If you’re wondering how to bring some order to an uncertain future – the answer is you can’t. To succeed you need to retrain your brain to not only survive, but thrive, in ambiguity.
The acronym VUCA (for those in the dark, that’s volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) has become a go-to business term for all the different kinds of crazy we deal with in our work lives. But as precarious as things might seem, there’s a wealth of information out there on how to prepare your business to forge ahead towards a future full of ambiguity.
You may also be asking what you can do. Yes, you! Not your manager and not your CEO. Regardless of your position and role, you can personally do a lot to improve your capacity for ambiguity – and that of your workplace – with a better understanding of how your brain works. After all, organisations are not inanimate objects, but the people within them.
When the decisions we need to make lead us to unfamiliar territory, our memories are going to be the opposite of useful. We need to develop our skills in making choices based on limited information – and be comfortable with taking risks.
1. Check your cognitive bias
Cognitive Bias is our mind’s best attempt to “shortcut” the decision-making process. Sometimes this can be helpful but other times it leads us astray. Being conscious of our own proclivity to bias is the first step to avoiding the worst case scenario – a bad decision we don’t realise we’re making. While we can’t wholly eliminate bias, an awareness that it’s very likely influencing our decisions can help us manage it.
2. Ask: What if…
Developing a ‘what if’ attitude and a healthy sense of curiosity can help us roll with the punches more easily. When roadblocks appear and we face unexpected challenges, asking what we learn this helps build a growth mindset. Similarly, asking “what else could that mean?” prompts us to consider different points of view and incorporate diversity of thinking. Limiting the emotional reaction to setbacks and conflict in this way can help our logical brains consider the situation without the emotional part of our brain hijacking the process.
3. Focus on what you can change
Our brain loves certainty. For many of us, mental health has a lot to do with our sense of control over our environment. Of course, in reality there’s a lot we can’t control. In the face of that and to help satisfy our brain’s need for this sense of security, we should refocus on what we do know and what we can change rather than on all the things we can’t.
4. Make time for creativity
Being aware of how insight and “aha” moments occur for you is essential to improving creative and innovative thinking. There’s no one-size-fits all practice or silver bullet for creative thinking; it works differently for everyone. And very rarely is that ‘magic hour’ a team brainstorming session. More often, it’s during our down time that we create space for ideas to flow. When you allow time and space to ponder ideas and problems, our unconscious mind is able to make the random connections necessary for innovative solutions and complex problem solving.
Building self-awareness and emotional resilience is essential to developing the capability to thrive in a VUCA world. Engage with the unknown, be open to learning new skills, and embrace different concepts in order to build up your ability survive – and thrive – in an ambiguous world.