It’s January 2022, we are 2 years after the beginning of the Covid Pandemic, and the feeling is that we are living in a VUCA world: it is characterized by high-levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
- “V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.”
- “U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.”
- “C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.”
- “A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.”
We do not have much control over the events that are happening in the world. Besides the profound changes caused by the Pandemic itself, there are also the unintended consequences of the accelerated development of new technologies, the proliferation of military conflicts and more frequent natural disasters caused by Climate Change and Global Warming.
As an individual in January 2022 this probably means that you have dozens of friends and acquaintances who were recently sick with Covid, that you don’t really understand all the implications of NFTs and the Metaverse, that you are concerned about Russia invading Ukraine, and that you are experiencing some extreme weather during this winter (or summer).
In my opinion, in such situation each person should try to increase as much possible the stability of his own life. It’s true that we have no alternative other than being part of this VUCA world, but this does not mean that we should have a VUCA life.
What can we do to avoid having a VUCA life? I share some ideas below.
To reduce volatility, we may need to avoid unnecessary change in our lives. Perhaps this is not the best time to change jobs, take a loan to buy a new car, adopt a pet, commit to a new volunteer activity, or start a new side hustle. All of these ideas may be excellent at the right time, but probably not when a person is looking for more stability.
Another aspect of volatility is Information Overload. The different social networks we use may expose us to a huge number of posts in a very short period of time. To reduce volatility, instead of consuming these random pieces of content being shared by our contacts, we should select the subjects we want to learn about, and then search for the best sources about them.
“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore – plays in defining the quality of our life.” – Cal Newport
To avoid uncertainty, we need to focus on activities that have a more predictable outcome. For some people this would mean looking for lower-risk investments. For others this would mean choosing a fixed-salary job instead of being a freelancer with variable income. If “profit is a reward for risk taken in business”, predictability means taking lower risks to reduce uncertainty.
A different way to reduce uncertainty is focusing on long-term projects. In general it may be difficult to produce visible results in a short period of time. But, thanks to the Compound Effect, the application of consistent effort through an extended period of time is guaranteed to generate results. Even very small steps accumulating over a long time can make a big change.
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” – Bill Gates
To reduce complexity, we need to avoid inter-dependencies among issues that should not be related to each other. For example, we should reduce the interference between our work and the rest of our lives, creating a clear separation between work time and family time. We should not have to choose between answering an email or helping our kids with their homework.
Another way to reduce complexity is to apply the logic principle called Occam’s Razor: “Among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” In other words, if we are looking for an explanation for something we can’t understand, we should check first the simplest explanation, because it will be easier to validate its correctness.
“Keep it simple, as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
To avoid ambiguity in our lives, we need to define things. For example, regarding the tasks we need to do, we should define our goals, write a TODO list, and specify our priorities. As important, regarding our decisions, it is necessary to define the information that is required to make each decision. We should not try to make important decisions if we lack the details.
It is also extremely important to avoid ambiguity in our relationships with other people. In the office, if we are assigned several tasks, we must ask our manager to define their priorities. At home, if our spouse expresses dissatisfaction with our behavior, we need to clarify the reason. In the industry, this identification of the real issue is called Root-Cause Analysis.
“The mark of a mature, psychologically healthy mind is indeed the ability to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, but only as much as there really is. Uncertainty is no virtue when the facts are clear, and ambiguity is mere obfuscation when more precise terms are applicable.” – Julian Baggini
Opportunities in a VUCA world
I wrote this post thinking about people who are looking for more stability in their lives. But some people may claim that the VUCA world is actually fascinating, because it is creating so many new opportunities.
These are some of the ways we can benefit from a VUCA world:
- Volatility: the fast changes create lots of new opportunities. In particular the development of new technologies enables the implementation of new business ideas that were impractical in the past, and renders previous business models obsolete.
- Uncertainty: people who are willing to take the risks may obtain big profits from their investments. When someone leaves a stable corporate job to found a startup company, this person is embracing uncertainty by focusing on the potential of a huge reward.
- Complexity: in a complex world we need more experts that are able to provide guidance and orientation to others. The more complex a subject is, the more scarce are the people who really understand it, and thus they become more valuable professionals.
- Ambiguity: in order to face ambiguity we need more analysts, people who are able to interpret the reality and provide actionable insights. It is a very valuable skill to be able to foresee the consequences and implications of the decisions being made.
In general, companies will need qualified professionals to help them deal with all these new forms of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. These roles cannot be automated before these professionals define new processes.
It is a fact that we live in a VUCA world. In this article I have presented some ideas of how we may be able to reduce the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in our personal lives. But I’ve also presented some ways we can benefit from a VUCA world in our professional lives. Each person needs to make an individual choice of how much of these aspects are desirable in their lives, trying to control them when possible.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. It will be a pleasure to hear about your own experiences in the comments below.
A personal note: this article was written while I was isolated at home, sick with Covid. Now I’m feeling better, thank G’d.
About focus (avoiding volatility):
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
About long-term projects (avoiding uncertainty):