When life gives you VUCA, can you still make a sports metaphor?

“In most sports, surfing included, you’re going to go where you’re looking. In snowboarding, if you look at the snow in front of your board you’re probably going to eat it. The same goes for surfing. As you progress and start doing more maneuvers you’ll notice that turning your head and looking at where you want your board to point is the first thing you do. Extending your gaze down the line allows you to size up what the wave is doing so you can react accordingly.”Hayley Gordon

The takeaway

Clarity and vision as a cure for VUCA

The ability to see where you want to go instead of focusing on where you are at is a common trait of most great athletes. In business, the same focus drives us to come out on the other side of rapid change with a renewed sense of purpose and a jump on the competition.

VUCA 2.0: Making some halftime adjustments

COVID-19 and the Great Pause that has followed has provided the world an opportunity to reflect on what we are truly capable of doing if we prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. While it is true that most of us have never experienced a sustained and all-encompassing VUCA (Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity.) environment quite like the one we are in now, it is also true that we have never been as technologically prepared to overcome and grow from this. The difference between winners and losers at the close of business in Q4 will be the ability to clarify where we want to go instead of dwelling on the conditions that surround us right now. To do so, we need to reframe the context of VUCA –thankfully, Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School has already come up with VUCA 2.0. In his assertion, the rubric of VUCA shifts away from its hierarchical origins to a more empathetic and nimble framing: Vision. Understanding. Courage. Adaptability.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

VUCA 2.0 - Vision. Understanding. Courage. Adaptability

Vision: Looking down the line

In life, business, and apparently in surfing (which I’ve never done, so what do I know), there is volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Call it VUCA or whatever four-letter epithets you’ve called it while struggling to find your footing as the first quarter of 2020 has unraveled. We’ve all had a few weeks to ruminate on the things we can’t predict, and it feels as though we are finally turning a corner (however slight it might be). Seeing past the current struggles and finding the line to where we are going is the first step away from becoming a victim of circumstance. 

The world has changed, but what do we do now? Hold out until normalcy returns, or seize this opportunity to take stock of who and where we are, where we’ve been and where we want to go and align to a new north star. By setting a goal so high, we can navigate around the obstacles on the ground to reach it. Businesses are full of people that want success–paint a vision and watch them follow.

If you build it, they will come.

Understanding: A case for clarity

Businesses are ecosystems of decision making organisms–each operating in relative isolation while supporting the goals and growth of the whole. What happens in one silo is often unknown or misunderstood within the silos that depend upon it. A clearer picture of how your company operates as a whole helps to remove the artificial barriers set up to limit movement and change.

A clear picture provides a roadmap of what it will take to implement change. Don’t undervalue the clarity that a strategic roadmap can provide. Giving each part of your company the ability to see where they are going allows them to contribute in meaningful and sometimes unexpected ways. After all, we’re all in this together. This is not strategic planning, it’s strategic action.

There is no I in team.

Courage: Change is something you do

“When change happens, it’s not the time to obsess about what was lost. It’s time to think about “what can be built?” It is the time to think about all the new opportunities that come factory installed with change”Greg Hahn

Change provides an opportunity to decide whether or not you want to grasp at what was lost or capture what has presented itself. Companies that fear change often don’t last in today’s climate and will undoubtedly face an uphill battle once the world has returned to the ‘new normal*.’ Whether it is an expense account restaurant transitioning to a drive-through burger model or an established trade show firm working to provide the most basic of protections for a world that needs it, change is what you make of it. The courage to try new things is what keeps companies relevant.

Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.

Adaptability: *Sorry, there is no ‘new normal.’ 

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
– Bob Dylan

As much as the promise of a return to what once was remains on the horizon, the fact is that things will never be quite the same as they were. The world has paused, for better or worse, and the one that we emerge into at the end of ‘all this’ will be one that will be as familiar as it is unrecognizable. Some changes will be obvious and easy to consume; others will take longer to digest. The companies that use this time to reflect, refocus, and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and agility to adapt to the changes ahead will find their line and succeed. Those who don’t; those that spend too much time looking down at their board will, unfortunately, eat it.

Keep your eye on the ball. 


TBD – This is streetball.