For years we have been discussing the VUCA world in which we live. A world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity was a concept developed by the US Army War College in the 1980s, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The term VUCA has become more popular over the last 20 years as the pace of change has increased. As I have discussed this concept with others, a friend suggested that the acronym be altered to include Interconnectedness and Speed – VUCA(IS). Here we are, now in a world of seemingly chaotic behavior, reactive decision-making and change happening to us at an unprecedented speed. How do we manage through the change? How do we protect ourselves? How do we help solve the problems? How do we deal with the stress of it all?
Volatility – There is no question, the world is more volatile than it was just two months ago. We simply cannot control the volatility. The US economy is highly dependent on the world-wide market. Our supply chain has been focused on creating efficiency and delivering products on a real-time basis. Disruptions to the supply chain from natural disasters in other parts of the world, a global pandemic, or choices by national and local leaders have had wide-ranging affects, thus creating greater volatility.
Uncertainty – We do not know what is going to happen in the next several years or even tomorrow. The safety we felt in the past from following the habits and routines we have in place each day with family, work, social engagements and sports activities have all been placed in an area of the unknown, unfamiliar, and uncertain. The world would have us believe that their opinions are facts and thus the line between facts and opinions has been blurred. We are unclear about what is true and what is contrived or promoted to deceive. The certain nature of life today has been replaced by an uncertainty that brings anxiety, stress, worry and concern.
Complexity – As the rate of change increases, the world becomes more complex today than it was yesterday. What seemed to be the usual and understood yesterday, may not be as easy today. Our simple habit of going to the grocery store is more complex. The option of exercising at the fitness center is likely no longer available. Working from home with others present can make task accomplishment more difficult. The complexities to deliver a product are sometimes highly involved and solving complex processes and circumstances are not so simple. The impact of providing simple solutions without taking into account the vast amount of details and the implications can create enormous impacts and hardships.
Ambiguity – We have been trained to have a certain degree of exactness in our approach, results, decisions and process. When everything has changed around us, how can we be expected to have the same results with the ambiguity that is ever present?
Interconnectedness – With the advent of the internet and social media, our means of connecting with one another is no longer just face to face. We are able to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere and at any time.
Speed – The rate of our connections happens almost instantaneously. The rate of change continues to increase. The volume of information is phenomenal and continues to expand. The velocity of decisions today (as published through the various forms of media) and the availability of those decisions appears to be increasing. Individuals and companies can be destroyed in an instant…or applauded as heroes in the blink of an eye, all over the world.
Whew! What can we do about all of this? We can lead from a place of creative behaviors. Creative leadership behaviors, as defined by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams (Mastering Leadership, 2015) include actions that help us to lead in a potentially scary VUCA(IS) environment. The actions, habits and behaviors that got us here, will not move us to and through the next level of complexity. We simply cannot behave in a reactive manner (operating and leading from a place of fear) and expect to move up and scale our leadership. Leadership behaviors we often see are those that show criticality of others, arrogance, autocratic decision making or passive retreating. These behaviors are based on a perspective of “I and Me”.
Behaviors that will lead us to a better place will include a perspective of “We and Us”. We need to rely on each other, share with one another, dialogue together, seek to understand before jumping in, truly listen to others, and be curious. Some of these creative leadership behaviors include integrity, community concern, vision, purpose, mentoring and developing, creating a team approach and showing care concern for others. All of these are needed in the difficult circumstances with which we are currently facing.
As we try to understand how we might manage our way through this complex world, as we focus in on our problems, as we worry about how we are going to make ends meet, there are many positive and creative actions we ought to consider…
• Take care of, be patient with and be forgiving of yourself
• Take time to ground and center yourself (quietness and introspective, understand and connect with your values and priorities, breathing techniques to get in touch)
• Listen for the needs of others
• Go and help someone else
• Serve others in the way they need to be served
• Forget about your problems and help others with theirs
• Record or journal those people, circumstances and things for which you are grateful
When we are engaged in the creative behaviors, it is amazing how our perspective changes. When we have an attitude of gratitude, our life seems brighter and is a better place to be. When it comes down to it, we have control over our attitude and our actions and not much else. We can be acted upon or we can act. We have the choice.
I will close this post with a quote that has been hanging on our fridge for the last 10+ years…
“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a business…a home…a friendship…an organization. The remarkable thing is you have a choice every day of what your attitude will be. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the actions of others. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can change is our attitude. Life is 10 % of what happens to us and 90% of how we respond to it.” (author unknown).
How will we respond? What will we choose?