, you are making your PFL stronger.

Lines of credit

It is tempting to use your lines of credit (bank account overdraft or credit cards) to bridge the gap between household income and spending. Try to resist living your life on credit. That resistance will save you money. And increase your PFL, by giving you more short-term options if you need money in a crisis.

Budgeting for time-poor budgeters

The household annual budgeting can be as much of a chore as you want to make it. For my own household budget, I spend as little time preparing & monitoring actual spending as I can get away with. And it certainly isn’t itemized to two decimal places of precision!

Budgeting for big ticket items

How do you budget for big items on your annual household budget? The solution is to slowly save up for them. And buy them when you can finally afford to. Or to use bank loans to buy them. And pay off the loan at a rate you can comfortably afford over time. You’ll need a good credit history to get a bank loan, so bear this in mind.

You will have more personal flexibility, if you slowly save up (no interest costs) to buy the big ticket items. Perhaps think about taking out a loan to only buy big items that will go up in value themselves over time. But where you get a benefit from them every day. For example, a property comprising a home on some land you own. That said, buy at a good price and try not to buy land in an area prone to flooding, coastal erosion, hurricanes etc to reduce your risk.

Quick wins and small triumphs

Try if you can, to have some items in your annual household budget that give you & your family some quick wins and small triumphs. You can’t live your entire life saving up for the things you want. And never actually see any benefits along the way.

Single benefits and family benefits

Try if you can, to include some items in your household budget that benefit the whole family. Not just one or two members. It’s a bit like in the workplace, if the employer offers a pension scheme, all staff can benefit. If they only offer childcare support, or a commuter train travel loan, staff will benefit unevenly.

Time and money trade-offs

To some extent, budgets are a trade-off between time and money. For people who are time-poor but money rich, they pay for more support services and that is reflected in their household budget. For those in the opposite position, they have more of a do-it-yourself culture and save money by say growing their own food, doing childcare inhouse and cooking their own meals. Be realistic about your budget and what trade-off will work for your household.

Budget trade-ons versus budget trade-offs

One way to improve your budget is to look for tradeons rather than tradeoffs. A trade-on is like a double benefit. For example by cutting back on expensive entertainment and doing some self-study instead, you increase your marketable skills (to earn more income), but save money in your household budget as well.

If you prepare a first version of your annual budget and don’t like the result, look for some trade-ons to make the budget more viable.

There tends to be a positive correlation between trade-ons and PFL i.e. the more of one, the more of the other is possible.

Lastly, if you find these blogs useful, please spread the word, so others can benefit too.

Simon

Managing Uncertainty and Personal Flexibility

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Photo by Airam Vargas on Pexels.com

How does personal flexibility (PFL) help to manage uncertainty? First, let’s look at what uncertainty is and how it arises.

What uncertainty is

Firstly, uncertainty can be positive as well as negative. Why positive? Not knowing who your future soul mate is, or whether you will even find one, makes life exciting. And probably changes your behaviour for the better too.

Two kinds of uncertainty are:

  • The known unknowns. We might know the current membership of those we are related to by blood. What we don’t know, is exactly when that membership will change (births and deaths). Another version of this is the second-order unknowns. We don’t know the names of our children’s children if we haven’t had children of our own yet.
  • The unknown unknowns. This includes unconscious incompetence. We aren’t sufficiently aware that we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. We wade in and act. And then anything is possible!

Our influence on uncertainty can vary too.

  • A small intervention on our part, can have a large influence on the level of uncertainty present. For example, we visit our doctor/dentist before the effects of a persistent ache become a bigger problem for us.
  • The level of effort on our part can essentially match the change in the resulting uncertainty.
  • It might take a large intervention on our part, just to achieve a small change in the level of uncertainty in something we encounter – think of raising a teenager.

We might put in place some risk mitigations to deal with uncertainty. The trouble is that we aren’t so good at identifying if we have enough types of mitigations. Belt alone? Belt and braces? Belt, braces and seatbelt too? Belt, braces, seatbelt and airbags? We aren’t so great at judging the relative strengths of those mitigations either. That’s one place where personal flexibility is helpful – design, test, assess then modify.

How does uncertainty arise?

  • Unknowns can arise because of big external changes. War is declared. Brexit is activated. A massive natural disaster hits an area.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of information. For example, customer demand for a new product can only be estimated. Until the market reaction is seen. And actual trends understood.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of time. For example, time to research the facts and solve a mystery is lost, as new events create new crises that take priority.
  • Unknowns can arise because of attitude– progress is undermined due to bias. For example, people with control of certain information choose to discriminate and not make it available. ‘Need to know’ and early tip-offs are related examples.
  • Unknowns can arise because of volatility. For example, rescue services, trying to assess actual threat to life in a hurricane, is hampered while conditions of extreme turbulence prevail.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of buying power to control or influence certainty. If we can’t afford to buy real options, it can be hard to acquire them.

