In a world gone mad, South Africans need to focus on positive VUCA

Herman Singh says a positive VUCA definition can help you to become more resilient.

‘Volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity’ are the four elements that constitute a very negative VUCA acronym. But a more positive VUCA definition can help you to become more resilient both as an individual and a business leader.

Firstly let’s acknowledge that our world is a mess. Today the number of variables driving chaos and uncertainty both internally and externally have grown exponentially. Another world or trade war or global pandemic seem to make Eskom and impending Junk status trivial. Screeches of ridiculous and impractical extremely left-wing policies are howled out on every media channel and amplified on every form of social media by minority extremists and their bots. Systems and processes are collapsing, and tempers are rising as anxieties spike. Logic makes heads explode when communities burn and destroy infrastructure while people continue to vote exactly the same delinquent politicians to return to repeat the incompetent performance on service delivery.

Meanwhile we can’t get hand sanitiser or toilet paper at any shop. Nothing new here for us. Remember candles, canned food and paraffin stoves in 1994? It’s enough to drive many to break mentally, socially, economically and even nationally judging by the emigration statistics. 

Ok, that was the bad news. It’s tough and ain’t getting any better soon.

So what is one to do if emigration is not an option? Develop resilience! The ability to absorb and succeed in the face of adversity. To bend without breaking, like a grass blade bends under snow to bounce back in summer, while the tree branch breaks while attempting to hold that load of snow. The term VUCA was developed in the late 1990s by the US Military to describe the post-Cold-War turmoil and was broadly trumpeted as a catchphrase for decades. It reflected a fast paced, increasingly unstable and rapidly changing world. What was not well broadcast was that this was not the end of the story. No, they also developed a prescription for survival which today is extremely relevant to us all.

There is a tool to help us all. It’s a positive VUCA. Instead of Volatility think Vision. Replace Uncertainty with Understanding. Chaos with Clarity. Ambiguity with Agility. A positive VUCA that can help us all not just cope but succeed and win in this world of turmoil. There are simple ways to manifest each of these to resolve the negative VUCA emanating from your environment. When you are done you will have developed your own superpower that these threats will bounce off like popcorn.

Vision is about having an endgame in mind which helps you absorb shocks while focusing on your destination. It’s a purpose that can be social, financial or even spiritual. The key message is to keep this big picture in mind at all times while we work towards it incrementally. This helps us anticipate issues and shape conditions. An example could be a vision to live completely off the grid due to weak service delivery. This could start with installing solar water heating then moving to gas cooking and then installing a battery UPS until you finally install a photovoltaic system to be both fully independent and environmentally friendly. This approach will help you deal with load shedding more easily as it will become a minor inconvenience you suffer on a multiyear journey to eliminate the problem permanently.
Clarity is about creating a clear picture and focus. It speaks to finding coherence as you make sense of the craziness around you in the minutiae of life. This helps you to collaborate better as you work on aligning expectations and checking for understanding from those around you. Clarity helps better understand the root causes and forces at play in order to craft a simple message to those looking to you for leadership. For example it’s clear that the radical left are using social media channels to amplify wild messages in order to create anxiety in order to drive minorities out of the country. It’s just propaganda. Flatulence. Lots of noise with no substance. None of the radical proposals will survive the decades of legal action to follow. Once you realise this, it becomes easy to ignore the messaging and to see through the scare tactics for what they are – noise from increasingly desperate social fraudsters.

Understanding is about stopping to look, listen and learn in order to develop a flexible perspective. This helps you know the consequences of issues and actions and allows you to create security for the people around you. An example might be the current Covid-19 situation. Fear propagates faster than infection and the first thing that this virus attacks is common sense. It’s clear that we don’t really understand transmission methods yet it makes sense to practice social distancing by reducing physical contact and crowds and to just uplift personal hygiene. But it’s also clear that this virus has a higher impact on those with lower immune responses. It turns out that children and women have more active immune systems than men and the elderly and we see this in the fatality statistics. Medical staff also make up ten percent of fatalities. Once you know this you can start to unearth the risk areas and develop logical mitigations like isolating the elderly to avoid contaminating them or to move presentations from classrooms to online, as many schools started doing as soon as President Ramaphosa announced social distancing measures.

Similarly avoiding taxes to rather spend that money directly on a community programme that you manage would be a great way to reduce funding further government graft and rebuilding your local community at the same time. (Tax avoidance is legal, it is evasion that is against the law.)

Agility is about an ability to act fast. It speaks to being prepared to interpret and address opportunities as they arise. This requires an openness to new ideas, to involve people and to communicate openly while obtaining feedback to help you pivot as needed. Opportunity comes to the prepared mind not to one steeped in depression. This could mean that if you see an opportunity to build a second income in a declining economy or to avoid tax in a worsening tax regime that you act quickly while building a coalition of the willing or securing the help of experts. Agility is about resourcefulness and taking on and managing risk. Remember that profit is the reward for taking risk. Agility is about getting stuff done. Turning vision into reality and dodging bullets in the process. The ability to see opportunity where others see danger is the mark of the entrepreneur. The virus created an amazing market for masks. And I bet the guy who invented sanitiser is rubbing his hands now!

The combination of vision, understanding, clarity and agility allows one to build resilience to almost any adverse situation. There is no good or bad in life really. There are only differing agendas. How you calmly and thoughtfully respond to those agendas will determine your future success. Emotional decisions to emigrate out of fear or frustration will only lead to decades of financial misery in a foreign land. While calm decisions to diversify income, avoid taxes, push the right social agenda, become a force for good and create an appropriate portfolio of investments, activities, relationships and plans will be far more successful in uplifting your life.

This ability to detach yourself emotionally from the events around you and to logically and creatively craft options around you in like-minded coalitions becomes a powerful counter force to those of destabilisation. In war as in life these attributes will create success so inculcate them to help you build your coping superpower. You are not helpless if you build resilience and resourcefulness. 

Originally published in the Q2 edition of CFO magazine, available online now.