A VUCA World and how it impacts us

The past few years have shown us in no uncertain words how volatile our world is. Every week brings new changes and most of us are unable to make any plans because we don’t know what next week will bring us.

This is encapsulated very well in the acronym VUCA which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous which stands for what our world is today. First used in 1987, the acronym draws on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. The U.S. Army War College introduced the concept of VUCA to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous multilateral world perceived as resulting from the end of the Cold War and more frequent use and discussion of the term VUCA began from 2002. It has subsequently taken root in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that apply in a wide range of organizations, from for-profit corporations to education.

The deeper meaning of each element of VUCA serves to enhance the strategic significance of the VUCA foresight and insight as well as the behaviour of groups and individuals in organisations. It discusses systemic failures and behavioural failures, which are characteristic of organisational failure.

V stands for Volatility which is the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts. It refers to the speed of change in an industry, market or the world in general. It is associated with fluctuations in demand, turbulence and short time to markets and it is well-documented in the literature on industry dynamism. The more volatile the world is, the more and faster things change.

U is Uncertainty or the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events. Uncertainty refers to the extent to which we can confidently predict the future. Part of the uncertainty is perceived and associated with people’s inability to understand what is going on. Uncertainty, though, is also a more objective characteristic of an environment. Truly uncertain environments are those that don’t allow any prediction, also not on a statistical basis. The more uncertain the world is, the harder it is to predict.

C means Complexity which is the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organisations. It refers to the number of factors that we need to take into account, their variety and the relationships between them. The more factors, the greater their variety and the more they are interconnected, the more complex an environment is. Under high complexity, it is impossible to fully analyse the environment and come to rational conclusions. The more complex the world is, the harder it is to analyse.

And lastly, A stands for Ambiguity which encompasses the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions and the cause-and-effect confusion. These elements present the context in which organizations view their current and future state, present boundaries for planning and policy management and come together in ways that either confound decisions or sharpen the capacity to look, plan and move ahead. It points to a lack of clarity about how to interpret something. A situation is ambiguous, for example, when information is incomplete, contradicting or too inaccurate to draw clear conclusions. More generally it refers to fuzziness and vagueness in ideas and terminology. The more ambiguous the world is, the harder it is to interpret.

The particular meaning and relevance of VUCA often relate to how people view the conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. In general, the premises of VUCA tend to shape an organisation’s capacity to anticipate the issues that shape, understand the consequences of issues and actions, appreciate the interdependence of variables, prepare for alternative realities and challenges and interpret and address relevant opportunities. For most organisations, VUCA is a practical code for awareness and readiness.

So how can we try and navigate a VUCA World? Though it may seem inescapable in certain situations and industries, one can use it to advantage. The key to managing is to break VUCA down into its parts and to identify volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous situations. Each type of situation has its causes and resolutions, so one should aim to deal with one at a time.

  • Counter volatility with vision. Accept and embrace change as a constant and don’t resist it.
  • Create a strong, compelling statement of objectives and values, and develop a clear, shared vision of the future. Have flexible goals which can be amended quickly.
  • Meet uncertainty with understanding which can help understand and develop new ways of thinking and acting in response to VUCA’s elements.
  • Make investing in, analysing and interpreting business and competitive intelligence a priority, so that one doesn’t fall behind. Stay up to date with industry news, and listen carefully to find out what others want.
  • Review and evaluate performance. Consider what one did well, what came as a surprise, and what one could do differently next time.
  • Simulate and experiment with situations, so that one can explore how they might play out, and how one might react to them in the future. Aim to anticipate possible future threats and devise likely responses. Gaming, scenario planning, crisis planning and role-playing are useful tools for generating foresight and preparing responses.
  • Communicate clearly because in complex situations, clearly expressed communication help to understand direction.
  • Develop and promote collaboration. VUCA situations are often too complicated for one person to handle, so strong teams that can work effectively in a fast-paced, unpredictable environment is essential.
  • Fight ambiguity with agility by promoting flexibility, adaptability and agility. Plan, but build in contingency time and be prepared to alter plans as events unfold.
  • Hire, develop and promote people who thrive in VUCA environments as these people are likely to be collaborative, comfortable with ambiguity and change, and have complex thinking skills.
  • Encourage people to think and work outside of their usual functional areas, to increase their knowledge and experience. Job rotation and cross-training can be excellent ways to improve agility.
  • Lead teams, but don’t dictate to or control them, instead develop collaborative environments and work hard to build a consensus. Encourage debate, dissent and participation from everyone.
  • Embrace an ideas culture. Reward team members who demonstrate vision, understanding, clarity, and agility.

