What Is The Secret To Survive & Thrive In This Chaotic World? It's VUCA!
The world we are living in is chaotic and uncertain.Wherever we are in the world, we all want the same thing. We all want to survive and thrive. We want to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. Surely, there must be a secret to stepping out of this chaotic world and step into this "Eldorado"?
[This is going to be a long story but if you read only one blog article this year, I suggest you read this one. Some deep secrets are going to be revealed… Make yourself comfortable because secrets such as this one cannot be revealed in a few paragraphs. I am going to take you on an epic journey. Off we go]
The world we are living in is chaotic and uncertain. Nothing is easy, we have to fight our way through everything. Everybody has problems, issues, and dramas to deal with and if you add to this some unexpected world events and some natural disasters then life becomes quite tricky. Wherever we are in the world, we all want the same thing. We all want to survive and thrive. We want to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. Surely, there must be a secret to stepping out of this chaotic world and getting to this Eldorado. Good news: there is a secret. It’s VUCA!
The US Army War College saw signs in 1987 that the world was becoming more volatile, more complex, more interconnected, more uncertain, and dangerously ambiguous. They put their best minds to work and came up with a military strategy known as V.U.C.A: Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. From its very outset, the VUCA concept was put together to give US soldiers the ability to survive and thrive in times of crisis.
How to win everyday battles - Photo by Warmtall via freepik.com
This military strategy (which is unknown to most) is the secret to survive and thrive in this chaotic world. For those of you who wish to follow me on this Quest to find this Eldorado, read on; I am going to take you on an epic journey. I have in my possession the “secret” roadmap that will take us out of this chaotic world and straight to the hero’s journey. How did I come to possess such valuable information; you may ask? All was revealed to me in a documentary I watched recently called It’s VUCA – The Secret to Surviving in the 21st Century by Michael Schindler.
This article is based on this documentary and on some of the previous blog articles I wrote in the past which complement the VUCA concept quite well.
Life is a battlefield. Nothing is easy, we have to fight our way through everything; with this in mind, it would be a good idea for us to familiarize ourselves with combat strategy and learn the best tricks in the book from trained warriors.
The secret to survive and thrive in this chaotic world is to first recognize that we live in a chaotic world
There is no doubt that we are living in a VUCA world where things are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The Covid Era will be remembered as the age of despair, fractured communities where we were forced to alienate ourselves from our families, friends, colleagues, and clients. People were living in a state of fear, stress, sadness, and uncertainty and were bombarded by information, new regulations, and emergency decrees that were complex and ambiguous. There seems to be more pain than we could heal, more dissent than we could mediate, and more uncertainty than we could comprehend.
The Covid Era taught us all that we are living in interesting times and learning how to navigate between order and chaos is critical. Everyone experiences the world through chaos, order, and something in between called consciousness.
Order is explored territory. It is the authority, the structured society. Order is tribe, religion, home, and country. Order is where the world’s behavior matches our expectations and desires, the place where all things turn out the way we want them to.
Chaos is unexplored territory. Chaos is the place you find yourself when things fall apart, when your dream dies, your career collapses, or your marriage ends. Chaos is when we don’t know where we are. When we don’t know what we are doing, and we don’t know where we are going.
Volatility turns our world upside down. We live in a volatile world where we have to face changes that are unpredictable and frequent with devastating impacts on our lives, jobs, businesses, and relationship. When uncertainty reigns, no one can predict with confidence what’s going to happen next. People feel hopeless. How we can find hope amid uncertainty and conflict? In a VUCA world, the volume of information to process is complex, overwhelming, and staggering. It is like being asked to play chess every day whilst the rules of the game keep changing all the time. Ambiguity is the name of the game. What is causing the chaos is unclear and confusing. There is no roadmap to follow, no landmarks, and no signposts.
Life is a battlefield, it is in the nature of most living organisms to engage in battles, have defense mechanisms, defeat their opponents, assert power and dominate. With humans, we see this happening in wars, in business, on a soccer field, and in video games, and the chances are even when we are not waging war against our environment, we are waging war against ourselves. So how do you win everyday battles?
