January 27th, 2017

What to Do When the VUCA World Dominates Our Attention

By Ron Nakamoto

“The same view you look at every day, the same life, can become something brand new by focusing on its gifts rather than the negative aspects. Perspective is your own choice and the best way to shift that perspective is through gratitude, by acknowledging and appreciating the positives” – Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed

We’re in a new period of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Nobody – not President Trump, Congress, the news commentators, or any other prognosticators – really knows what’s going to happen. Our very human tendencies to focus on what’s negative, shy away from risk, and avoid losses works against any planning and decision-making in this VUCA world.

To counter these tendencies, I have two suggestions. The first is to maintain a proactive practice of Gratitude. Our very human tendencies towards negativity, anxiety, and fear can be neutralized through a trained and disciplined Gratitude response. No matter the circumstances, we all have people, things, opportunities, experiences, etc. that we can appreciate; we all can be compassionate, forgiving, or giving in some small ways.

The other suggestion is to begin making plans. But I suggest doing so using a tool that Empowered Wealth has adapted from among others, Shell Oil Company: Scenario Planning.

Part of scenario planning is looking into the future and imagining what might happen in the external world, let’s say 10 years from now. By then, two Presidential elections would have taken place and Donald Trump would no longer be President. What might happen, both good and bad, between now and then? Think of two scenarios: one is mostly good and the other is mostly bad. For this example, these two scenarios will represent the external world, the VUCA world.

In our work, we often ask our clients, “What do you truly value, especially what do you value more than money” What we’re trying to get at with this question are people’s highest, most essential priorities in life. Lee Brower, the founder of Empowered Wealth, created a model of "True Wealth" based on these priorities, as well as financial, experience, and contribution assets. It’s what makes us happy, fulfilled, and feel that we're living meaningful lives. Isn't this why we build successful businesses and why optimizing our financial success matters?

Now imagine that, despite the VUCA world, you personally thrive. Consider that scenario a “good” personal one. Alternatively, you could also experience a “bad” personal scenario. This tends to be difficult for many people to imagine but let’s go ahead and develop a short “story” about what that might look like. Maybe it’s poor health, or an accident, or some poor decisions that lead to a downward spiral.

Now you’re ready to do some scenario planning. You now have the basis for four different scenarios 10 years from now:

1. “good” external world and “good” personal (the good/good scenario);
2. “good external but “bad” personal (the good/bad scenario); 3. “bad” external but “good” personal (the bad/good scenario) and
4. “bad” external and “bad” personal (the bad/bad scenario).

Spend a little time and build a narrative around each of these four possibilities. Our experience has been that these narratives highlight the dangers, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses of people as leaders. Coaching and mentoring then brings out the possibilities for seeking better opportunities, avoiding known dangers, working within our strengths, and minimizing our most limiting weaknesses. It’s a way of breaking through negativity, indecisiveness, and anxiety.

General George Casey, the former Commanding General of the Multinational Force in Iraq, said, “VUCA environments thus become invitations for inaction – people are befuddled by the turmoil and don’t act. And to succeed, you must act!” Scenario Planning is a tool that can lead to a clearer vision and point to ways to act. It’s a way of getting into motion.


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