It’s been twenty years since the U.S. Army coined the term VUCA to describe the challenging environment we found ourselves in the post Cold War period.
And if we thought it was VUCA then, what do we think it is now?
Yet, most of the people I talk to seem to regard it with detachment, rather as they might drive by an accident that’s happened to somebody else, or environmental change. As though somehow, it affects other people, not them.
Other people’s jobs will be automated, not theirs. The conditions enabling populism are caused by other people. Shame about the bees.
They hang on grimly to the edge of the cliff, even as the cliff edge crumbles.
The shame of this is we’re not doomed, and if we understand what’s happening around us we can do something about it. Buy an electric car, eat less, get involved.
The opportunity to make a difference is huge, even if seemingly scary.
If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a whole lot less.
U.S Army Gen. Eric Shineseki
If you haven’t noticed, temporary has gone from being a phase to a permanent condition. The length of time our functional skills stay relevant, the mean time from a business becoming average to failing, your job description.
Underpinning all this is another uncomfortable probability. We cannot train as fast as the conditions around us are changing.
The things we have worked for – qualifications, promotion, networks – no longer serve the way they did when we sought them.
To thrive in the conditions we find ourselves in now require something altogether less quantifiable. We need to travel inwards, to understand what really matters to us, what we are prepared to commit to, and what we are willing to forgo.
To bring to the surface and work with what we sense as much as that we can prove. To not go with the crowd. To develop our own unique voice and use it.
To choose our friends like we choose our causes – with a willingness to commit to them.
It’s about the alignment of our stories. For a while, our story and those we spend time with – employers, politicians, partners – share common purpose, although over time, they change and we change. First gradually, and then suddenly we find ourselves far apart.
Whenever we enter a relationship with another we create three entities – them, us, and the relationship. Each has its own life and direction, and each needs to be nurtured. Ask anyone who’s been successfully married for a long time; the marriage has to be respected every bit as much as the spouse.
It applies to our jobs every bit as much as our partnerships.
USAF Colonel John Boyd – “the fighter pilot who changed the art of war” was a rebel, an original thinker, and in my view one of the clearest thinkers on coping with the sort of conditions we face today.
He regarded situational awareness (he used the German “fingerspitzengefuehl” – literally fingertip feeling) as one of the prime attributes for successful survival. Not just what’s going on “out there” but also internally – our own health, beliefs, purpose and anything else that contributes to our sense of “being”. He used to counsel his students that
“You have a choice. You can be someone, follow the rules, fit in, or you can do something you believe in. The first will get you promotions, good jobs and an easy life. The second will be difficult, but will give you a life worth living”
Tomorrow will be different to today. Things will happen that set in train things that will happen further down the track.
The least we can do is to take the time to be aware of them.