“If you know the enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. But if you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu claimed that the highest victory is defeating the enemy without fighting. Unfortunately, this ideal proposition is not always an option, sometimes you have no other option but to fight. That is why in life we ought to pick our battles carefully, we have to decide which battles are worth fighting and which are a waste of energy and resources. When push comes to shove and you have no choice but to fight, get into the arena and fight like your life depends on it, because it does. And please don’t wait for the cavalry to come and save you. The calvary ain’t coming, you are the calvary.
In life, you need to have the courage to fight those battles. Courage is not an absence of fear, courage is the mental preparedness and ability to deal with difficult challenges, and sometimes seemingly impossible circumstances. It is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, intimidation, and other threats.
The Secret to survive and thrive in this crazy world. Photo by Vectorup Studio via freepik.com
And this is where the big secret is revealed…
The secret is that you fight VUCA with VUCA. What you have to do is flip the script by turning the negative VUCA into a positive VUCA. Volatility can be countered by Vision. Uncertainty can be countered by Understanding. Complexity can be countered by Clarity. Ambiguity can be countered by Agility.
When you go into battle you need ammunition.
Ammunition number 1: Vision
In order to have vision, you first need to observe. Looking at something produces nothing. Observing on the other hand produces insights. According to the Oxford dictionary, “Observation is the action or process of observing something or someone in order to gain information.” Our observation skills inform us about objects, events attitudes, and phenomena using one or more senses. Improving our observation skills allows us to “listen” with more than our ears and make better decisions.
When we observe we can take a step back to peer into ourselves and others. Observing ourselves is crucial but observing others is essential as it provides another angle. When you combine the two the observation of ourselves and others you get valuable insights that you can use to better connect and communicate with people. Developing your observation skills will help you develop a better vision.
Get into the habit of observing the world as it is, in all its variety learning from it, and putting what you learned into use in your decision-making process, in improving your intuition, in building your relationships, and in developing your foresight and vision.
Ammunition number 2: Understanding
In order to understand the people and the world around you, you have to develop your ability to listen and to think for yourself.
“When you talk you are only repeating something that you already know. But if you listen you may learn something new.”
Before you assume learn the fact. Before you judge, understand why. Before you hurt someone, feel. Before you speak, think. Before you talk, Listen. Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood. As a result, communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.
Effective communication also starts with the understanding that people are not mind readers. Expecting people to guess your wishes and aspirations is only to bring frustration and resentment. If you want something from someone express yourself clearly. If you use the right word, the right tone of voice, and the right body language, you are increasing your chance of having your wishes and aspirations become a reality. Listening means paying attention not only to the story but how it is told. The use of language, the tone of voice, and how the person uses his or her body are important. Pay attention. It means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages.
We all think of ourselves as rational creatures, but in reality, humans are deeply irrational and are often governed by emotion rather than logic. Moreover, we have a tendency to operate within our own echo chamber, where the only information that goes through our brain is information that validates our prior knowledge vindicates our prior decisions, or sustains our existing beliefs.
Critical thinking means many things but at heart, it means a search for the truth. Critical thinking helps us determine what is real and what is not. But before we are able to exercise our cognitive ability to think we need to have a certain base of knowledge as a starting point. We can only think critically about things that we have knowledge of.
We should get into the habit from time to time of walking down the road less traveled the one taken by critical thinkers. If you decide to walk down that road it will require that you possess a certain fluidity of mind, some discipline, and be driven by the will to get to the truth of the matter rather than the urge to be righteous no matter what.
We live in a world of double standards, flagrant contradictions, and intolerance. It seems that people these days are incapable of having discussions with someone with who they strongly disagree, and have a civilized exchange based on reason rather than rage. It is a very sorry state of affairs. Preaching intolerance in the name of tolerance is a frightening contradiction that doesn’t seem to faze some people. But that is the VUCA world where are living in.
As a VUCA warrior, you will be a dangerous person if you know how to observe, listen, think (for yourself) and act accordingly.
