Another Way of Looking at VUCA

There is a need for new ways of thinking and acting that are based on self-awareneness, particularly our emotional and psychological reactions so that we can reverse the effects of the negative energy.

VUCA Experience*i Impact*ii Handle*iii
Volatility (liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worst like stock market swings, commodity price fluctuations, inconsistent communications from leaders, etc) Vulnerability (a state of being exposed to potential harm, either physically or emotionally; human brains crave control and predictability; yet when we are physically, emotionally and psychologically disrupted that causes an inner state of alarm and anxiety)*iv Vigilance (mindfully altering your actions and interactions to deal with unanticipated events; as a way to overcome vulnerability and to deal with volatility; until the status quo is disturbed, we are most likely to overestimate stability and safety)*v
Uncertainty (lack of predictability and likelihood of surprise; when the past is not an accurate predictor of the future)*vi Unwillingness (a state of being so unsettled - mentally and/or emotionally - that you are unable to make decisions and/or take action; ignore reality; selectively choose information that favours your point of view)*vii Understanding (the heightened attention that produces the ability to make sense of demands, and interpret information in an attempt to introduce order; need to know what we can count on, trust and expect so that we participate positively; crave clarity and rationale for decisions, otherwise we can become confused and irrational...thus emotionally and psychologically unwilling to move forward)*viii
Complexity (it arises from the dependent, interconnected parts generating unexpected events; internal relationships and dynamics that change in one part of the system impact all the other parts; this is a non-linear, unpredictable in their behaviours; systems emerge as the parts interact and relate with each other)*ix Consequences (impacts of actions or conditions that can be unpredictable; small changes able to produce cumulative effects to grow rapidly; there are elaborate, often hidden, connections and non-linear feedback loops)*x Containment (need to understand the assumptions we are making, challenge them and make the appropriate adjustments to handle the new reality, ie develop options; drawing boundaries within or around these consequences; limiting or controlling events that are overwhelming or potentially harmful; explore positive, potentially new, outcomes, ie move to a new norm; explore effective adaptation)*xi
Ambiguity (the fuzziness of reality, potential for misinformation, and the confusion of cause and effect, ie who, what, when, where, how and why is unclear; many contradictory explanations and recommendations; a vacuum of clarity)*xii


Assumptions (favouring your default behaviour, ie your  unconscious bias, gives you a false sense of control especially when things are unclear)*xiii



Agility (a set of behaviours that enable adaptation in response to changes in the environment; be flexible as surprises are inevitable; responding to change in real time rather than following a plan; using continual learning and discovery to find a solution for an evolving set of interconnected problems; need to have clarity about your values and goals)*xiv

(source: Cindy Weeks et al, 2020)


i) it is a system

"...A network of experiences and reactions that happens at rapid speed and requires us to be aware of, and reassess, our perceptions and mindfully control our behaviour..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

ii) reactions to VUCA, ie volatility and uncertainty produce emotional/psychological responses; complexity and ambiguity reveal our mental models and systematic effects that arise.

iii) provides responses to resolve, mitigate, dampen, etc the dynamics of VUCA

iv) An example of vulnerability in the response to COVID-19, ie

- Will I get sick, be hospitalised, even die (physical safety)?

- How do I protect myself from others who are sick?

- What will happen to my job, family, relatives, friends, colleagues, etc?

- Will I be able to pay my bills, especially basics, medical coverage, etc?

- What does the future hold?

Your feeling of vulnerability will determine how you manage the situation.

v) To help us handle vulnerability, answer the following questions

"... - What has gone wrong in the past that we can learn from?

     - How could things go wrong now?

    - What needs to go right for things to be okay?

    - What is now ripe to bring into being?

    - How can we leverage the disruption to make things better in the long run?......

    - What do you count on?

    - What are the things that need to go right for you to feel safe and secure?

    - What level of control makes you feel okay?

    - Where can you exert that level of control right now?

    - How can you let go of what you cannot control when it becomes overwhelming?

    - How might these things go wrong?

    - What are you worried about or afraid of? Why?

    - Are these past, present or future threats?

    - What can you do about these things in the present?

    - Is there someone who can help you manage these?

    - What signals or trends should you watch or track to ensure your physical and emotional safety?..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

vi) Some feelings of uncertainty can include

- entering entirely unknown and uncharted territory

- seeing things are changing so fast that is hard to make sense of them

- having to react to inconsistent and incomplete information

- no clear idea of how long it will last or how bad it will get

- unsure of other people's reactions

- what will be its socio-economic-political ramifications?

vii) unwillingness can manifest itself as

"...- not following guidelines that serve to protect the whole community/society

    - promoting disbelief, misinformation, confusion, and unrest

    - ignoring the advice of authority and expert advisers

    - refusing to recognise and confront misbehaviour......