When one is affected by VUCA, one has a choice. Either one allows VUCA to manage, overload and overwhelm them, or they accept and manage it so that they can mitigate its effects. When one decides to accept VUCA, they choose to make themselves and others less vulnerable and empower everyone to deal with uncontrollable, unpredictable forces.

The Tiara Syndrome: Something that will never happen unless you ask for it

A term coined by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, the founders of Negotiating Women, Inc, the Tiara Syndrome or the Tiara Effect is used to describe how many women approach salary and raise negotiations.

As Carol Frohlinger says, “Women expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head. That never happens.”

The fact is, most women don’t negotiate. That tiara is the recognition in the form of increased salary or pay. Women believe that they will be recognised for their value and automatically be paid what they are worth but the reality is, you have to ask for what you want. And if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

In her bestselling book, Lean-In, Sheryl Sandberg says, “Women are also more reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing that good job performance will naturally lead to rewards.”

Many women feel that working hard and doing a good job will be enough and the reality is that women are often extremely conscientious at delivering against their objectives. Just as at school where girls’ conscientiousness often leads to higher academic results than achieved by boys, many women believe that this same strategy will lead to success at work. However, sometimes this very diligence gets in the way of fast-tracking their careers. Many women are so so focused on doing the operational aspects of their job well that they don’t have time to step back and focus on strategic priorities and they often feel they do not have space in their busy working weeks to fit in networking which is seen as an unnecessary, and often uncomfortable, use of their precious time. In the same vein, they do not seek mentors to guide them or get the support of sponsors to give them the invaluable exposure and opportunities needed to step up to senior leadership positions.

Academic psychologist Cordelia Fine says such behaviour stems from socialisation, not innate differences between the sexes. And, of course, some men are sufferers, just as many women aren’t. But how do those who have been schooled not to boast learn to champion their cause and get over tiara syndrome?

A 2003 study of thirty-eight business students conducted University of California at Irvine discovered that 85% of the men believed that it was up to them to make sure their company paid them what they were worth. Only 17% of the women in the study believed this to be the case. The remaining 15% of the men and 83% of women assumed their worth would be determined by what their company paid them. The Tiara Syndrome only adds to the pay disparity between men and women. If we don’t ask for more pay based on our contributions, the answer is always no.

As women, we don’t negotiate. Most of us don’t negotiate our first job offer, which has been calculated to equal $500,000 over the length of her career. And all because we don’t speak up for ourselves and our worth.

So why do we women avoid negotiating? This is to a large extent because of the social conditioning females are brought up in where we are always told to be polite and quiet. Asking for money seems, greedy and rude and it is also uncomfortable. Frohlinger advises women to keep a work journal by month detailing the projects and accomplishments achieved, client kudos, amounts in new business created, or savings generated. This compelling evidence of their value to the company can be persuasively presented during a salary negotiation. Even if one gets an automatic raise annually, this substantiation of the corporate value could pay off in a larger increase. If you are stepping into a new role or moving to a new organization, don’t settle for the first offer.

Tory Johnson, the CEO of Women for Hire and Good Morning America’s career expert recommends the following for negotiating that initial offer. Start positive and get the whole compensation package in writing if it has been verbal so far. Be firm. If you have been offered a package lower than your expectations, then let them know politely with an emphasis on the skills and experience you bring to the role and ask them how much wriggle room is available. Every organisation will have a wriggle room, especially for someone they deem the best fit. Follow up especially if the hiring manager is firm on their offer. Work towards reaching an agreement, on paper, for a salary negotiation or review within a pre-determined period. Also try and negotiate on non-money aspects like vacation time, flexible working arrangements, medical benefits, etc.

