Your response to VUCA could save your business
VUCA is an acronym originally coined by the US military, to describe the intense uncertainty brought by seismic change. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
A key driver of fear, it’s fair to say that VUCA has been alive and kicking throughout 2020, and as 2021 starts to bed in, plenty of its traces remain.
The human response to VUCA tends to be one of stress – the immediate, animal-instinctive “fight or flight” response that was necessary for our ancestors to flee sabre-toothed tigers in the wild.
But while the tiger has been replaced in the corporate world by financial or leadership concerns, our physiological response remains the same. If not kept in check, this can lead to panic-led, inappropriate business decisions that can wreak serious damage.
As military leaders know so well, understanding your natural human response to VUCA is vital, if you want to keep forging ahead and achieve the right results. When you know how you respond to stress, you will be better able to control the outcome.
This, in turn, increases your capacity to make positive business decisions, and lead others in the right direction.
Fear and anxiety are two different beasts
The first step in understanding your natural stress response is to consider the difference between fear and anxiety. We feel anxious when we think about or anticipate a stressful situation, and fear when we are actually in one.
As an example, imagine you’re queuing to get on a rollercoaster. You might feel anxious as you watch the ride dipping and looping, hearing the riders screaming in the distance.
But once you’re strapped into the rollercoaster yourself, fear takes over as you plummet towards the ground… now you’re the one who’s screaming!
The (surprising) benefits of VUCA-related fear and anxiety
It may not feel this way, but your natural VUCA response is intended to help you.
Fear and anxiety provide vital information. They tell us when danger is present, and they prepare us for action (think about it… would the human race have survived for as long as it has, if we didn’t have in-built mechanisms like these?)
Some of these age-old preparations might include adrenaline flooding into your body, quickened breathing, a pounding heart, increased sweating, a dry mouth, heightened senses, and tensed muscles.
But in our modern times, it’s important to make a mental distinction about what you’re being prepared for, because your body can’t distinguish between the real physical threat of, say, an intruder breaking into your house at 3am, or your nervousness about speaking at an upcoming business conference.
This involves taking a step back from the situation to identify and rationalise your body’s physical responses. You might find some of them strangely useful; for example,
Rather than letting your natural stress responses take over, with practise you will learn to take control of the situation. In doing so, you will successfully take your brain out of ‘fight or flight’ mode, and into ‘problem-solving’ mode instead.
That’s ultimately how you’ll stop VUCA from damaging your business.