    - inability to drop the us/them filters with empathy in order to achieve understanding

    - not acting in ways that support the well-being of the collective..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

viii) understanding determines how we move forward and handle uncertainty. It involves a willingness to listen to a wide range of information sources including channels outside your normal sources; seeking to understand; need to be able to separate out misinformation, irrelevant formation; include the collective level as well as individual; be able to voice your fears and concerns; endeavoured to remain thoughtful and calm.

Ways to increase understanding

"...- carefully formulating the message sent to yourself (inner dialogue) and others (communications)

    - listen to and learn from multiple diverse communication channels - dive into the information you normally ignore and fully consider that prospective

    - ask to protect those who are most at risk

    - share your fears/concerns and joys/hopes with others

    - listen empathically and helpfully to others who are having difficulty coping

    - stay current on the latest information

    - take time to delve into your emotions and fears - understand yourself and how you are surviving and, maybe in some ways, thriving during this period..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

In preparing for uncertainty, probing your unwillingness and how best to increase understanding in areas that cause stress by reflecting on emotion, ask the following questions

"...- What specially is causing you to be unsettled? Uncertain?

    - What information would help you better understand the situation? Where can you find a source you trust to provide this?

    - What actions can you take in this moment to address your situation? The welfare of your family and community?

    - What would it take you to relax in uncertainty? What might you learn from that?

    - How does your body physically respond to uncertainty - where do you feel it manifests itself?

    - In what ways can uncertainty lead to opportunity and not threat? Are you willing to go there? What do you need to better understand do this?..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

ix) questions that help you understand complexity

"...- How can you respond to what is happening - purposefully and mindfully rather than fearfully?

    - What are the deliberate choices you can make during this period - how are you going to are you managing your health and well-being?

    - Are you fully aware of the strategies you are enacting? What measures of success are you tracking? Are you adapting them quickly enough when they prove unhelpful? How will you know when the situation is changing?

    - Who are the people to listen to, learn from? How will you incorporate their message into your decisions and actions?

    - What changes do you want to implement in your life once the crisis is resolved? How much will you change to meet a future that is less stable than you may have imagined?..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

x) exploring consequences, ie

- complex systems have connections between all parts; they all feed back to the whole

- the system evolves as the parts interact to produce an emergent and unpredictable future

- changes in one part of the system can impact other parts which don't seem connected

- things that make sense in stable times can become destabilised

- survival and self-interest can dominate

"...the interdependencies and connections that make systems valuable and resilient are the same ones that can make us vulnerable to them......the systems we have in place......all generate consequences that we may or may not see. Many of these consequences are unintended, which we don't think about at all or assume won't happen..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

There can be under-reaction like US college students crowding Miami Beaches over the spring break, potentially spreading Covid-19 to the communities they returned home to, or overreact like panic buying, hoarding, etc

xi) containment involves

"...- control what you can directly

    - track vulnerable trends individually, then examine them in multiple combinations, build scenarios to explore how they interact and might play out

    - as leaders, consistently release small, accurate chunks of information so that people can make good decisions on a daily basis

    - emphasise communication by experts who have experience even if no answers

    - provide clear, updated, and understandable guidelines that anyone could follow..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

xii) sources of ambiguity

"...- multiple possible causes of events that often contradict each other

    - conflicting ways to act, each posed by credible sources and having a large group of proponents

    - varying predictions of risk making you unsure of how best to act

    - observing many different reactions playing out in your community......

    - feeling that there is information that is not being communicated, hearing conspiracy theories, fearing there is a hidden agenda in play..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

xiii) ways to see and manage your assumptions

"...- explore what you 'believe' and why these beliefs make you feel safe - in examining your responses......what are you downplaying and what are you amplifying?

    - examine what causes you to personal be overwhelmed and re-evaluate the worst case scenario that you buy into - can you rewrite these scripts?

    - intentionally ignore unsubstantiated rumours and misinformation, probe......what triggers your anxiety - what assumptions are you making? Do these things fit with what you know?

    - find the truth behind the most common admonitions......then decide what to believe and do

    - are you making assumptions that contribute to the problem and not seeing them? How could you test these and adapt your behaviour based on the findings?..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

xiv) agility is a systematic challenge, ie it needs to be present everywhere. Agility will not work if a system is full of ambiguity and where assumptions are hidden or ignored. Assumptions need to be being visible to reduce ambiguity so that the system has the ability to intentionally change, ie respond with agility. For this to happen you need

"...- speak up and correct misinformation, make assumptions visible

    - share the reality openly with others (concerns and resources) to remove ambiguity and assumptions in real time

    - make adjustments to our behaviours and beliefs based on new information and/or recommendations

    - undertake a personal adaptive change journey to increase resilience of the whole system..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020

How to probe your assumptions and increase your agility

"... - what makes you think that a specific outcome is likely? Explore that outcome fully - what aspects can be terrible and what could be an opportunity?

    - what potential outcomes are you emotionally attached to? What possible outcomes do you want strongly to avoid? What could you do today to influence each of these potential futures?

