The world today – the new normal and VUCA

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.43.53 PMWe live in extraordinary times. Our societies’ are transforming and we are seeing radical non-linear changes. This is occurring whether we live in industrialised or modernising countries. The same is true for people with very different circumstances including those whose main priority is simply generating enough for life’s daily necessities.

How we work, communicate, shop, spend leisure time, rely on natural resources, engage with or are impacted by global markets, manage and connect with climate-sustainability phenomena is changing quickly. All these pieces and more continue to evolve, often in interdependent, highly unpredictable yet connected ways.

Consider just a small slice of this – the network effect. The digital economy is facilitating and enabling different collaboration structures. It’s already very disruptive for existing business models. It is radically reshaping media, manufacturing, healthcare and financial services. It dissolves many traditional boundaries. Indirect impacts and human caring matters. Remote stories can become very personal empathetic connections.  For example, human rights and justice for poor subsistence farmers – such as those impacted by increasing floods and inundation associated with climate change in the Bangladeshi Ganges delta – can become topics of importance and potential carbon risks for large corporations.

At a smaller scale, disruptive business models – such as direct connections between farmers and consumers – threaten traditional retail models. There are many more examples.

We are waving goodbye to much of the predictability and stability that business and government decision making is based on. The unusual has become the new normal.

So what do we do?

A good way of thinking about the “new normal” is through the concept of VUCA – the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity inherent in today’s world.  Bob Johanson, former president of the Institute for the Future, created this concept highlighting how it profoundly changes leadership, business, organisational endeavours and required thought structures.

The good news is VUCA is navigable. We can shift this to incorporate Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility with some fundamental changes in our ways of thinking. An important assistive step to this is using simple (but not simplistic) meta-models. At the leading edge of some of this work is the application of integral theory and action inquiry to practically encompass VUCA’s diversity. We can use this big picture perspective to work within the cultures and predominant worldviews in our organisations (and in ourselves).

This pitch is arguing that we need to practically work with holistic perspectives to bring such vision, understanding, clarity and agility into our new normal VUCA world. Meta is a necessary part of this picture – how else do we draw in all the important influences and the best of global knowledge to create impact? How else do we cope with the bounty of knowledge we have today? We want robust futures for our businesses, organisations and societies. We want to value and receive the best from human altruism. We desire to create effective profitable climate change responses and to create the best effective health service outcomes. We need such meta methods and the capability to embody them as part of our answers – delivering vision, understanding, clarity and agility.

Note: Picture and article are drawn from/draw on MetaIntegral’s VUCA work, its Embodied Practitioner Certification program and consulting.

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Human altruism

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 1.36.18 PM.pngHuman beings are altruistic! We’re motivated by a lot more than money and success.

In today’s world, this claim may seem dubious. However, there’s overwhelming evidence – we are not just economic rationalists out to maximise our own personal wealth at any cost.

Frequently, this evidence shows we will happily ignore simple profitable activities – for example energy efficiency. A simple illustration – would you walk past a $50 note on the pavement and not pick it up? In our own homes, companies and organisations we do the equivalent of this all the time!

While that may sound like a double negative there’s plenty of collaborative evidence.

We often behave in ways that are in everyone’s interests rather than just our own. Looking after common resources is a good example. We cooperate to equitably share limited resources and protect supplies of these – it is not uncommon for human created fair sharing systems to be effective over decades and generations. This is well known – e.g. the Nobel prize winning work of Elinor Ostrom.

Perspectives on altruism, not seeing the realities in our world today, are to our detriment. Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks highlights this. He says “by assuming that people are selfish, by prioritizing arrangements based on selfishness, we have encouraged selfish frames of mind.”

“Maybe it’s time to build institutions that harness people’s natural longing to do good” he says. Fortunately we are seeing some of this – acting on our knowledge – for example, at the Paris Climate Change agreement.

Clearly there’s scope for more and to shift cultural views. These often seem to privilege the idea we’re always chasing money and power.