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spike bullet November, 1997 - Learning Flexibility

Flexibility - definition
Case Study: Entrepreneurial situation
Case Study: Corporate situation
Case Study: The Stock Market
Internet Resources and Books

spike bullet Flexibility

Flexibility includes the ability to adapt to changing situations and allowing one's own beliefs and habits to change as needed. As our world changes at an ever-rapid pace, we need to find ways to adapt and change ourselves with it.

Learning to see trends and prepare for them is one way of learning flexibility. Another is to learn about ourselves, our own strengths and our weaknesses. Then, work to operate from our strength.

In the corporate world, flexibility is even more important to maintaining a sense of self and a sense of personal balance. If we are strong and secure in our ability to be flexibility, last minute changes, demands and other people's crises will not knock us over.

spike bullet Case Study: Entrepreneurial situation

You are swamped with work and wondering how in the world you can get it all done. A stranger contacts you via the Internet and wants someone to edit a product manual - within the next week - and asks if you know anyone. The stranger sends you some samples of the current manual so someone can make a reasonable quote for the work. You make some calls - everyone else you know that could do it is swamped with work. The project sounds interesting to you, you have the background and ability to do it, your workload should lighten up in a week, so you eventually quote a price. You don't hear from the stranger again.

About a month later, the stranger contacts you again and asks, "Do you remember me? Are you still interested in doing that project?" By this time, the work load is more manageable and you only have 3 projects active. You provide some samples via fax as requested. The stranger calls, very frustrated. It seems that his client wants "more proof" that you can handle the work. What do you do?

Possible courses of action:

  1. Tell the stranger to take a flying leap off the nearest office building. You don't have time for such bureaucratic nonsense. Remember, you're doing them a favor by even taking on a project from a stranger.
  2. Get offended that anyone would question your ability. After all, you've worked in that industry most of your life and would never take on a project you can't handle.
  3. Be understanding that since the stranger doesn't know you (and you don't know them either), providing references is reasonable from the client's point of view.

Point of the case study:

There are many different ways to see any situation. This is a true story that has not yet fully played out, but is currently working in step 3 above.

Whether it turns into a real project is yet to be determined. At this time, it is simply a new adventure - another way of dealing with the day-to-day challenges that entrepreneurs face. If nothing else, you've probably made a new professional contact and have a story to tell and memories to laugh about together. If the project does become viable, you may have a new long-term client that knows you can "go with the flow" of normal business.

If either of the first two possible courses of action been taken, it's a safe bet that the probability of this turning into a viable project are almost nil.

By remaining flexible and seeing that there are many different ways this situation could play out, you save yourself a great deal of self-induced stress. Laugh at the twists and turns in the situation. You know what you can do. It will either turn out to be a viable contract or it won't. In the long run, you will win because you have not taken on the additional burden of anger, frustration, worry and anxiety that comes from feeling you are trapped by external situations over which you have no control.

In this situation, the only control you have is how you view what happens. You can't control the client or the stranger. You can only control your own reactions and your own actions.

An exercise in flexible thinking:

Think about this situation and see if you can come up a few more possible outcomes. If you are an entrepreneur or work in a small company, think of a case study of your own and try to come up with a few possible alternate outcomes. Given the availability of new possibilities, would you change the way the situation was handled before? What benefits would you gain or would have gained if you had been more flexible?

spike bulletCase Study: Corporate situation

You got promoted to a management position for the first time. You love the job, the people, the location and the work you do. Your boss resigns and is replaced by someone you don't respect and who treats you with disrespect. Eventually, this new boss is so offensive and insulting to you and to others, you file charges of harassment and hostile workplace.

Seeing the "handwriting on the wall" you start networking with friends and land a wonderful job managing an exciting world-wide project at a company you've always admired. You love the job, the people, the location and the work you do. The Vice President resigns and your project gets caught up in politics. The entire department is reorganized. Someone you have never been able to get along with gets promoted and becomes your boss.

Seeing the "handwriting on the wall" you start networking and land a wonderful job in an industry you like. You love the job, the people, the location and the work you do. You love your boss and you get along very well. You've been there 6 months, when you boss resigns for better position with another company. Your new boss doesn't want to make any decisions and all your suggestions are ignored. What do you do now?

Possible courses of action:

  1. A feeling of de ja vu sets in. You ask yourself, "Haven't I already been through this? Why me? What have I done to deserve this?" You get angry and depressed.
  2. You pick yourself up, start networking again. . .
  3. Your recently resigned boss calls you and asks you to lunch. He offers you a job with his new company. Should you leave?

