How to Cope with a VUCA World

By Shlomo Maital

Nonsense

   What in the world is a VUCA world?   VUCA is an acronym, standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity . And daily, the world seems determined to prove how increasingly VUCA it is!

     This is why, in this blog, I write so often about discomfort, ambiguity, chaos and how we relate to them all.   In the latest Scientific American, Gareth Cook interviews author Jamie Holmes about his new book Nonsense: The Upside of Ambiguity. Here are some excerpts from what Holmes observes:

        Moments of confusion can be pretty memorable, and not in a good way. How is this thing supposed to work? What is the teacher’s point? Where am I, and how do I get to where I am going? But confusion is greatly underrated, argues the journalist Jamie Holmes in his new book, “Nonsense.” Naturally, it is good to understand. Yet, Holmes writes, our discomfort with not knowing can lead us astray — to bad solutions, or to brilliant options never spotted. If we could learn to embrace uncertainty, we’d all be better off — and better prepared for modern life.

   In hiring, for instance, a high need for closure (a clear firm yes/no decision) leads people to put far too much weight on their first impression. It’s called the urgency effect. In making any big decision, to counteract that, it’s not enough just to know that we should take our time. We all know that important decisions shouldn’t be rushed. The problem is that we don’t keep that advice in mind when it matters. Before making important decisions, write down not just the pros and cons but what the consequences could be. Also, think about how much pressure you’re under. Are you tired or feeling rushed? If your need for closure is particularly high that day, it’s even more important to be deliberate.

            I absolutely agree. Never EVER let pressure from others rush your decisions. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, YOUR crisis is not necessarily MY problem.

       Holmes: “One area where there is more and more interest in ambiguity is among entrepreneurs and businesspeople, simply because the future in many business sectors is highly ambiguous. Earlier this year, Thomas Friedman had an op-ed about disorder in the business world (“Chaos is the New World Order”, see my blog on this) where he highlighted just how disruptive the business models of Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and Airbnb are. Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world, he pointed out, yet has no cars. Facebook doesn’t create media, Alibaba has no inventory, and Airbnb doesn’t own the real estate it uses. So the communication platforms we’re using are revolutionizing a range of industries.”

In our schools — do we equip our children to deal with a VUCA world?  Or is the world we create for them one of canned tests with right and wrong answers, where you must not be wrong ever?    If the world is grey, rather than black and white,  why does that color never appear in our schools?

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