How to transform Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity into an advantage

Despite all this, things are getting better.

Hard to believe?

Read this and learn how you can make things better.

Life can be challenging. As I am writing this, France has just announced the 15-day quarantine to slow down the Coronavirus outbreak. The key to the problem is in the problem itself: slowing down. That is the best gift one can give oneself in these challenging times.

This has been a theme from my mentors:

“Slow down to speed up.”

RICH LITVIN

“Doucement, je suis pressé.”

(“Slow down, I am in a hurry.”)

MICHEL VALLIER

That echoes with the logo of the very French high-speed train, the “TGV”. This train set the world record for the fastest wheeled train at 574.8 km/h. It is interesting to look closely at the former TGV logo:

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Notice what animal it looks like when you turn it upside down:

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In times of crisis, the number one advice is to slow down and breathe. The resulting oxygen flow is the best antidote to panic and poor decision making. As French Philosopher and thinker of complexity Edgar Morin said:

“One of the greatest problems we face today is how to adjust our way of thinking to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex, rapidly changing, unpredictable world. We must rethink our way of organizing knowledge.”

EDGAR MORIN

This world can be described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). Each of these words has a specific quality to it.

Volatility means that things can shift rapidly. One day things are going really well, the next, The Shit Hits The Fan. You can notice that in business, and in your personal life. We learned that since childhood, it was even in Disney movies! Remember one of Merlin’s songs in The Sword in the Stone?

“For every up there is a down

For every square there is a round

For every high there is a low

For every to there is a fro

To and fro

Stop and go

That’s what makes the world go round”

(enjoy the full song here)

One is necessary for the other to coexist. This is the world of duality. You can’t go up if you haven’t been down. There is no Yes without a No. What is interesting, is when you zoom out, you can see that on the long term, things are moving forward, and life is getting better and better.

Here are two examples to drive this point home:

Despite all the collapses, the stock markets continue to rise:

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The Evolution of Consciousness continues:

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How about you, where do you stand in your own evolution?

What does your own life look like right now?

Where did you start from?

Where are you today?

What have you accomplished?

What is next?

Uncertainty means it is very hard to predict the future. We do our best with the limited information we have. The paradox of choice states that the more information you have isn’t always helpful to make a decision. Sometimes too much choice/information leads to poor decision-making or decision fatigue. Ever wanted to watch a movie, turn on Netflix, start browsing, and end up of choosing nothing because you couldn’t make up your mind? Psychologist Barry Schwarz described his research in his book, The Paradox of Choice:

There are now several books and magazines devoted to what is called the “voluntary simplicity” movement. Its core idea is that we have too many choices, too many decisions, too little time to do what is really important. […] Taking care of our own “wants” and focusing on what we “want” to do does not strike me as a solution to the problem of too much choice.”

PSYCHOLOGIST BARRY SCHWARTZ

Complexity makes this world much richer. Indeed, our life today is more complex than that of our parents and grandparents. Complexity arises in many forms: in the systems in place, in the stakeholders, and there is also psychological complexity. This is our inner diversity. More and more people are becoming aware of the inner tensions, between identities, sub-personalities, aspirations, needs, desires, parts of themselves (body, mind, heart, Soul, Spirit, …).

Which voice to listen to?

How to harmonize these instruments into a beautiful concert?

Ambiguity lies in several aspects. We are ambiguous to ourselves. As mentioned above, we are not always quite sure what we truly want, what we truly need, … We are also ambiguous in our communication: There is often a gap between what we want to say, what we do say, what the other wants to hear, what the other hears, and what the other understands.

There is good news: We can use these VUCA elements to our own advantage. We can learn to surf the VUCA wave.

First, as we said, slowing down will help us tremendously for each of these for elements.

Second, here are keys we can use to flip each aspect into a beneficial situation:

Volatility: That is a teacher of patience and long-term vision. When we are hitting a low, we need to remember that things will go back up. There is no point in resisting it, we just need to go with it.

“Let go and it all gets done.”

Just like in surfing, when you notice that you are going towards the hollow of the wave, there is no point in trying to stay on your wave, or on going quicker on the next wave. All you need to do is to be here and now. If we fall ill, we can take it as an opportunity to tend to ourselves, and get back to the essentials. It might take our grief, despair, as we are moving on through the first stages, but that is what will help us be more resilient.

Uncertainty: That is a way to reconnect with the Mystery. With the magic of the Universe. Yes, humans usually love surprises, but only the good ones.

Here is this story of the Chinese farmer, which I love, told by one of my favorite philosophers, Alan Watts. Listen here.

How can you know what is truly good for you?

How do you know what is good for the long run?

Uncertainty is a way to learn discernment: What do you really want? What can you have control over? What do you need to let go of?

As the Serenity Prayer, there is wisdom to be found in Uncertainty:

(if you are an Atheist, replace “God” by Universe or whatever works for you)

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Complexity. There is beauty in Complexity. Just read Edgar Morin’s On Complexity and you will see. On the other side of Complexity lies Simplicity. Or, as Constantin Brancusi said:

“Simplicity is nothing but a resolved Complexity.”

constantin brancusi

Life is much simpler than we think. What you need to do is much simpler than you think. There is a great example of that in a conversation a coach had with her client. She is a specialist in Complexity and her name is Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau. Her client had a whole list of problems and things to do and felt overwhelmed. She asked him one single question that changed everything for him:

“Out of all your things to do, if you could accomplish only one thing that could make all the others easier, what would that be?”

That was the insight for her client. You can read the full story here.

Ambiguity: That is the beauty of this world: It is not only black and white (even though I love to see it that way – sometimes it really helps). When you look at it in shades of grey, it becomes more fascinating and interesting. You can surf ambiguity. Three great beings have said wise words on ambiguity:

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“The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn’t need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas.”

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To finish, I would like to share closing words by Simone de Beauvoir from The Ethics of Ambiguity:

“Regardless of the staggering dimensions of the world about us, the density of our ignorance, the risks of catastrophes to come, and our individual weakness within the immense collectivity, the fact remains that we are absolutely free today if we choose to will our existence in its finiteness, a finiteness which is open to the infinite.

And in fact, any man who has known real loves, real revolts, real desires, and real will knows quite well that he has no need of any outside guarantee to be sure of his goals; Their certitude comes from his own drive.”

simone de beauvoir

So, what are 3 simple things you can do right now to slow down?

If you could do only 1 thing that would make everything else easier, what would that be?

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