How can personal flexibility help? 

Broadly, if you see more uncertainty emerging, increase your PFL to compensate. Widen your skill base and diversify your income sources. Teach your children to become more independent e.g. earn their own money. Or shop & cook for themselves.

In the UK, with uncertainty over the Brexit outcome in March 2019, some people are reducing their personal debt levels. Or stockpiling canned foods in the short term. Just in case.

PFL can influence the speed at which uncertainties arise or reduce. One idea is to use PFL to develop some ‘brakes’ and ‘accelerators’ on uncertainty. The point being that just like driving a car, you as the driver control the speed. A simple example is diversifying your income sources to act as a brake on the effects of economic downturn.

Avoidance (risk transfer) can reduce your uncertainty. Hedge some key risks. For example, with professional advisors, influential friends, or insurance products.

As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Real Options and Personal Flexibility

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What has flexibility got to do with options?

Quite simply if you have more options, you have more flexibility. In uncertain situations, or if you are somehow keen to grow (wealth, skills, influence, reputation, character development), having options is valuable.

Of course, having more options isn’t useful if you can’t make a decision when time is pressing. And having a set of options that aren’t relevant to the problem you’re facing isn’t particularly helpful either. Unless you can trade them for the ones you actually want.

What are real options?

They’re not as scary as they sound. Wikipedia says ‘a real option itself, is the right—but not the obligation—to undertake certain business initiatives, such as deferring, abandoning, expanding, staging, or contracting a capital investment project’. In the personal flexibility sense, real options are rights we have paid for in the past and hold.  If the conditions are right, they can be used (exercised) at some point in the future, to buy or sell something to benefit ourselves.  Or benefit those we choose to help.

There are a couple of different types of real options. Call options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to buy something. Put options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to sell something.

What are some examples of call options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us PFL in the present and future?

  • Loyalty points, or frequent flier points accumulated, that are still valid. Purchase qualifying items and you have the right to use the points to obtain discounts on future purchases.
  • Multiple passports (the legitimate right to citizenship in multiple countries). Pay the application fee and once the passport is issued, you then have the legal right to buy the same things the other citizens can buy.
  • Insurance policies with a claim excess. Pay the insurance premium, make the claim, pay the claim excess and the item will then be replaced.
  • Personal credit cards and overdraft facilities. Pay the annual account fee and any interest charges to access the credit amount.
  • Fitness, health and knowledge you’ve built up, if they qualify you for access to something fairly exclusive in the future, that costs money.
  • Physical and data security measures and investments made. Pay the fee, log your security breach event, pay for the investigation and hopefully damage will be remedied.
  • Divorce papers – once signed and the divorce lawyer costs are paid, the papers give you the right to legally marry another person (providing they’re not already still married).

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What are some examples of put options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us (or our loved ones) the right to sell and hence PFL in the present and future?

  • Trial period agreements.
  • Product warrantees, price-matching features and money-back guarantees.
  • Sublease clauses. For example, you rent a two-bedroom flat and there’s a clause in the lease agreement allowing you to rent out the second bedroom for financial benefit.
  • Your estate (once you’ve paid the solicitor to draw up your will). Ownership of this option transfers to the beneficiaries of your estate, upon your death.

Real options and student career advice

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In the general education system, little emphasis seems to be given to teaching students how to manage their real options. Then, when students graduate & join the workforce, they lack awareness about real options management in the workplace. Instead, at best, students receive advice from relatives, friends or teachers about getting a good education and working hard, to open up more life choices to them.

Perhaps too many young people learn from life experience – the ‘school of hard knocks’ (why doesn’t Western culture strongly preach the folly of learning this way?). And learn from repeat situations (once bitten, twice shy), that having choices is valuable.

What the young people need is more advice on how not to get bitten. And coaching to position themselves to have choices other than getting bitten. Young adults may also learn from observation – being inspired by designers to mimic the design flexibility that they see.

In the view of this blogger, one of life’s ironies is that for many young people, by the time they realise that older people’s advice to them on the above things is just as relevant today as in yesteryear, the consequences of have few options and choices is already hitting them hard.

In summary, holding real options in our personal lives, is a tangible form of personal flexibility. It follows that if we want to increase our PFL, we should accumulate real options in advance, in the areas of PFL that we want to improve.