What are the blocks that don’t allow extremely able women from progressing? These include insufficient impact and presence and lack of a strong personal brand, a lowered productivity and overwhelm through being pulled in too many directions at once as well as poor work-life balance, a belief that doing a good job will be enough and not seeking sponsors, discomfort with networking both internally and externally, being insufficiently strategic and too stuck in the detail, a lack of strategic career planning and reduced confidence and lack of self-belief as a leader.

If you suffer from this syndrome, here’s what you can do to overcome it:

Own your career, acknowledge that you suffer from the syndrome and come up with an action plan. If you don’t like talking about it, use technology instead. Copy your boss into relevant emails and share them on your professional social media accounts. Keep a career journal to keep a record of your accomplishments. This is great for building evidence required for negotiations, it can be confidence boosting and be useful for CVs, appraisals, and other career development opportunities. Stop comparing yourself to others and plan for and maximise the formal opportunities for negotiation, whether for a pay rise or a promotion. Build your brand and internal network. Your brand also includes managing your energetic presence, personal image and communication, including body language. Harness Your Potential which includes identifying and capitalising on strengths as well as being clear about which weaker areas are mission-critical and maximising time and energy. Creating a balance between work and other aspects of life is also vital for sustainable career success. Cultivate supportive relationships within your current work setting as well as the wider professional network, including sponsors and mentors. It is important to be able to initiate these relationships, enhance your influence and also handle difficult relationships. Focus on strategy and volunteer for strategic or extra credit projects so that you can develop an idea of the big picture. Thinking like a leader is necessary to develop a leadership mindset and this includes handling the little voice of doubt that we all have in our heads and also learning to let go of some of what we have excelled at to take on even higher level leadership tasks.

It’s naive to think that delivering excellent results is all that it takes to succeed in the workplace. The playing field is not yet equal for women; the fact is that women have to negotiate for things their male colleagues can often take for granted. In addition to the obvious issue regarding compensation, women should negotiate for high visibility assignments, the resources they need to get the job done, support from those senior in the organization and buy-in from colleagues. They should also negotiate in their personal lives for the things that will enable them to be successful in the workplace. Effective negotiation is a prerequisite to “leaning in”. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Do not wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialise.” So to all the women reading this post, if you have the Tiara Syndrome, shrug it off and know that you too are worth it!

Book Smart or Street Smart


A topic that has been in my mind for a while now, is the eternal debate between being book smart and street smart and which is better. Book smart is an adjective that refers to the learning or education one gets and describes a person whose knowledge greatly derives from book-learning, as opposed to practical experience, or street smarts. Book smart is knowledge derived from facts, science and communication and is explicit knowledge. Street smart, on the other hand, is procedural or practical knowledge on how to accomplish something. It is often tacit knowledge, which means that it can be difficult to transfer to another person through writing it down or verbalising it.

Someone who is known as being book smart people is usually well-read and often have read the classics, know facts and information that many other people don’t and are usually good at things like trivia games and crossword puzzles. The stereotype of a book-smart person is someone who deals with ordinary but challenging situations, especially bad or difficult ones, only from an intellectual point of view by basing their decisions strictly on available facts, accumulated knowledge, or personal insights primarily obtained from an educational environment. Book smart people are good with exams and academically inclined and enjoy the structure of the learning environment. They believe value lies in knowing things and reading things and are sometimes described as smart dumb people. In fact, in Tamil, there is a term for such people known as Padicha Muttal which means an educated fool

On the other hand, people who are good at dealing with practical life problems have lots of street-smarts. They may not be as educated or read as much as those with book smarts, but they have something just as valuable – the ability to use their experiences in many different situations. They are very aware of their surroundings. The stereotype of a street-smart person is someone who knows how to handle practical situations in everyday life necessary to get things done but is not as inherently educated or gifted academically.

In their most extreme and negative stereotypes, book-smart people are essentially naive, easily manipulated, unfeeling, and display bad judgment in ordinary situations while street-smart people are unintelligent and incapable of achieving higher education, but are more passionate and can usually find an answer to a problem through trial and error.

