“VUCA” – Vulnerability Uncertainty Complexity Ambiguity – a concept that has been around since the 1980s, and has been researched, socialized, and embraced over the last several years. The term itself can raise alarm bells and anxiety in some. And yet, understanding and navigating the VUCA world we are in is a critical life skill today. Geo-political changes, social changes, and rapid advancements in technology are but a few factors that contribute to us being in a VUCA world today.
So how do we operate and mindfully thrive in this complex, ever-changing environment – be it at home/work/places of learning, etc?
In my experience, three essential skills are needed to counter a VUCA environment – Adaptability, Resilience, and Learning mindset. These are all interconnected.
Let’s take the example of the pandemic. A completely unforeseen scenario, with a majority of the global population, moving to work from home and learning from the home situations with no pre-warning or preparedness. Yet, we saw some organizations thrive and exceed their profit goals. Companies that thrived were largely those that we’re further into the adoption curve on their digital transformation initiatives. Some others who struggled initially, but managed to get back on their feet, quickly jumped on the “go digital” bandwagon. The adaptability of their business decisions to switch from a business model requiring physical presence to a virtual one was a key enabler in this period (and continues to be so).
Resilience is the ability to bounce back during times of adversity and chaos. The process also includes personal growth. Resilience is a developed skill. Similar to the ICF coaching competencies, it allows one to move out of the “Why me” scenario to a “What else can I do” mindset. The cornerstone of resilience requires one to persevere, be rooted in optimism, look ahead, build networks and support systems that nurture growth, and unlock new possibilities.
The world is ever-changing. The methods, and procedures we had yesterday may not work well in the future. Think about the invention of the light bulb. This was a prolonged process with several trials and errors, incremental success, and failures. But, a will to persist despite failures, have us all enjoying this technology even today. Prior to this, it was candlelight for everyone. Using the same mindset with marginal improvements would have merely given us a fancier candle rather than a light bulb. The takeaway here is that during decision making learn to look ahead and around corners – make some leaps of faith. Don’t be afraid to fail in your endeavors and keep an open mind to the possibilities. Keep a very curious mind about what can change, and what is the experience you are trying to create. Reframe the problem, and then look at how the solution is emerging. Be prepared to throw away the old learnings and adopt new systems, technologies, and mindsets to move forward.
Coaching and VUCA
Coaching ties in very well with navigating VUCA. Coaches create a safe, non-judgemental space. With powerful questioning, they help individuals and teams break limiting beliefs and known pathways, enabling exploration of new ones, creating those moments where the magic happens as you unlock new possibilities and ways of operation. Whether you are in a coaching session or not, leveraging the coaching competencies and skills will help you navigate those times of uncertainty or make critical business decisions.
This article evokes a metaphor from my coaching Guru. He likened the challenge to someone standing on a rocking boat aiming to shoot down a bird in the sky. The solution lies in synchronising three bodies that operate at different frequencies. The bird in the sky, the boat on choppy waters and the finger on the trigger that contends with the recoil. It is only when you learn to calm the mind and regulate the breath that you catch that fleeting moment when everything stands still for a brief moment. In addition to vulnerability and resilience, I find agility of the mind and sense of timing invaluable in contending with VUCA.