    - What additional information would be helpful if available? Where might you find it? How would you determine its validity or accuracy? How could you use it to improve your agility - ability to respond quickly and appropriately?

    - Are there questions you need to ask to increase your flexibility? Of whom? Yourself?

    - What indicates that you need to seek more information? Or remove more assumptions? How often do you need to reflect on this?

    - What options are open to you? How can you increase the number and quality of these?..."

Cindy Weeks et al, 2020


 (source: )

An Example of VUCA (initial handling the COVID-9 Pandemic in Australia)


What happened in Australia (2020-21) around handling the vaccine options, ie Pfizer or Astra Zeneca for COVID-19 is a good example of how it is hard to manage the unpredictability of change, the need to remain flexible to handle the ever-changing situation as well as importance of communications in a change process.

Initially there a good start with the Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) and senior medical officer (Dr Brendan Murphy) regularly communicating the same message, including openly acknowledging many uncertainties of the pandemic, ie eliminating the virus or "living with it', using vaccines to build a herd immunity, handling mutations, border control, lock-downs, etc.

Australia started by favouring the Astra Zeneca's vaccine as it could be produced locally in Australia and was considerably cheaper than the vaccine produced by Pfizer; the later needed to be imported and stored at very low temperatures. ie minus 70 degrees centigrade.

However, as Pfizer outperforming Astra Zeneca in clinical trials, Pfizer became the Australian public's preferred vaccine. This was the start of the government's problems as it had very limited Pfizer vaccine available owing to its commitment to Astra Zeneca. Then things escalated owing to the unpredictability of the situation, ie new mutations appearing, eg Delta, and the Federal government identify unrealistic timelines and targets. Furthermore, the States' political leaders started to squabble over domestic quarantine and borders issues with each other and the Federal government, ie
"...the single source had given way to a din of diverse opinions and, through the noise, it was hard to judge who knew best..."
Jill Margo, 2021a

Then, Australian Technical Advisory Group in Immunisation (ATAGI) added to the confusion by publishing its opinion on the evidence that Astra Zeneca's vaccine was linked with a very rare, but potentially, fatal blood clot, ie
"...It was preferable that people under 50 have the Pfizer jab , if they have a choice......if Pfizer was unavailable, it was preferable for people under 50 to have Astra Zeneca because the risk of getting COVID-19 was greater than the risk of getting a clot from the vaccine - but they should speak to their doctor first..."
Jill Margo, 2021a

This advice, ie 'talk with your doctor first', caused concern amongst the health professionals as they were becoming responsible and accountable for any ill effects. The government had to give an indemnity to the medical profession.

Comments from leading health bureaucrats created more uncertainty and confusion, eg Queensland's chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, she would not want any
"...18-year-old in Queensland dying from clotting illness, who if had got COVID-19, probably wouldn't have died..."
Jeannette Young as quoted by Jill Margo, 2021a

Then later the age of 'under 50' was moved to 'under 60' and the politicians decided it was
"...better to be criticised for a slower-than-expected rollout, than be held responsible for young people dying from blood clots..."
Jill Margo, 2021a

Additionally, the politicians started to blame the medical advice from organisations, like ATAGI, for negatively impacting the vaccination rate, etc.

Some learnings from this experience:

- advice about 'following the science' assumes that we make rational decisions based on facts; unfortunately, this is not the case as there are conflicting agendas, objectives, goals, differing interpretations of the same data, unconscious bias, etc
- stakeholders need to be advised about how to tolerate uncertainty, ie new strains of the virus created different challenges and required new solutions, such as frequency of vaccinations, different vaccines, etc
- if the situation changes, be flexible enough to handle the new situation, eg performance of different vaccines
- keep all stakeholders informed about what is happening, ie
"...each little cog needs to know if another cog is planning a change, so it can prepare for it, rather than being taken by surprise..."
Allen Cheng as quoted by Jill Margo, 2021a
- understand who is responsible for what, eg in Australia public health is a State government responsibility, while quarantining and vaccination supply is the Federal government's responsibility
- have one credible source of information to communicate, not multi-sources, ie too often the experts gave differing opinions based on the same facts
"...The COVID-19 experience forced us to recognise that there are usually multiple and conflicting goal solutions and success, and reaching one goal might result in failure or a high risk of failure in others..."
William Cohen, 2021
- understand external issues that will influence decision-making, such as
"...economic recovery, the need to educate school children, the worldwide nature of the pandemic, vulnerability and effect on different age groups and those with underlying illnesses and more, are important. All require consideration of a much wider range of situational factors - even the personalities and abilities of those involved in implementation as well as culture, customs and belief systems of the group we are attempting to help, available resources......need to be considered......Moreover, politics might affect the interpretation of data decisions made which are far removed from the injunction of  simply 'follow the science'. Experts can be on all sides of important issues, and they may differ greatly on what is 'fake news', or simply an opinion on what certain data means and what action should be taken..."
William Cohen, 2021


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