Some areas to look at, if personal growth and uncertainty management are some of your goals; obtaining real options concerning wealth, skills, influence, personal reputation and/or character development. A key point is to build up an ‘options portfolio’ i.e. don’t just concentrate on obtaining real options relating to one of them.

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Periodically, we will use or ‘exercise’ many of the real options we hold, so another key point is to replenish our stocks of real options regularly.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others. Constructive comments are also welcome.

 Simon

Parenting and Personal Flexibility

Parenting is both complex and practical. Having raised two step children from the ages of 8 and 10 years onwards (now aged 21 and 23 respectively) and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to share some insights about how personal flexibility (PFL) can help people become better parents.

Like many parents, I’ve said things in the heat of the moment, that I wish I hadn’t said to my children. It’s a testament to their character that they saw the bigger picture. And thankfully saw me as a flawed human being, trying to become a better person and a better parent over time. It’s still a work in progress!

I’ve said to various people that the life change from not being a parent, to suddenly becoming a parent is huge, compared to the change from moving say from the parent of two children to three.

Becoming a parent is like a marathon. But with random sprints inserted into the event as well. The sprints arise if the parent suffers a momentary loss of focus on a young child and it gets into trouble. For example, at the top of some stairs. Or following a stranger away from a playground setting.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of very young children?

The child’s needs are initially quite physical. Sleep deprivation for one or both parents is a problem, as the baby’s sleeping patterns and feeding cycles are short. And very different from those of the parents. The parents feel an enormous sense of responsibility for a tiny, defenceless individual, who is totally reliant on them.

Over time, the child’s awareness builds. It bonds with the parent(s), as the centre of its world. Progressively, the child becomes more active in exploring its world. It makes its wishes known. And more of its personality becomes obvious to onlookers.

Taking shared parental leave from the workplace (extra parental capacity) increases the PFL to cope with the initial demands of parenthood. Rooms at home have to be modified, medical checkups arranged, baby clothes, cribs, high chairs, car seats and baby strollers bought. in a PFL sense, these things help to build capacity, create options and manage uncertainty.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is not to overwhelm the young child. To create some structure, some reassurance and to set limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Probably, the parents are constantly adjusting their parenting approach to help support the child, as best they can. They are still discovering their child’s personality and its preferences – the things it likes and hates. The beauty of parenthood is that although no one is born an expert, you get to practise being a better parent every day (patience and endurance). A key message is that being a better parent comes from exercising some PFL along the way.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of pre-teen children?

The child’s identity, passions, talents and abilities become clearer in pre-teen children Their friendship group develops beyond family members. School education becomes a feature of their lives. Their parents aren’t always present when they suffer mishap or injury.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is again, not to overwhelm the child with things it can’t handle. To create structure, reassurance and some kind of limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Parental PFL involves oscillating between support & stepping back to watch your child progressively forge its own path in the world.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of teenagers?

Puberty kicks in, hormones fluctuate. And there is a constant tension between the teen wanting more freedom. But not being able to be fully independent. Progressively, the teen’s identity shifts to become not only a family member, but a member of its own social tribe of friends. Dating and relationships become a feature in teenagers lives. Social pressure to conform becomes intense.

For the parents, there is frequent and unpredictable challenge to their authority in many cases. The parents may feel underappreciated or unappreciated. The dialogue they used to have with their pre-teen child, may have become replaced by a sullen, tense battle of wills & values.

For the parents, PFL is aided by wider family support to both teens & their parents. Parents need to decide which battles to fight. And which ‘stylistic differences’ to concede. Another expression of PFL for the parents is in keeping an open-door policy to be there when the teen wants to talk. Somehow the parent has to keep an eye on the family ‘light at the far end of the tunnel’. While providing logistical support to the teen. And periodic emotional support too.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of adult children?

Once into their twenties, perhaps graduating from university and/or becoming establishing in their first or subsequent jobs, the child has become a fully-fledged adult.

The biggest PFL issue for the parent is probably to re-establish a positive relationship with their child, on an adult-to-adult basis.

In summary, PFL is valuable at all stages of the parent ‘journey’.

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

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

Poverty of Ambition and Flexibility

‘We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential.’ Barack Obama

This particular blog centres on personal flexibility (PFL) in business start-ups.

In my view, Obama was right, but greed and instant gratification aren’t the only forms of poverty of ambition. Some parents should want more for their children’s future too. And amongst small business start-ups, the goal might simply be:

  • grow the business to a point where you can sell it at a good profit. Or,
  • grow the business to a point where you can hire a manager to manage it. And then draw off a significant annual dividend, regardless of the profits or loses made in a given year.