Ammunition number 3: Clarity
There are 2 types of people in this world. Those who see clearly and those who don’t. People who see clearly are confident in themselves and in their abilities. Confident people know who they are, what they want, and how they should go about it. They have a road map; they have a destination in mind and have planned the journey ahead. They have determination, discipline, and a sense of purpose and they go through their life journey in a state of joy, happiness, and grace.
People who don’t see clearly are lost, they drift, they are discouraged, they keep changing their mind and instead of going forward towards the light (there is always light at the end of the tunnel) they turn around in circles, wandering endlessly and compulsively but not really going anywhere and their life journey ends up being a journey full of pain and suffering.
The lack of clarity triggers different types of reactions in people. Some people will opt for burying their heads in the sand and continue to operate on autopilot. Others will sink into despair or run around in a state of panic not knowing what to do, holding on to their anger, resentment, and suffering.
Suffering is part of life everybody has problems, issues, and dramas to deal with. Jordan Peterson advocates that we should bear our own cross, our own suffering, transcend it and then try to reduce it by becoming some kind of hero to ourselves and to people around us. So how do we become heroes? Not by wearing a cape, jumping from building to building trying to save the world. We become heroes by becoming a better person every day, shining our own light into the world. [Hold that thought, more on this later.]
“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.”
All of us without hesitation would prefer if given the choice, to be in the skin of one of those people who can see clearly. However, life is never black or white life is a lot more complex than that and you can bet that all of us will have periods where we experience moments of clarity, where everything is in harmony where we feel that we are on top of the world and we know where we are going, but we will also experience moments when we lack clarity, when we are filled with doubts and feel discouraged and drift not knowing where we are going.
If Clarity was a commodity that could be purchased the chance is that commodity would become the most precious item one could own. The problem is you cannot obtain Clarity from someone else you cannot buy Clarity and you cannot unfortunately receive it as a gift from someone else. You will have to find it yourself. Clarity will make your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions congruent with each other.
Buddhists believe that: “The world is like muddy water. To see through it, we have to let things settle. We can’t be disturbed by initial appearance. And if we are patient and still the truth will be revealed to us.”
Ammunition Number 4: Agility
As VUCA Warriors we should be agile, we should learn the art of mobility. In the military world, the ability to maneuver cross-country and in the most restrictive terrain is essential. In life, if you are stuck in your own self-righteous and rigid way of doing things then you will lack the mobility to advance. Stiffness of thoughts originates from an inability to think critically preferring instead to submit yourself to groupthink and an ideology without questioning it.
The world is not black and white there are several shades of grey in between. Things change all the time. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. You don’t need a group, a leader, or some media platforms to tell you how to think and how to act. Don’t let people put you into a box and stick a label on it because that makes you predictable, vulnerable, and controllable. Be your own person be curious about what’s going on, ask questions, and think for yourself.
And please, stop asking for permission when you don't have to. From the day we are born, we spend our lives asking for permission for everything. It starts with our parents, our teachers, our boss, our spouse, or our leader, and it goes on and on. Being compliant, obedient, and asking for permission might serve us well in a civilized society as we learn how to control our wants and desires; but the irony and eventual quiet tragedy of that is that in some instances, our wants and desires might not have a possessor, a licensor or a permit giver. It may lay outside the realms of ownership. There may be broad indifference to whether we act in some way or not. There may be no law or no one to be upset by our move. The desired thing in question might just belong to whoever dares to step forward and take it. There is no formal procedure, it's just the courage to imagine that it could be yours. I say, stop asking for permission, if you don't have to. Learn to be more autonomous and agile.
If you have the Vision, the Understanding, the Clarity of mind, and the Agility; congratulations, you have passed the test to be a VUCA warrior.
The secret to survive and thrive in this chaotic world is to recognize the necessity to act on our VUCA warrior attitude and combat obstacles on our journey
This is where storytelling comes into play. The VUCA world is laced with dilemmas, and problems you can’t solve, problems that won’t go away. Storytelling is critical in the VUCA world because stories take us into the unknown, they teach us about facing conflicts and overcoming fear and obstacles. We are all looking for clear answers to our questions, clear paths to follow, and clear solutions to our problems.
