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“The harder I work the luckier I get.” Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Once you have done the work to be more adaptable and resilient, then everything our rapidly changing world throws at us can present an opportunity.  You can capitalise on the reality we find ourselves in. VUCA is not something anyone can solve, it is a constraint to make into a creative one: “Yes, and…”.  We can thrive.

The risk is that many want to focus on “getting back to normal”, “minimising the damage”, and “controlling risk”. We need to show that there is no going back, the world has changed. Regressing actually embeds the damage and puts us at risk of coming to a halt as we “stabilise”.

Build on failure through antifragility.

It’s not that failure will necessarily come more often in the new world (we are pretty good at failure now), but we will engineer our work so that failure comes in many smaller increments, in safe to fail experiments, with minimum blast radius, so that we can maximize learning and minimise damage. As we build our resilience, we will care less about any damage as well.  Instead of failure being a terrible cost, it becomes a stream of value. Our systems are designed to grow through failure, not to crumble.  Failure has real value if – and only if – we have a learnihnjg culturtee, with contoinual improvmewnt pracvtices baked in, and antifragile systesm that grow stronger under stress.

Exploit turbulence to disrupt and open.

Sometimes the level of external VUCA is beyond our ability to cope with in business as usual. The covid pandemic is of course the classic example. Sometimes our own internal failures are more than  we can cope with. There is no such thing as zero risk and the magnitude of a failure is unpredictable. Catastrophic failure is a possible outcome for every action we take at work no matter how mundane.

Either way, we can find ourselves in a turbulent situation which is beyond our ability to understand or even observe. (“Chaos” has a precise systems meaning so we are avoiding it for “turbulent”, which is more general.)

When circumstances are beyond our ability to manage, our first response must be to act. Our first act should be to introduce constraints, to try to reduce the chaos. Then we can observe what the result was, and adjust accordingly. As we constrain the system, we try to move to a different situation, based on what limited information we have, what limited reasoning we can do, and what our instincts tell our most experienced people who have been dancing with the system.

For those who want a much more advanced guide to responding to chaos, the EU has published (free) the paper Managing complexity (and chaos) in times of crisis. A field guide for decision makers inspired by the Cynefin framework.  Dont expect a light read – we are still absorbing it.

So anything that throws us into disruptive turbulence is an opportunity to try new things, to start with a clean slate, to rethink how we work. Sometimes organisations deliberately invoke disruption as a stimulus to creativity. This is a charitable way of thinking about the awful reorgs that executives subject their organisations to.

Be ready to take advantage of opportunities.

With options in hand, we can turn adversity into advantage, if we move quickly and confidently into new possibilities.

 

We develop these ideas – and others – under the banner of S&T Happens: Surviving and Thriving in a VUCA World. Come see the latest here.