The first approach hands the real potential of the business to the buyer. And leaves the seller retiring from business altogether.  Or ready to start over with another business venture. Which if at a different point in the economic cycle, or with different risks, may not succeed half as well as the first venture.

The second approach creates a lifestyle business. But without the ongoing investment to grow the business into something amazing.

For the owner of a small business start-up, it takes personal flexibility as well as courage (dare to dream), to overcome the poverty of ambition (PoA). To think bigger and become the best business model in the sector.

One step to overcome the PoA is to appoint business experts (business services accountants, management consultants, tax advisors, bankers and contract lawyers) who can ensure operating compliance with efficiency.  But also appoint the ones who can nudge the business towards best practice in that sector, regardless of how best practice is changing. An implication is that the business professionals and the business owner need to know and agree what best practice looks like. On this, best practice isn’t just about operating efficiency or customer relationship management. But business strategy too.

This blogger can briefly share one story contrasting operating compliance with efficiency. It concerned a London-based organisation, setting up a new office in continental Europe, where English isn’t an official language (on government forms). Contacting legal and accounting professionals in the local jurisdiction was an obvious and early step. What was surprising was the lack of an efficient process to help set up the offshore office in short order. The goal of the business advisors, both legal & accounting, was simply to provide compliance, not efficiency (their own poverty of ambition).

A second example was a recent conversation with a seasoned business services accountant working in a large chartered accounting firm in the UK. He remarked on the general poverty of ambition (not his exact words) amongst his client base of small business start-ups, across a range of sectors. My response was as outlined in this blog. His follow-on reaction was interest – it chimed with what his partners were telling him about developing higher value-added services for the clients. And he said his intention was now to clarify best practice in each client sector.

Mental agility (process, style and skill at jumping paths) as well as other forms of personal flexibility (creating new paths) are needed to overcome the poverty of business ambition. Obtaining real options early in the journey of business growth, should provide business flexibility to manage uncertainty. And achieve more sustainable earnings growth too.

A final thought on personal flexibility in business. If the goal is to build an enduring, value-for-money brand, one that will outlast the lifetime of the business founder, then improving personal flexibility (greater imagination, appetite for success and openness to changing the business model to adapt to new conditions) and business flexibility (acquiring options, building extra capacity, investing in flexiscribes) is needed to cope with the change & uncertainty issues that will challenge business sustainability.

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

Simon

Thinking Flexibly

You hear a lot these days about the need for businesses to pivot quickly and be agile. Use agile techniques to develop software, or run projects. Be lean. Be observant. Watch for opportunity. Be bold and creative. The same applies in sports, to win the game.

There is a lot of online coverage relating to physical flexibility. Aerobics classes, yoga, pilates, tai chi, martial arts. The Olympics. World Cup football and rugby. Golf and tennis events. Fitness trials. Marathons, Iron man and other endurance events. But what about the mental side?

Creating personal and business flexibility both involve thinking flexibly and practising mental agility (MA). But what’s the difference?

Thinking flexibly is heavy on design – creating more avenues and pathways. Can we tunnel or fly instead? Rather than continue the journey, can we influence the other party to come to us instead? Can we send someone in our place? In a progress review, how do we solve or redefine the problem we’ve encountered? 

Mental agility is about process and style – having regular progress reviews. Jumping pathways well and picking when to jump (timing). Calculating, applying, comparing, prioritising. How do I verify the information? What needs more testing? Can I inspire the team to reach for their best? Will some humour lighten the mood? Should I change my communication style for the audience.

One timely illustration of the difference is the Brexit debate in the UK at present. If more ‘thinking flexibly’ had occurred at prior to the voter referendum back in 2016, the process and style aspects (mental agility needed to avoid a ‘hard Brexit’ outcome), wouldn’t be so terrible now.

Thinking flexibly includes:

  • radiating outwards from one concept to multiple applications.
  • oscillating between possibility and feasibility.
  • blending logic and emotion (head and heart).
  • selecting amongst personal life experiences (the ‘school of hard knocks’), advice we received and taught concepts.

Thinking flexibly also includes self-challenge (making new paths). Because often, fresh thinking is needed to solve tired problems.

  • thinking of a first solution, then continuing to think of other solutions, before selecting the best one.
  • thinking laterally (de Bono style).
  • seeking out analogies that might help.
  • reasoning in new situations, where reliable data isn’t yet available.
  • deliberately looking beyond the herd (established patterns), to search for the interesting outliers and anomalies.

