Is there a relationship between flexibility and perspective?
Your initial reaction might be to say, “No,” especially if the word, “flexibility,” brings to mind the image of an easy-going person who is often willing to change course to accommodate others’ wishes (or the word may just make you think of gymnasts!).
But “flexibility” – as EASI•Consult® defines it on the Burke Learning Agility Inventory –has to do with being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions.
So, in that sense, flexibility is closely connected to perspective, which is defined (via Google dictionary) as a “particular attitude toward, or way of regarding, something; a point of view.”
In teaching groups of leaders about learning agility, I have become increasingly aware that a one-line description for flexibility is insufficient in helping them understand what they need to do differently to get stronger in this area. So, in seminars, I give participants my expanded description of flexibility - in terms of learning agility, it means to impose a framework or paradigm on a situation. From there, you then need to determine whether that framework or paradigm adequately explains the situation.
A “paradigm,” by definition is a pattern, example or model. So, if we look at that word in relation to our definition of flexibility, you should see the dots beginning to connect; it is being open to new patterns, examples or models to explain what is happening in a situation.
Another definition for you: “framework” is a basic set of ideas, facts or circumstances within which something exists.
Again, in the context of learning agility and the dimension of flexibility, if I am using a framework to understand a situation, then I am open to new ideas, facts or circumstances as potential solutions.
I can imagine at this point in the article, your eyes may be glazing over, so here are a few concrete examples to illustrate my point.
If you took Psychology 101 in college, you may remember studying perception or perspective. In psychology textbooks, that’s the section where you’ll often find a picture that you are asked to look at and describe (see image, right). Some people see a young woman; others, an old woman. And yet another group sees both.
Which response is correct? The answer is all three. How is that possible? Depending on the framework or perspective through which you view the picture, you will arrive at a solution as to what you see.
Another simple example of perspective is the adage regarding the basic difference between optimists and pessimists. As the saying goes, an optimist sees a glass as half-full, while the pessimist sees it as half-empty. Same glass. Same amount of water. Different description or perspective.
I have been taking a class for the last four months aptly called “Perspectives.” Broadly speaking, the class covers the Christian movement from its origins to today. A variety of speakers, including several missionaries, have come into the class to share their experiences.
An older woman discussed her work as a missionary, alongside her husband, for 20 years in Papua, New Guinea.
Ultimately, their goal was to expose a tribe to the Bible but they first lived among the tribe and learned their oral language. They then wrote the oral language down and eventually were able to translate the Bible into the local language and teach the people about Christianity. This whole process took about 20 years.
The missionary and her husband were living under very difficult and primitive conditions. Then, with the end of this experience in sight, a member of the tribe - who had some mental difficulties –murdered this woman’s husband by striking him in the head with an axe. Despite this, she stayed to finish their work and, along the way, forgave the man who killed her husband.
Her example of forgiveness caused me to rethink examples of where I have had disagreements in my life and held a resentment afterwards. Her perspective led me to reconsider how I was handling a similar but much more mundane case requiring forgiveness. I could have been inflexible in this situation and not seen them as similar. I was receptive to the parallels in the situations and adjusted my thinking and hopefully my behavior going forward. This is an example of where there was an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility where is was used.
This class has a section devoted to working in other cultures, a topic with which I am familiar. When I work with employees relocating from one country and culture to another - often with their families – for several years, one of the areas I look for is their degree of flexibility.
If you are an American taking an assignment in Japan, for example, there are more differences than similarities between the two cultures. There is a different language, of course. You must be flexible enough to at least learn enough words and phrases in Japanese to communicate.
There are cultural perspectives you must understand and, with flexibility, appreciate their implications. Japanese people live in a collectivist or group-centered society, versus the United States’ individualistic version.
A foreigner living in Japan will need to demonstrate flexibility in situations where you don’t know what to do (learning agility). Not demonstrating flexibility and thus learning agility will find one misinterpreting situations on a regular basis.
So when you are in an unfamiliar situation, flexibility as a dimension of learning agility is about opening up, and looking events in as many ways possible until you find a framework that accurately explains what is occurring.
EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email [email protected] or call (800) 922-EASI.
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