Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous: the acronym VUCA was coined to described the geopolitical post-Cold War context of the late 20th Century.
It has since spread to the world of work - a useful short-hand for the fast-changing dynamics of the 21st Century.
VUCA is seen as a problem.
Because of VUCA, work is more difficult.
But, like that often-quoted trope that the Chinese character for “crisis” includes the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” (which is actually a mis-translation) - VUCA does offer you an opportunity.
If you are ready to thrive in a world of VUCA, you will be better placed than your colleagues to progress.
VUCA is good for your career.
This article sets out ways in which you can get ready to thrive on VUCA by working on your readiness; and your awareness.
(If you'd rather short-circuit to some specific advice to help you manage your stress levels, visit my previous blog "3 easy ways you can relieve your stress symptoms" here!)
When the world outside is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, the point of certainty, that you can directly shape, is YOU.
You are able to prepare yourself to shine through working on your own mental strengths.
1. One particularly important strength is your RESILIENCE.
Your resilience can be defined as your ability to bounce back no matter what (VUCA situation) is thrown at you.
You can build your resilience through:
cultivating a growth mindset. Your talents are not fixed; you CAN learn and grow to meet the demands of any new situation
ensuring you know how to relax. Stress is inevitable. Knowing you to relax in between stressful episodes is what keeps it from turning chronic (ie where you don’t recover in between but stay in a state of stress - which is where all the damage is done). So define what works for you - whether that’s yoga, mediation, long baths or nature walks.
taking “you” out of the situation. VUCA is not personal - it is a product of global forces. Remembering this is just the way it is will increase your ability to respond without neutrally or even positively (without beating yourself up or bemoaning how it’s so unfair…)
2. A second important strength is your FLEXIBILITY.
This is your ability to adapt to events with ease, rather than be stressed by them.
You can build your flexibility through:
keeping yourself focussed on the opportunity, not the danger (to keep mistranslating that Chinese symbol of “crisis”). If you keep turning your attention to the positive opportunities, you will feel empowered by VUCA, rather than oppressed by it.
practice seeking out new experiences, new challenges, and new people. If you allow yourself to stay in a very safe and comfortable groove, you will find it very hard when that groove disappears. If you make an effort to challenge yourself regularly, you will be better able to respond when the challenge is imposed on you.
knowing what really does matter to you. I often ask my clients to do a “Values” exercise, where they look at the deep values that guide them in their lives (not just work). If you know, for example, that “honesty” is a key value for you, as long as you are responding to a VUCA event with honesty, you are staying true to your values - and the exact response doesn’t matter so much. Clarify your values, and they will give you a deep stability that will enable you to respond much more flexibly in the moment.
As well as building your readiness for a VUCA world, you need to build your awareness of what exactly VUCA might mean for you.
There are two ways to do this:
Knowledge is power! Very few VUCA events are completely unpredictable. The information is out there, if you make an effort to find it.
So think about your work context, and define exactly what VUCA is for YOU:
Volatility: what drives change in your work context? Is it change of personnel in your organisation? Is it technological developments? Is it legislative change? Who are the instruments of change? And what speed does change happen?
Uncertainty: what makes events unpredictable in your context? Where have surprises come from in the past? What might change, what might stay the same - and what is the likelihood of both?
Complexity: where are the complexities of your work or industry? Who are the partners or relationships, what are the processes, what are the interactions between events that lead to complexity?
Ambiguity: where is there a lack of clarity currently, and where might there be a lack of clarity in the future? Where has there been confusion or misunderstandings on the past? Are there cultural issues around clarity in your organisation or industry?
If you take the time to gather existing information and make grounded guesses about the future, you are enabling yourself to undertake the next crucial stage…
Now you know as much as you can about how VUCA might affect you, you can plan to be ready - or even better, take advantage - of it.
So take some time out of your normal day to really get to grips with the information you have gathered.
Make sure you have a chunk of time (at least two hours) without any distractions, so that your thought process can develop fully.
What are the implications of information-gathering, and what can you do to take advantage of them?
Where are the biggest risks, and what can you do to mitigate them?
Where are the biggest opportunities, and what can you do to take advantage of them?
Are there particular people you need in your network?
Are there particular skills or knowledge that it would be best for you to have?
How can you keep your information up-to-date?
And how will you factor this sort of information-gathering and planning into your regular work schedule?
Once you have undertaken these four steps: building your resilience, building your flexibility, information-gathering and planning, you will be ready to take action, and take advantage of the opportunities of a VUCA world.
p.s. if you'd like more support to help you manage your stress levels in a VUCA world, my new online course, "Success Without Stress" is now open!
And the half-price launch offer (£14.99) is available until midnight Monday 2nd December (Cyber Monday).