There are two ways to learn valuable life lessons that will teach us to become a little bit smarter and wiser. The first method is through trial, error and personal experience and the second method is through storytelling. The downside of the first method is that it will no doubt bring you a fair amount of pain and suffering, which is something that we all want to avoid as much as possible. Learning life lessons through someone else’s struggle and ordeal is a much less painful way to go about it whilst still bringing the same benefits. And this is why storytelling is so important. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others.
The importance of storytelling
We should not underestimate the writer’s role in society. From the beginning of time, knowledge was shared from generation to generation thanks to storytellers who used their artistry to pass on information, knowledge, and wisdom to their community.
Well-chosen words breathe hope into us when our spirits are broken, revive us when our bodies are weary, lift our spirits up when we lose ourselves in an ocean of despair, redeem the wrong we feel, and make us stronger than we know.
Do not underestimate the writer’s role in society, because writers bring to the world something that no one else can… they shape the world. Writers have the power through their words to educate, heal and illuminate the mind.
“A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point to fraud, to start arguments, to shape the world, and to stop it going to sleep. Writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things that go on in the world of uncertainty, doubts, dreams, love, and deception … that go on, slipping like sand through our fingers. To understand just one life, you just have to swallow the world. Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest place in human society and in the human spirit, where I go to find not absolute truth, but the truth of the tale, of the imagination of the heart.”
Storytelling gives us that clarity and can give us the courage to act, and the motivation to be resilient. For sure we can turn to real and/or fictional heroes for inspiration and motivation but ultimately you have to embark on your own hero’s journey and become the hero of your own story. Remember. The cavalry ain’t coming, you are the cavalry.
The hero’s journey
Heroes are admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or their noble qualities. Heroes may be exhausted, but they persevere. They may be fearful, but they face danger courageously; still, they do not quail in the face of countless obstacles and danger. Heroes are undeterred by profoundly insurmountable difficulties and most of all they don’t allow themselves to be intimidated by destructive forces that cross their paths.
History is full of admirable heroes who fought against tyranny but in the modern era Are there any heroes left? If you live in a tyranny, would you know it? And if you did, are there any heroes left to fight against it? It is not a good idea to expect a noble knight to come on his white horse to save you. Save yourself. I believe that there is a new breed of heroes that are emerging. They are difficult to spot because they don’t wear a cape and a mask, they don’t jump from building to building, they don’t ride on a white horse; they are hiding in plain sight, they are amongst us hidden by their familiarity, they are hiding in you and me. Today’s heroes are you and me and anybody who has the courage to stand up when demoralized people are kneeling in submission.
Remember that a hero’s journey begins at the end of our comfort zone. A comfort zone is an artificial mental boundary within which we maintain a sense of security and out of which we experience great discomfort. Each one of us has our own boundaries that delineate our comfort zone, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all-comfort-zone model, but what you must know is that all the comfort zone is concerned about is keeping you inside of it.
A lot of people will have a natural inclination for staying inside their comfort zone even if they are unhappy and unfulfilled, first and foremost because it is familiar and safe, but most of all because they are afraid of the unknown, the risk of failure, and/or being hurt. They would rather stay wrapped up in their little cocoon, preferring to stay warm and cozy.
The only problem with this is that even if you have a strong desire to stay warm and cozy forever and have no inclination to do more than is absolutely necessary, sometimes life doesn’t give you that choice. The Covid Era is a great testimony of this. Ultimately, the hero within you will have to leave their cozy comfort zone and head into the scary unknown. At this point, courage and resilience are required to face doubts, interferences, and weaknesses; but what the hero will gain in the process are courage, a new perspective, and some wisdom.
In life, you need to have courage in order to fight those battles. Courage is the mental preparedness and ability to deal with difficult challenges and sometimes seemingly impossible circumstances. It is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, intimidation, and other threats.
