How To Embrace Constant Change In A VUCA World
Author: Inga Bielińska
In the last 15 months, some words have seen an enormous jump in popularity: “coronavirus,” “quarantine” and “pandemic,” just to name a few. Yet, in the area of business, the catchword mostly used has been the acronym “VUCA.” As a concept, it was coined at the U.S. Army War College, and it tried to describe the world after the Cold War. Today it seems to be an excellent explanation of the economic and political environment and leadership required to navigate it effectively.
What is VUCA?
Behind the meaning of VUCA there are four adjectives: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Each one adds layers of meanings and emotions that attempt to describe the prevailing sense of confusion.
Volatility is characterized by quick changes that usually are violent and uncontrollable. Moreover, it’s virtually impossible to predict their duration. In terms of running projects, unpredictability makes long- and medium-term planning tricky due to the dynamic changes. It’s very common to terminate or redirect developments before finalizing them. Some of the more bitter specialists claim that the more time you invest in planning, the greater the chance that the plan will be out of date at the time of its presentation.
Uncertainty embedded in changes prevents people from using past experiences and lessons learned. In such an environment, rules not only become quickly obsolete but they’re impossible to act on due to the overwhelming number of unknowns. Forecasting and predicting outcomes of any actions and preparing for the future is challenging and risky.
Complexity interrupts the basic cycle of actions and their consequences since there’s a significant difficulty in decoding cause-and-effect relationships. It stems from the fact that we’re surrounded by unmanageable big data: a huge amount of knowledge, many variables and interconnected elements. Making up one’s mind with so much information is hard to master. That’s why people often highlight that with so much going on, things can often feel chaotic and confusing.
The last layer of VUCA introduces ambiguity. Our current world is full of “unknown unknowns.” No precedents exist in most events. We lack clarity, and we don’t know what the root cause of our problem usually is. When relations and connections between elements became obscure, it’s extremely easy to over-interpret meanings of facts and to come to a faulty conclusion.
The only constant of VUCA reality is swift and unpredictable change. One of my clients even said that in the VUCA world one just loses hope of ever being able to forecast the future and instead one needs to focus on efficient adaptation to changing conditions. Luckily, such agility can be developed and trained. If you don’t want to react to sudden turns of action with the flight-or-fight response, try experimenting with some of the suggestions below. Treat them as exercises for your brain to adapt quicker.
Practice makes perfect. As Rome wasn’t built in a day, new abilities aren’t, either. Adaptation to change is a skill. Start with implementing small alterations to ease your way into dealing with VUCA concerns. It will help you adjust when big changes come. Such modifications will make your brain rewire and build new neuronal paths. The best news is that experiencing novelty and being mentally challenged rejuvenates you.
Appreciate your story so far. To be courageous in the view of the unexpected, work on your self-confidence. Be honest and write down all the changes, planned and unexpected, you’ve coped with. What has helped you? It is astonishing how many people develop a victim mentality, yet when they look at a factual story, they’re truly great survivors. From now on, recognize and appreciate every step into the unknown.
Reframe your language. If a neutral word like “change” makes you cringe and elevates your stress levels, reframe your language to modify your perspective. Adventure, transformation, shift, upgrade: Check what words are full of possibilities. I love using such words as “shift” or “transformation,” since I associate them with moving up. Use vocabulary that makes you curious about the journey, and readjust your view on opportunity.
Educate yourself. While there are endless ways things may evolve, a reaction to transitions is pretty standard. It’s a framework that helps you navigate through uncharted territory. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the emotional journey as a path through different stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. William Bridges claimed that an external change is accompanied by an internal transition, which consists of endings, the neutral zone and new beginnings. In every part of the journey, there are choices you can take. Instead of:
• catastrophizing, you need to concentrate on facts and how they affect your reality right now.
• clinging to the old, you can appreciate what was good about it, and move on to the next adventure.
• doing nothing yet complaining, you may either radically accept the current stage, or focus on things in other areas of your life you can control.
• ruminating about the past, you might process your thoughts and shift your mindset using journaling, meditation or conversations with people you can trust.
Check your local library catalog and create an informative list of books to study on the subject of change management.
There will always be changes that you can’t predict and plan for. Yet, try to limit some transformations you have planned for yourself in the times of the highest levels of unpredictability. For example, at the beginning of 2020 lockdown, a lot of people tried to convince others that staying at home was such a great opportunity to take on an endeavor they had been putting off for a long time. Write a book! Start up a new sports regimen! Develop new healthy habits! To reduce tension, I would rather follow Adam Grant’s suggestion and list the things we don’t have to do because of a stressful situation. There will be time to follow your goals when you regain emotional equilibrium. Pandemic and lockdown have been daunting and unsettling things. You don’t need to add extra to your plate.
Click here to access the article from the Forbes website