Point of the case study:

There are many different ways to see any situation. This is a true story that has not yet fully played out, but is currently working at step 3 above (You get 2 points if you guessed the pattern ).

Some things to consider in making your choice:

  • You are due for a bonus soon and maybe you have a future with this company.
  • You don't want to seem like someone who can't be successful. How will this look on your resume?
  • The new position is with a company that very much interests you and you found you really liked working with a boss who appreciates you. The new job will be a promotion for you.
  • Your current company has a strong possibility of being sold or merged into another company, in fact it's been in the news lately.

Chances are that in the current company, no one is going to make a radical decisions until the sale/merger is completed. That could be 6 months or more of continuing indecision and management gridlock. Do you really want to live with that? Losing the possible bonus is something to consider, but will have a few extra dollars in the bank make up for being unhappy in your job for that long?

The new position seems challenging and exciting, but what if things change again and you end up in the same situation yet again! This has already happened to you several times and you'd like to just get somewhere and stay put for a while.

By remaining flexible and seeing that there are many different ways this situation could play out, you save yourself a great deal of self-induced stress. It will either turn out in your favor or not as far as this particular job. By remaining flexible, in the long run you will win because you have not taken on the additional burden of anger, frustration, worry and anxiety that comes from feeling you are trapped by external situations over which you have no control.

The only control you have is how you view what happens. You can't control the company, your new boss, the sale/merger of your existing company or anything in the new company. You can only control your own reactions and your own actions.

An exercise in flexible thinking:

If you work in a large company that has been through mergers, reorganizations, down-sizing or similar situations, try to think of a case study where things kept changing and you couldn't control them. Think of a few alternate outcomes and see how things might have been handled differently. If you were more flexible in viewing those situations, what choices might you have had? Would you have done something different?

spike bullet Case Study: The Stock Market

You are a stock broker. One of the foreign stock markets looks like it is in free fall. The US stock market is starting to slide dramatically. What should you do?

Possible courses of action:

  1. You sell all the stocks you hold as fast as you can. You call your clients and recommend that they sell before the market crashes.
  2. You are in shock. You can't believe this can happen. You can't do anything. You are numb.
  3. You watch and wait. Your clients call and you tell them that panic selling is driving the market further down. Since you've been responsible in the way you've bought stock in the past and the economy is strong, you don't see that this run will be disastrous in the long run.

Point of the case study:

There are many different ways to see any situation. Since this situation has just happened and the results are known, you can see that some people took all of the possible actions.

An exercise in flexible thinking:

Ask yourself, what other outcomes might have been possible. What would be the probable results of those other alternative courses of action?

The stock market is a daily indicator of business activity. That's all it is . . . one indicator. The stock market goes up and down by some as yet unknown "magic" formula. That is, individual people make independent decisions, then others try to interpret those decisions to make other independent, individual decisions. If the watchers guess wrong, then they make decisions based on fantasy rather than on fact. How often have you heard stories about "why" the stock market is going up or down? Do you think those are facts or fantasy?

Those who understood that the overall economy is very strong and understood the emotional roller-coaster nature of the stock market were the ones who brought the market back up the day after its history-making drop. Those people thought for themselves, rather than following those who panicked. They used the skills of flexibility and flexible thinking to see more possibilities and more possible alternatives than just the fact that the stock market was dropping quickly.

What has this recent drop and rise in the stock market taught us about the value of flexibility? What has it taught us about what we can control and what we cannot control? Eventually, we will learn that we cannot control the stock market, other people's actions or other people's motivations. We can only control how we react to events that present themselves every day.

World Wide Web graphic Internet Resources 

Also, use the search engines to find "flexible thinking" for many more.

book graphic Books

  • The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions. Scott Adams, HarperCollins, 1996. ISBN 0-88730-787-6
  • The Popcorn Report. Faith Popcorn, HarperBusiness; Reprint edition (September 1992) ISBN: 0887305946 
  • This Job Should Be Fun! The New Profit Strategy for Managing
    People in Tough Times.
      Bob Blasso with Judi Klosek.  iUniverse.com ISBN: 0595141420
  • Thriving on Chaos, Tom Peters.  HarperCollins (paper); Reprint edition (September 1991) ISBN: 0060971843
  • What a Great Idea! Charles Thompson.  Perennial; (January 1, 1992) ISBN: 0060969016

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