From Formula 1 to Personal Growth: Why Your Envelope of Performance Matters
The space industry, Formula 1 racing and similar high-performance environments often refer to the ‘Envelope of Performance’: its maximum speed, maximum acceleration, minimum turning circle, etc. Of late, the term has also been used for high-performance athletes: maximum training intensity, nutrition etc. – while avoiding injury.
While the dictionary defines it as “the boundaries within which a device or system can operate effectively”, I, personally, prefer to stay away from using ‘maximum’ and instead use ‘best fit and relevance’ when we talk about ourselves and our behaviour as human beings.
Do we have an envelope of performance? I rather think so, but not in the sense of rigid boundaries which can’t be crossed – for example, unlike the breaching of the levees around New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005.
I think, however, that as we work with people, the concept of an envelope of performance is useful!
If one considers the various dimensions of human behaviour, the Big Five are generally taken as –
- Openness: characterised by traits such as imagination, creativity, curiosity, and a preference for novelty and variety.
- Conscientiousness: organisation, responsibility, dependability, and a preference for planning and following rules.
- Extroversion: sociability, assertiveness, energy, and a preference for stimulation and social interaction.
- Agreeableness: kindness, empathy, cooperation, and a preference for harmony and social connection.
- Neuroticism: emotional instability, anxiety, moodiness, and a tendency to experience negative emotions.
Nowadays, a legion of personality tests is used for job selection and even for choosing a marriage partner (heavens forbid!).
But if only things could be that simple: there are highly personal – or individual limits on our power of imagination, our curiosity, or our ability to, e.g., follow the rules – speed limits included. This is what I find most fascinating!
Now for some dodgier items: how assertive are you, how empathetic are you, and, finally, how anxious do you get?
I’m raising these queries as it is not as simple as having an envelope of performance along these various dimensions as they are elastic – the boundaries of each can be stretched depending on your motivation, past experiences, and biological limits – both for body and mind.
Our essence at Image Ability is to help people change or improve their external (or perceived) image within the envelope of their capabilities (their internal image). And, as mentioned above, these boundaries may be biological (physical) or in mind – mainly associated with how resolute or determined you may be.
But there are limits – and the further one strays away from what comes naturally, the more demanding and potentially unsustainable the changes may be.
So, we all have our own envelope of performance, and we can flex it . . . but within limits!
Let me illustrate what I mean with three examples:
A mum in her early forties hasn’t enjoyed a single day at work since her return. She is stuck in indifferent beige, greys, and other similar comfort ‘covers’ for camouflage. On the surface, she is keen to present herself better and has no budget constraints. But she has very little – even minimal staying power. For historical reasons, she has not yet thoroughly tested or experienced her talent. This is also visible in her taste development. She is a genuine case in point for a visible, self-limiting envelope – which fuels continuous disillusionment.
He does the talk beautifully, coming in and out of the room, often taking people by surprise. He hardly ever completes what needs doing to the team’s despair, but sparks ideas left, right and centre and is also quite likeable. As we speak, he is busy shopping at the airport for extroverted ties and socks to match. Can you picture him?
She is the earth’s goodness: soft talk, moderately reassuring eye contact. An intelligent and reliable young lady. Very tidy attire with no memorable accent. A genuine person, agreeable and admits that she has been struggling to make an impact, even to be noticed!
In my work as a change and image consultant, the most exciting assignments are with those who have got stuck in a bit of a rut and want to transition into new experiences. These come in a variety of forms:
- Those that excel at their job – but it has become a bit boring.
- Experts who are being held back because their skills are highly valued . . . and being used.
- Those that feel they have never reached their potential.
- Those who feel trapped in a job (relationship or even a national culture) they don’t enjoy or relate to.
Taking time to redefine and re-connect with their own identity is, invariably, ‘time zero’ in this undertaking. And then there is the testing.
Each scenario will, almost certainly, require that their envelope of performance be (a) understood and (b) stretched.
In my experience, it’s best not to attempt too much too soon. So, it is vital to identify what aspect of your image you want to consider, do it carefully, and do it well – and not dissipate your energies on multiple fronts. Pilots do this in their 6-axis simulator training – they stretch their envelope and experiment with landing types while focusing on the learning as an outcome.
There may be an absolute limit for how high an aeroplane can fly, how fast a Formula 1 car can lap, how deep a submarine can dive, or how much water you can drink. Still, for those things affecting our core and daily lives, the ‘limit’ is elastic and constrained at an individual level by our desire, willingness, staying power (some call it grit) and energy.
Nothing of substance or character exists in our outcomes if we do not give ourselves time for ‘core image work’. These are those who have a higher chance to regain control of how they present themselves, how they behave and communicate verbally and non-verbally – and how they can ‘manage’ their appearance.
Indeed, our ‘covers’ are the most visible, and having acquired inner clarity, we can learn what personalised traits are most relevant to us as individuals. Whether experts in a particular area or a generalist, independent thinkers or avid researchers, learners or doers, we have our own personalities, likes and dislikes and natural affinities for specific activities (domains). It is a fact!
Remember that colleague at the airport who is addicted to extroverted socks? And the lovely, intelligent, and rather demure lady wearing grey day-in-day-out. They are now actively learning how (within the constraints of their personality) to control their external image by aligning their behaviour, communication and what they wear. They use their ‘covers’ as a catalyst for experimentation and to re-engineer both their internal and external image.
So, the next time your boss keeps talking at you, and he doesn’t appear to listen or even notice that you are anxious about missing your flight (real story!), remember to wear a high-octane coloured scarf around your face and wear a big smile as you elegantly leave the office. Your first landing may be problematic, but things can only improve from then on. Even if you must change where you ‘land’, you will not crash. Your envelope of performance is much stronger now; you can fly your own plane!
In summary, clothes can enhance our image or highlight some of our issues. But your core image needs to be fit to start with – and then you can fly to the most relevant destinations in both your personal and professional life.
Enjoy your flight!
I set up Image Ability to help people understand and manage their image from the inside out so that they can lead the change they crave in their next stage of life or that next project.
When you wish to add velocity and relevance to your image, let’s have a conversation and see how our programs might work for your challenges.
We adjust to the speed you enjoy – the only thing you need to progress is the commitment to make a change.
I hope we meet you at the starting line soon. Realise Your Future Image is here; have a taste of what’s on the runway and coming at speed.
Visit our Image Ability store and learn more about how we can help.