Business Flexibility (BFL)

‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.’ Albert Einstein

‘Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.’ Jim Rohn

Business Flexibility and Mass Customisation

With a growing AI influence, we can expect greater personalisation of products & services to occur. No doubt this will also create a revolution in marketing – in marketing channels, market research, segment analysis and promotion.

Greater personalisation has at least three strands to it:

  • an expansion of the basic menu of options (a range increase for each customer),
  • more personalised pricing (real-time credit assessment, personalised payment plans & dynamic pricing),
  • more automated provision and delivery.

One way that mass customisation can be enabled is where customers self-select their preferences, perhaps with the help of the organisation’s chatbot.  However, having more choice of options isn’t what gives the customers significantly more freedom. Instead, preserving their personal flexibility (while customising their products and services) gives customers the real freedom. What are some examples? Warranties, free trials, flexible financing, free basic versions, and control of personal data.

And for the companies? Preserving business flexibility gives them real freedom to operate too. For example, investment in intellectual property, maintaining high cash reserves, managing large datasets and using agile techniques in new product development.

From both sides, this brings business flexibility to the front of the stage.

Business Flexibility Generally

Some extracts from my handbook on business flexibility, are as follows:

Variation in business inputs (demand volume, customer need, demand timing, client complaints, user support, supplier provisioning) can be handled well by improving business flexibility. That flexibility leads to resilience and relevance outcomes.

14 flexitypes (types of buiness flexibility) that an organisation can systematically look at improving are as follows:

  • Communications flexibility
  • Design flexibility
  • Resource flexibility
  • Process flexibility
  • Systems flexibility
  • Service flexibility
  • Product flexibility
  • Channel flexibility
  • Project flexibility
  • Supplier flexibility
  • Contract flexibility
  • Management flexibility
  • Business model flexibility
  • Stakeholder flexibility

Options flexibility – involves having one over-arching plan with significant flexibility on the tactics. One example is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation approach to Malaria eradication (by all means necessary).

Plan flexibility – involves developing several, high level plans. And investing in business flexibility to benefit (or increase the chances of achieving) either of them.  Some examples of companies exhibiting Plan flexibility; Tesla/Space X, General Electric, Virgin, Dyson and Alphabet.

Time flexibility includes a plan achievable at multiple speeds. Tactical use of time might include; playing for time, buying time or re-inventing time. Three diverse examples of re-inventing time are;

  • Reverse mentoring (young IT savvy workers mentor older workers who have different skills).
  • Exploiting selective memory of history to sell products or services e.g. a company marketing nostalgic/vintage/retro products rather than new ones.
  • Forcing the pace/bringing forward a deadline eg a political party calling an early election. Or a company running a 50% sale to bring forward future sales.

It’s possible to invest Options, Plan and Time flexibility concurrently.

Asset flexibility – A manager will hold assets where their expected value in use exceeds their expected value in exchange. The asset holder can increase the value in use, if they find a way to make the assets held more flexible in use (think of designing buildings or software platforms for multi-purposes). Likewise, due to rising flexibility in the form of traded markets for the asset becoming more liquid (less risky), the asset value in exchange can rise too. When the asset holder sells the more flexible asset, if a gain is realised, part of that gain may arise because of the additional flexibility created & made visible, causing demand to strengthen.

Style flexibility (‘styflex’) is about being flexible on appearance, status or delivery process, where the core identity does not change. A few examples are as follows:

  • Unisex office facilities.
  • General purpose meeting rooms or classrooms.
  • Cars with a choice of colour, manual/automatic or convertible/hard top.
  • A hermit crab selecting a bigger shell when it grows bigger.
  • A translation service translating one message into multiple languages, without loss of meaning.
  • Colour change as exhibited by creatures such as the chameleon and octopus, when they sense danger.
  • Human blood groups.
  • The human brain’s ability to change emotions and attach feelings to memories.
  • People’s ability to express emotions.
  • An organisations’ ability to relate to customers or beneficiaries.

Substance flexibility (subsflex) is about creating versatility of the core identity, without varying the style. Some examples as follows:

  • The swiss army knife design.
  • An amphibious vehicle.
  • Highly versatile travel clothing (less is more).
  • Different bus routes & timetables.
  • A professional services firm offering a wide range of services, at client-defined lengths of assignment.
  • The body’s immune system in fighting off disease & healing cuts.
  • The human brain’s ability to reason, imagine, rationalise & recall memories.
  • People who can speak multiple (coding) languages.
  • Staff at a school who can manage and teach.
  • An organisation having a range of sanctions for a policy breach.
  • Replacement of a once yearly, operating budget with quarterly updated, rolling annual budgets, to cope with rapid changes.

Some things exhibiting both style and substance flexibility together are as follows:

  • Buildings in a street or on a university campus.
  • A credit card or mobile phone.

Flexiscribes are the devices/mechanisms in an organisation that create business flexibility. Wise organisations develop and manage some flexiscribes, in order to manage business risk and improve business impact.

Flexiscribes when triggered, may operate continuously or periodically. They can work alone, or in combination. Flexiscribes are owned or controlled by the organisation. The biological equivalent of flexiscribes are biological genes & epigenes that enable physical characteristics to vary between organisms of the same species.

Flexiscribes can be grouped into three categories; business hygiene ones, business generated ones and business culture ones. At last count, I’ve identified 10 business hygiene ones, 17 business-generated ones and 5 business culture ones. Similarly, under the subject of personal flexibility (PFL), I’ve identified 8 hygiene ones, 11 self-generated ones and 5 personal ones.

If your organisation has a relatively weak business vision, it’s worth examining three influences on that vision; the organisation’s comfort zone, the ‘vocal minority’ and the infrastructure. It’s then possible to use flexiscribes to:

  • improve the organisation’s comfort zone (in setting the vision),
  • act on the ‘vocal minority’ (those ‘opinion leader’ voices having a disproportionate impact on the decision-making) and
  • improve the organisation’s infrastructure (resources, systems & structures). 

How do flexiscribes link to business risk & reward? See Flexiscribes-and-Business-Risk

The combination of high awareness with strong action seem to indicate or reflect a high level of flexibility. Examples include; the parable about dropping a frog into a pot of boiling water (it will sense danger instantly and jump out) and emergency services teams arriving on the scene of a disaster. The combination of low awareness but strong action seem to indicate a medium level of flexibility e.g. earthquake disaster planning or network security measures. The combination of low awareness with weak action seem to indicate a low level of flexibility. For example, the parable about dropping a frog into a very slowly heating pot of cold water. And finally, the combination of high awareness with weak action seem to indicate low flexibility e.g Kodak’s reaction to the threat of digital photography dominating its traditional photography business.