Courage is not a quality that you are born with. It is one that has to be cultivated and honed. Today, we typically associate courage with heroic deeds but being courageous does not necessarily entail doing something dramatic or astoundingly heroic, everyday living requires courage. When we work to develop courage, we both empower ourselves with the ability to confront problems head-on, as well as acquire the skills required to deal with life’s inevitable challenges.
VUCA demands more from you. It demands more energy, more focus, more strength,and more resilience. Look at every day as being a VUCA warrior in training getting ready to get into the arena and fight as and when necessary.
The secret to survive and thrive in this chaotic world is to become antifragile. Human beings are fragile animals, but we are also resilient, rational beings with foresight, discernment, and the ability to survive and even thrive. Nobody knows what is going to happen next so we should get comfortable being uncomfortable while uncertainty reigns.
“Uncertainty is the very conditions that impels man to unfold his powers. As we navigate our own uncertain times together, may a thousand flowers of sanity bloom, each valid so long as it is viable in anchoring the human spirit it animates. And may we remember the myriad terrors and uncertainties preceding our own which have served as unexpected awakenings from some of our most perilous civilization slumbers.”
We live every day with the knowledge of our staggering fragility, and we know how physiologically vulnerable our body and mind can be. We are aware that terrible outcomes are always possible and often probable. Your Quest as a human being is to protect yourself against the danger of losing your life but also against the danger of losing your mind. When the going gets tough, be tougher.
This knowledge of our own vulnerability makes us go back and forth between ecstatic optimism and sheer despair. In order to cope with that awareness and to counterweigh the heavy sense of our own fragility we often rely on the hope that somehow, we will be strong enough to withstand rare and unexpected events which the author Nassim Taleb refers to as Black Swans Events.
In his book, The Black Swan (2007) Taleb focuses on the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable events which are events impossible to predict due to their extreme rarity. As Black Swan Events may result in catastrophic consequences it is important for people always to assume, however, unlikely that they are possible and plan accordingly. In his book, Taleb urges his readers to not attempt to predict Black Swans Events but to build robustness to their negative impacts. The world is too complex for anyone to understand or predict exactly what is going to happen, and rather than naively try to predict Black Sawn Events we just need to be aware of the possibility and adjust to their existence by becoming antifragile.
In his book, Antifragile (2012) Taleb explains that all systems can be categorized as fragile, robust, or antifragile. Fragile things are exposed and destroyed by volatility. Robust things resist. Antifragile things benefit from it.
“Some things benefit from shock they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder stressors and uncertainty. Antifragility is beyond resilience and robustness. The resilient resists shock and stay the same. The antifragile gets better. The fragile wants tranquility. The antifragile grows from disorder.”
Nassim Taleb urges people to stop using the observable past as an indicator of the future – Don’t be a Turkey! Turkey is fed for 1000 days and thinks that everything is all right and food will be coming. On day 1001 the day before Thanksgiving everything changes.
“Uncertainty is our discipline and understanding how to act under conditions of incomplete information is the highest and most urgent human pursuit.”
Below are 4 tips to become tougher and antifragile:
- Become antifragile and tougher by removal. The solution to many problems in life is solved by removal, and not by addition. Living a healthy life is more about removing sugar, processed food, and unhealthy snacks from your diet. Similarly, people become wealthy by reducing their exposure to going bust. Professional athletes win games by removing mistakes.
- Become tougher and antifragile by being healthy. Treat your body as a temple worship it every day. Being unhealthy makes our immune system weak, which makes us more prone to disease, which in turn makes us fragile. Hippocrates is known for saying: “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” According to this doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to rebalance and heal itself.
- Become tougher and antifragile by optionality. The more options you have the more freedom you have to respond to unforeseen circumstances, thus reducing your fragility to Black Swan Events. If you have optionality you don’t need to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom not to do things that will hurt your and to be able to recognize favorable outcomes when they arise.
- Become tougher and antifragile through trial and error. Try new things and find out through a process of trial and error what works and what doesn’t. If an idea doesn’t work, make it fail quickly then move on to the next one. Play safe in some areas of your life and take some risks in others.
And this my dear friend is your Quest – Become a VUCA warrior!
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