emember going to the circus for the first time? Finding your way through the crowd and taking your seat under the Big Top awaiting the ringmaster’s entrance center stage. The circus was a place where the bounds of “normal” were stretched, curiosities dazzled us. Our eyes witnessed spectacles that delighted, amazed, and at the same time confounded us. Giant elephants defied gravity with tricks, balancing on their hind legs while contortionists would weave in and out of flaming rings in back-bending movements that would rival even a seasoned yogi.
The circus existed in a different plane of the universe, one untouched by the laws of physics and governed only by the limits of imagination. The normalcy of life inside the fairground was anything but; it was a story without structure, it was, like the circus contortionist, flexible.
In our own world, we exist in a plane that is often dictated by hard data, tech trends, ROI, and other important markers. They produce primary traits in our approaches to the way we conduct personal and professional matters. But there are also ‘secondary’ traits we know are important and keep close at hand, maybe because they force us to.
At the top of this secondary list may be flexibility. We know the importance of physical flexibility and stretching before we start a full workout, and some adhere to it faithfully. Others go through the motions quickly or with minimal effort – until maybe an injury or age demonstrates the true importance of the practice. Could the same be happening with ‘cognitive flexibility?’ Are we only paying lip service to it, an afterthought, when we should be regarding it as a foundational need, a primary trait that we need to hone and condition with regularity?
Forced flexibility is thrust upon all of us – but it is reactive not proactive. We can all point to examples when we’ve had to be flexible when a team member is prevented from showing up for one reason or other, or, in our industry, the weather wipes out an outdoor video shoot. Different individuals and organizations vary in how well they handle these situations, but short-term reactions don’t necessarily mean that your flexibility quotient is where you want it or need it to be.
Ways to ‘flex your flex’ include transferring a concept or method to a new context (i.e. ‘I seem to get some of my most creative ideas while doing the Infinity Walk. What if I scheduled a session explaining the theory behind the Infinity Walk and allowed time for employees to practice it?) Bring in a guest or video conference with a speaker on a subject that may be related to your organization or, perhaps even better, one that may seem to have little connection (you might be greatly surprised.) Are you getting a wide representation of approaches to problem solving – making sure you are seeking feedback from different ages, genders, and job specialists?
As storytellers, we at Steven James have to be certain that our cognitive and creative flexibility remains sharpened. Each client that walks through our door or Zoom screen has a diverse set of needs. Forcing them into a prescribed set of solutions serves none of us well.
In so many ways, we are the ringmaster to your story. We parade the elephants in front of your audience to boisterous applause, our creative team defies the limits of motion bringing a story’s concept to life across varying media & motion picture, and our content strategists ascend the ladder for a high-rise view of the landscape and delicately dance the length of the tight-rope that is your message to an audience.
Yet outside the Big Top, there exists a circus of a different sort. The year behind us has certainly been one of flexibility by fire. The one ahead of us promises challenges. But for all the social distancing and quarantines this past year, there have also been unforeseen positives: upticks in productivity due to less commuting and flex scheduling; progress on environmental fronts due to the same; some education successes through a blend of in-person and on-line instruction.
Though at times the world may seem like a circus, let us be a little more flexible with our view of the situations around us. We will need to summon the flexibility of the contortionist, the balance of the tight-rope walker, and the majesty of a great beast performing for all the world in our thinking, problem solving, and approaches as we move forward. Doing so will grant us all the privilege of one day retelling our role in this great story, much the same way we talk fondly of our visit to the other less-normal, more-flexible circus of our childhood.
Your story is our story.