In my opinion, neither alone is good and a combination of book smarts with a dash of street smartness is what differentiates the wheat from the chaff. A highly educated person should not be derided for the advantages they may have and at the same time, just having a certificate does not prove that they know. Conversely, street-smart people are often demeaned simply because they are classified as those who didn’t have the grades to study at an institute of higher learning. Sometimes they are much smarter than those who are highly qualified.

Politics, power, social dynamics, leadership abilities, professional networks, and social status play a big part in an individual’s ability to succeed in life. To succeed in this environment, a person needs to navigate successfully in an opaque world and make the right decisions. In many situations and, in most industries, with the possible exception of teaching and academia, being book smart but not street smart is a distinct disadvantage. Being street smart doesn’t mean one is uneducated, undereducated or unintelligent and dumb. Being street smart means one is more aware of what is happening around them. They have environmental and situational awareness and can judge a situation so they can react to it accordingly. Street smartness comes from life’s experiences and situations that one would have encountered.

Someone who is only book smart, with low to no street smartness will only have the theoretical aspects of what he or she has learnt, but will not know if the theory works in real life. But, without the foundation of that theory, maybe the practical applications can only go so far. So a combination of both is where you hit that sweet spot. The key to success in the workplace and, in all aspects of life, is to have some, actually quite a bit of street smartness. With only book knowledge, when an individual enters the real world, the going is get tough. In these situations, those with street smarts are ready to fight and defend themselves because they have prepared themselves for these moments. This is where their expertise comes into play. They have the world experience, which trumps the book smarts word experience every single time. They have life skills, which trumps the abstract learning of those with bookish knowledge and they know and understand their environment and who is in it.

For someone who is not very street smart, and I count myself in this, here are some good tips to increase your confidence levels.

Recognise your faults and use setbacks to learn and grow. Get in there, the environment you want to succeed in and immerse yourself in it. Get involved with all the nitty-gritty of the work you are doing and be completely hands-on. Learn from mistakes and make sure every experience, whether positive or negative, teaches you something, even if it is what not to do. Doing so will make you more accustomed, more comfortable, and more aware of your world. Also, learn to look for opportunities that are everywhere, but need a keen eye to spot. Acknowledge that people are different and so keep track of their biases, consciously put them aside and judge each person on their merit. That will make you more effective at evaluating people. Choose what feels most certain rather than what’s most logical. And this is something I struggle with, I feel some decisions, and then my logical brain takes over and I change my decision which more often than not backfires. If something is too perfect, too simple, then it’s probably not right, you need to prod and find out more. Everything you do, keep an eye on the future and not just be in the present. A street-smart person puts aside the primal pull of scarcity and assesses value based on utility. In some cases, they may even profit off of other people’s obsession with scarcity.

Become more aware, detach yourself from your emotions because emotions lead to poor decision-making skills, slow down your thinking and become more deliberate using logic which allows seeing through manipulative efforts to choose what’s best for you rather than what feels emotionally satisfying will make you more street smart, even if you are not one now.

What makes someone successful?


Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking to BB & GG about their future and I realised that a common refrain emerged in what I was speaking, which was being successful. So that led me think on what success means? I define success as accomplishing goals, be it small or large. Success is always doing your best, being happy and most importantly believing that you can do what you set out to achieve.

To become successful in any area of life, one should first want it. There is a saying that success only comes to those to dare, which most people don’t. Success only comes to those who are fully committed and determined that come what may, they will give their 100% to what they want to succeed in. So, what are those elusive qualities that someone who is successful has and that we, ordinary people are lacking?

Willing to fail: When one fails, one knows what it takes to succeed. And everyone fails before they succeed and so, a successful person is willing to fail to eventually succeed. The important thing, however, is to learn from each failure, which will eventually lead to better decisions in the future and persevering and not giving up at the first sign of failure.

Go the extra mile: A successful person does more than what’s asked of them. They view their job descriptions as just the beginning of what they can do with their job and once they’ve completed their mandatory tasks, they will always ask to take on more projects that challenge them including those tedious jobs that no one else wants to do in order to be a team player.