For someone facing a situation of conflicting views, or multiple versions of the truth, other than staying in denial, what options are there:

  • Gather more facts. Parents do this when two of their children have opposite stories. A real-life business problem faced by this blogger involved a new computer system creating phantom financial entries. Initially it wasn’t clear whether this was a staff-training problem. Or a software system bug. Or both. What to do? Talk to the (software) experts. Survey a range of people (users or witnesses) who have encountered the problem before. Do some testing (simulations, role-play or trials) to gather more information. Independently verify the data.  Perhaps coax the experts to develop new theories, if their existing explanations don’t ring true.
  • Develop new theories or new approaches yourself. These may put apparent conflict into a cohesive setting. An example of this was used in science to explain the behaviour of light.  To elaborate, scientists created two concurrent models – a particle model and a wave model of light that together explained what they observed. Another science example is how atomic theory explains two apparently opposing behaviours – physical material expansion when heat is applied (e.g. water into steam say).  But how the physical volume that ice occupies, contracts when heated from zero to four degrees Celsius at sea level atmospheric pressure.
  • Become comfortable and skilled at juggling multiple, concurrent things. For example, apply your existing skills (as an board member, volunteer, mentor or parent say), while learning new things in real time, as a novice. Achieve relationship compromises (if there are clashes in values, varying levels of enthusiasm, or different priorities arising between the team members). But set limits and practice ‘tough love’ as well. Take a rational approach.  But also trust your instincts. Choose to remain the student, even when you think you have become the master. On the later, keep asking ‘why’ questions, including about any anomalies & exceptions discovered. Keep asking yourself ‘is it still relevant’, since theory and practice seldom stand still. Arguably, the only way to be a true master is by permanently remaining a student – committing to constant improvement.  Even while practicing as a relative master. Some areas where this is particularly true are parenthood, leadership & management.  Each is a lifelong challenge to master!

Are there any interesting examples of physical flexibility partnered up with mental agility? Jazz improvisation amongst a group of accomplished musicians is probably one good example of this. Where the music is going is unpredictable and changing at a rapid rate. Instrument flexibility and concentration is needed to create a harmonious but creative result. Fighter pilots staying in flying formation at speed are another example.

Are there any interesting examples of thinking flexibly, partnered up with physical agility? Emergency services workers encountered a mass-casualty situation with a series of challenging environmental constraints are an example.

How does thinking flexibly related to personal flexibility (PFL) more generally?

Part of mastering PFL includes thinking flexibly (building options). Other aspects include managing existing risks. And building spare capacity ‘for a rainy day’.

Perhaps the definition of a FL student is the person who knows about flexibility.  But doesn’t practice it. The FL convert is someone who links established options to situations and then decides & acts. In contrast, the FL master is someone who manufactures options (ideas and real options) for situations, generating more as required. FL masters who are financial budget holders are one example. They are encouraged to form one view and outcome.  Yet use FL as a tool to secure the best outcome, regardless of the budget that was set and approved.

Some people seek out variety, perhaps to fulfil a basic human need. Food lovers, party goers and veteran travellers all seek exciting new places and sensory experiences. They probably wonder if there is a better experience just around the corner.  Slightly out of view.  Meanwhile, fashionistas, artists and performers chase more sublime forms of human expression & recognition. Each group seems willing to embrace personal flexibility as a means to an end. However, although being open to opportunity is a great example of PFL (Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Yes Man’), using personal FL well is the thing that builds confidence.

What are some other personal flexibility approaches?

  • Remain flexible by changing the angle of view. Some famous drawings exhibit 2 images, simply by re-looking at the image outlines differently. The Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher was a case in point.
  • Reframe the problem, emphasising options and choices. For example, looking for another job while simultaneously doing your best in the current role.
  • Reward ingenuity and audacity – ‘yes we can!’
  • Grab opportunities as they arise. For example, a new employee could strive to set a new high standard of work. With the aim of changing internal roles to become an internal trainer. Likewise, someone arriving at a social gathering and realising there is no suitable food for young children, or no soft drinks for the designated driver, could use one of the relatively new food delivery services such as Uber Eats, to order a fast delivery directly to that event venue.
  • Accept that the experience gathered on a journey, may be as important as the destination reached. Frank Sinatra apparently once said ‘I’d rather show you my scars, than my medals.’
  • Don’t remind yourself to think outside the box. Tell yourself there is no box!
  • Zoom in and stand back from a problem, for perspective and to see wider patterns. For example, a motion-sensor, high-speed strobe camera, a drone-mounted video-camera and a wall-mounted CCTV-camera can each record the same events. But in very different ways.

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Simon