Bending under the Curve: How to be Flexible

a gymnast hangs from rings in the horizontal position
Photo by Tobias Nii Kwatei Quartey on Unsplash

One of the most important skills you can develop in order to flourish in the decades ahead is flexibility. By this, I mean the ability to change direction completely. In a rapidly changing world, it is inevitable that many of the things we pursue will go through familiar-seeming cycles of promise, reward, and diminishing returns. If we are to continue to flourish, that may mean having the flexibility to change or start over in order to keep on the right side of that cycle.

Of course, there are many reasons why being flexible to this degree is hard. I would argue we should, as a society, address all of them. Financial freedom is an obvious one — interestingly the cycle of flexibility that might be optimum for staying ahead of the game is similar in scale to the sabbatical cycle of many academic institutions — one year “off” to learn, research, rebuild and refresh for every 5–10 years “on”. Maybe we should explore making such sabbaticals financially possible for everyone in society.

But what I want to talk about here is something many of us could do as individuals to give us the best chance of using flexibility to help us continue to flourish.

Flexibility intuitively seems like a good fit for an “area beneath the curve” approach to life goals. After all, building a broad base of life skills is a great way to ensure that whichever skills need to come to the fore at any given time, we have something to build on.

But while breadth is necessary for a flexible life, it is not sufficient. Our base needs not just to be broad but springy, able to launch us with a burst of acceleration in whichever direction we choose.

For this, I want to suggest there are four key skills we should try to develop.

  1. Develop your creativity as a truly soft skill — creativity as the thing that enables you to pivot, to take new directions according to the terrain you face. This is not just creativity that gives you a way to generate new ideas, but creativity as a way of generating new told to help you meet whatever challenge you are confronted with. It is creativity as a 3D printer not a specific tool.

CEO & founder of Rogue Interrobang, University of Oxford spinout using creativity to solve wicked problems. 2016, 17 & 19 Creative Thinking World Champion.