Forgive and maybe forget: Successful people learn to forgive and don’t hold on to grudges. The art of forgiveness is the art of letting go and successful people know that to forgive doesn’t mean condoning what someone has done, but rather releasing the negative emotion around it for their own peace of mind. Only then can they move past it and strive harder. On the other hand, unsuccessful people tend to hold on to grudges, causing the negative situation and energy to fester away and inevitably affect their success.

Set real goals: Successful people make achievable and attainable goals that can be accomplished. They also plan their days and even weeks with focussed goals that are aligned with their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses.

Accountability and responsibility: They are accountable for themselves and their actions and don’t rely on others to get their job done. They try to look inwards and search for solutions and own up to mistakes. They make their own luck and position themselves for success. By being slightly better each day and doing at least one thing each day that contributes to their success, they position themselves to get lucky and use that luck to grow and become better in life. They also know they are responsible for their own actions, reactions and ultimately successes and failures which creates a mindset of empowerment and control where bad outcomes direct them to a better path and lets them grow from failure.

Flexible: Those who are successful tend to be more flexible and learn to adjust themselves according to the changes happening in their lives. They are willing to reinvent themselves to stay relevant, constantly coming up with new ideas, learning new skills and searching for ways to be more productive. They don’t wait for things to happen; they make things happen.

Effective communicators: Successful people are able to communicate effectively. They are good story tellers and are persuasive and confident while doing so. They are able to negotiate well and can compile compelling tracks about themselves and their motivations. What makes them effective is that they are clear about and sensitive to the outcome they want to get from their communication and are flexible in their method of communication to achieve their outcome. They are experts at building rapport and separate what is being said from the meaning they put into what is being said.

Networks: Successful people build good networks whom they can tap into when they need answers, people or even help. They aren’t afraid of emailing or calling the best person who can help them and are always prepared with the right questions. They are, in turn, always willing to help others. They also realise that the best way to build a great network is to give help to others first with no expectation of reward. Those who constantly take without giving usually do very poorly on building a solid network.


Life-long learners: Successful people are always learning. They are life-long learners who push themselves out of their comfort zones. Successful people always remain students and are constantly learning new things and have new experiences. They aren’t afraid to try new activities and to fail at them because they know that only by failing will they learn. They are also more excited about the journey than the result because they enjoy the process.

Consistency: Successful people follow through with their habits which others say they would like to, but don’t. Success is down to consistent habits and successful people know this and stick to them. They create positive routines and take time to journal or plan out goals every day. They also have positive but consistent habits like reading, not watching too much television and use their downtime to implements positive and powerful habits which allow them to succeed.

Focus: Successful people are focussed on where they want to go, how they want to be and how to get there. They know the importance of personal growth within their journey towards success. Those who are not successful, focus on the end goal without giving much thought to how to get there. They are also more interested in what others are doing as opposed to what they should be doing instead. This is an important part of being successful in any aspect of life.

Positive Mindset: Successful people focus on the positive and have a positive mindset which propels them on the path to success. Such a state, even when facing a particular challenge, attracts more positive opportunities. It does not matter if they are not successful right now, what matters most is where they would want to go and if they are willing to work for it. Unsuccessful people on the other hand, focus on the negative which can only steer one towards failure because when one only sees the negative, they literally blind themselves from seeing answers to problems because they’re usually fixated on the problem itself and not the solution.

Attitude of gratitude: The attitude of gratitude is the secret weapon for every successful person. Whether it’s gratitude for where they are no matter what stage they’re at, for the people around them and even the challenges they face, appreciation for everything brings more things to be grateful for, and therefore success into their lives.

Embrace Change: The only constant in this world is change and those who know this and take advantage of this adage are successful. They know that change is necessary to grow in life and become successful and so they willingly embrace change because they see change as positive. Others fear change and find it hard to adapt to a changing world.

Share credit: Those who are successful in life usually share credit and don’t hog all the credit for success. Any team effort, even with the major work done by one individual is cause for the group to be credited and share in the celebration. Acknowledging the contributions of others is a common trait in successful people.

