25 years of

VUCA Lessons From the Trail & Coronavirus:

These unprecedented times are wreaking havoc on our minds and our capacity to form cohesive visions. These are VUCA times, rampant with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Instead of allowing ourselves to be held hostage by these times, we must alter the way we view them: try reframing your interpretation of VUCA to mean Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. This article will provide you with four practical steps on how to reassess the situation to allow for enhanced clarity and motivation. We will bring things to live through story and the metaphor of mountain biking.

Operation Explore, Inc. - Mission Control Houston - January, 2020 from a Quarterly, Executive Team Strategy Session (Apollo 13th 50th anniversary touchdown 4/17/2020)









A couple of years ago, I was biking on a local mountain biking trail I knew quite well, in one of my favorite state parks. As I was riding, lost in thought and enjoying all of it, I suddenly came upon a firebreak which had been created to stop the uncontrolled fire. I found myself flummoxed and caught in a VUCA world: it thoroughly disoriented me and made it difficult for me to wrap my head around my location and how I would continue to move forward. An essential aspect of preparing for VUCA challenges is to anticipate change in order to ensure that setbacks don’t become impairments. This can be difficult to remember in circumstances in which you are extremely disoriented, whether they be out on the trail or work-related. Each component of the VUCA acronym contains primary drivers and effects. Familiarizing yourself with these will prepare you to meet the demands necessary to move past barriers.

Firstly, reflect on the word Volatility: the main drivers of volatility are the nature, dynamics, rate, and speed of change. Its primary effects are risks, instability, and flux, often involving fluctuations and turbulence. The moment in which I encountered the firebreak in the pathway while mountain biking was one of volatility, as well as a necessary reminder that changes can feel instantaneous. The coronavirus pandemic has been a paragon of volatility, as its rapidly-spreading nature has left the entire world in a state of flux, proving just how swiftly our planet can be conquered by change. Volatility demands Vision, which prompts us to take actions and probe changes. How are you creating a clear vision into the future with your personal response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Have you picked your line? How clearly can you see it? Focus past the firebreak to scan the horizon, do not focus on the challenge itself.

Next, contemplate the word Uncertainty. The fundamental drivers of uncertainty are a lack of predictability, potential surprises, and unknown outcomes. Its primary effect is direction paralysis due to data overload. Akin to my discombobulation as a consequence of the blocked pathway, COVID-19 has left humanity in stunningly uncertain circumstances, with no clear timeline or end date. Uncertainty demands Understanding, which calls for a wider awareness of different perspectives and associated issues and events. How good of a job of Understanding are you modeling for yourself and others? Are you vulnerable, authentic, and either connected or in the process of building connections? Are you listening? Are you actively reaching out to understand? Do you have an understanding of what face you have on: Game Winning Face, or Game Losing Face?

Now we have Complexity. The primary drivers of complexity are multifaceted effects, outside influences, and the interconnectivity of a system’s components. Its main effects are dualities and a lack of productivity. The situation the Earth is in right now is permeated with complexity. Not only are our daily lives impacted — damaged, even — by this pandemic, but they are also rife with a strong sense of dread. This dread combined with the swarm of conflicting emotions in our brains is most definitely complex, and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. Every news story we hear, every conversation we have, and every panicked thought that goes through our mind all serve to increase the complexity of the situation we are in. Complexity begs for Clarity, which beckons creativity, flexibility, and a regained sense of your key focus. How are you keeping yourself focused right now? Are you being clear in your communications and your own agenda? What are you doing to combat feelings of confusion? How can you find optimism and motivation amidst all of this complexity?

Finally, we have Ambiguity. The main drivers of ambiguity are misinterpretation, the ideal versus the actual, inexactness, and the haziness of reality. Its most prominent effects are that it induces doubt and distrust, causes lapses in decision-making, and hurts innovation. Ambiguity has played a paramount role in the coronavirus pandemic, from government approach and state guidelines to wondering whether it’s safe to leave your home at all. In fact, typing the words “ambiguity and the coronavirus” in the Google search bar yields a plethora of results, with articles such as “Moral Ambiguity in a Supermarket Parking Lot” and many more references to the current universal sense of ambiguity. It almost feels like the definition of this pandemic. In times of ambiguity out on the trail, quick thinking and practiced decisiveness are crucial. Ambiguity requires Agility, which calls for innovation and decision-making. How well are you doing at being agile? Have you been able to turn on a dime? If so, where? Are members of your team? Are you getting caught in the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop decision cycle? Is your team?

Applying VUCA analysis to the murky waters of these next few weeks and months is a necessary way to view your current and future state of being. This framework is an incredibly useful tool to reorient yourself, plan for the future, and move forward. The more you prepare yourself for any potential obstructions in your path, the less they will be able to thwart you. Acknowledge these circumstances for what they are — utterly befuddling and nebulous — and use that awareness to fuel your journey.

By Kierra Boyd, Operation Explore, Inc.

About Operation Explore, Inc

Experiential Organizational Development - Changing organizations one interaction at a time.
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