VUCA is a term that is being used more and more frequently to describe a world that is:
Technology invention and adoption, diverse and extreme social issues, increasing natural disasters, shifting geo-political events, and, dare I mention, COVID are all aspects of our rapidly changing business conditions. Some predict that in the next 100 years, we will actually see 20,000 years of “progress”. This exponential rate of change means we must find new ways of being in order to psychologically adapt. Yet, all too often, our own self innovation is stifled by fear, lack of understanding and paralysis. As we consider how to innovate in a VUCA world, we must first get out of our own way and begin to innovate our thinking. The times of disruptive change we are living in require a new way of thinking and being. In order to do so, consider the following:
Leaders must first release the illusion of control.
Whether we admit it or not, as humans and as leaders, we seek varying degrees of control. In this case, I am not talking about micromanagement or needing to be involved in every decision, but rather the greater organizational aspects of control; things like the deep need to know and drive aspects of our work and future that affect us and the business.
Control is natural and can be useful. It helps us to alleviate fear, so we can feel better equipped to handle difficult situations. It can increase our understanding of complex circumstances where we need to know more in order to determine next steps and it can be an effective tool to ensure order in our lives.
The dilemma we face in an increasingly ambiguous world is that we cannot control or often even plan for a myriad of possible ways a situation might unfold. There is less ability to predict, anticipate or forecast the future with so many variables at play.
In leadership, as we navigate ever increasing uncertainty, we need to rethink “control” and manage it in new ways, releasing it completely in some situations and holding it loosely in others.
Become better at managing polarities.
One of the greatest leadership polarities is what we just discussed. On the one end, how do we plan and control for various situations and, on the other, how do we operate in a state of not knowing? Polarity exists all around us.
As we seek to more effectively innovate our thinking, we must embrace all the extremes and everything in the middle. We must also be able to consider systemic implications asking the question, “how does my thinking impact all the other aspects of the situation?”
- Use both divergent and convergent thinking
Convergent thinking focuses on finding a well-defined solution to a problem. It allows us to find one optimal solution from a set of generated ideas. We use this line of thinking frequently in business as we seek to rapidly solve problems with data and expertise. It’s a problem-solution approach.
Divergent thinking involves more creativity. It flips the script and asks one to consider the drivers of the challenges and address the problem at that level. As an example, if one is seeking to save money on their daily commute, convergent thinking might ask how do I find a more fuel efficient vehicle while convergent thinking might pose the question of how do I best reduce fuel consumption. The first will give answers like: consider a hybrid, manage your driving practices differently or drive less frequently. While the latter will open up options such as take the bus, walk or telecommute.
While neither thinking is better or worse than the other, when we are innovating in VUCA environments, we must leverage both appropriately in our problem solving. Without merging both types of thinking, we limit our ability to effectively address complex and rapidly evolving issues.
- Embrace FLOW to be agile, flexible, learned and resilient.
When we are in a state of flow, we are often highly challenged, but feel competent and capable in addressing the situation. Being in flow requires that we release expectations of specific solutions or outcomes. When we are driving to a certain destination, we often miss a number of better alternatives that exist along the path.
VUCA environments also require that we incorporate more frequent adjustments, as well as analysis and planning throughout our work. The days of annual strategic planning might be behind us as we need to consider bringing forth more fluid and frequent business modeling to accommodate rapidly changing conditions. This also means we need faster integration and creation of, not only products, but processes that support the business. Organizational structures, jobs, duties, and processes must all accommodate a fluid environment.
Finally, we must welcome experimentation. Piloting ideas and testing solutions in small environments can help to bring forth creativity and rapid improvements. Fail fast and fix it mindsets allow leaders to bring solutions to the table quickly and then adjust as conditions change.
As we move into a new future, we must begin to respond to our challenges with innovation in how we approach situations. Innovating our products and services without innovating our business mindset will also lead to negative consequences.
If any of this sounds intriguing for your organization, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to discuss ways to help you move successfully into the VUCA future.