Dream big: If one aims for the stars, they will at least touch the moon. Those who are successful know this and have big dreams. Most people don’t live their dream life because they do not dare to dream big. Most of us just aim to get by in life, but if one is serious about being successful, they need to start thinking of having an extraordinary life and think big. It’s quite simple actually, if one thinks of success all the time, there is a high chance that it will be achieved. Conversely, if failure is all that is being thought about, guess what happens?

Continuously improving: A successful person knows that they have to be just slightly better today than they were yesterday and a bit better tomorrow than they were today. This puts them on a path to becoming better on a continuous basis and reach the goals they set for themselves.

Never give up: The journey to success is tough and one will go through a lot of failures and setbacks before reaching the apex. However, they never let that get to them, but have the confidence to move on and to turn failures into learning lessons. Those who are successful never quit and give up on their dreams. They hold on to their dreams and continue to work hard even when the world tells them that it is impossible.

Self-Discipline and Self-confidence: Everyone procrastinates. And everyone has a vice or two, however minor. But those who are continually successful never let distractions overtake them. Instead, they have the discipline to force themselves to keep at it, even when they feel the urge to do something less important. Confidence shouldn’t be confused with arrogance. Confidence is the belief and conviction in self. Successful people are great at this.

Time management skills: Those who are successful are able to manage their time well. They know that time can’t actually be managed, because you can only manage something that you can actually change. Instead, successful people prioritise the things that matter most, focus on those and leave the rest to be tackled on another day.

High self-esteem: Those who succeed are people who believe they deserve their success and know that they can do anything they set their mind to. They understand that a mistake is something that they do and not who they are. They also monitor the warning signs of low self-esteem to ensure they always keep a positive self-image of themselves. They realize that self-esteem is a state of mind and choosing to have high self-esteem is much more useful than choosing to have low self-esteem.

Well-rounded and balanced: Truly successful people strive to be successful in all aspects of their lives. They live healthy lives, become financially independent, nurture meaningful relationships, develop personal mastery, and accomplish their professional goals. They know that sacrificing one key area to achieve another will not help them maximise their true potential. It is hard to be your best and to contribute when you have to worry about how you are going to pay the rent.

Great listeners: Everyone wants to be a great speaker but how many people strive to be excellent listeners. People who listen succeed in life because they are able to hear and understand the needs of other people and to focus their energy on meeting those needs. The fastest way to be a good conversationalist is to listen well and ask questions.

Always prepared: Successful people are always prepared. They not only have a plan B but also a Plan C, D, E, and F. They mentally rehearse and visualise the possibilities vividly so that when the actual situation occurs, their brains will remember what to do and they are never stuck on the back foot.

So here you have it. These are some of the key elements to what makes someone successful. A mindset of gratitude, teamwork and putting more emphasis on the journey rather than the destination are all important when it comes to success.

In My Hands Today…

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You – Julie Zhuo

Congratulations, you’re a manager! After you pop the champagne, accept the shiny new title, and step into this thrilling next chapter of your career, the truth descends like a fog: you don’t really know what you’re doing.

That’s exactly how Julie Zhuo felt when she became a rookie manager at the age of 25. She stared at a long list of logistics–from hiring to firing, from meeting to messaging, from planning to pitching–and faced a thousand questions and uncertainties. How was she supposed to spin teamwork into value? How could she be a good steward of her reports’ careers? What was the secret to leading with confidence in new and unexpected situations?

Now, having managed dozens of teams spanning tens to hundreds of people, Julie knows the most important lesson of all: great managers are made, not born. If you care enough to be reading this, then you care enough to be a great manager.

The Making of a Manager is a modern field guide packed everyday examples and transformative insights, including:

  • How to tell a great manager from an average manager (illustrations included)
  • When you should look past an awkward interview and hire someone anyway
  • How to build trust with your reports through not being a boss
  • Where to look when you lose faith and lack the answers

Whether you’re new to the job, a veteran leader, or looking to be promoted, this is the handbook you need to be the kind of manager you wish you had.