Creating an agile mindset in VUCA times

If you haven’t heard of the expression VUCA times before, you have now. It’s here to stay; we live in an unprecedented time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Change is the new constant and thriving in this environment requires an agile mindset; an ability to not simply adapt to new situations but to embrace them with eager curiosity. Yet the work of neuroscientists such as David Rock in establishing the SCARF model suggests that despite being one of the most adaptable species on the planet, humans are ‘hardwired’ to respond to social change in the same way we would avoid primal threats. While it’s true there are some who can be described as ‘Change Junkies’, there are just as certainly others who readily admit to being ‘change phobic’. In its extreme form, this even has an official name; Metathesiophobia. So how can you develop the type of mindset that thrives on change rather than feeling threatened by it?

If responding to change involves ‘short-circuiting’ a natural avoidance response, one path to achieving this may lie in the development of higher-order emotionally intelligent behaviours. Emotional Intelligence is described as the ability to recognise, understand and manage emotional responses in self and others in positive ways. Ironically, emotionally intelligent people are often described as approaching challenging or confronting situations with a core of centred calmness. Thriving in VUCA times doesn’t mean becoming volatile, uncertain, complex or ambiguous; in fact, what’s required is just the opposite.

Many thought leaders are now using the VUCA Prime model as a pneumonic for change leadership qualities. Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility are certainly characteristics of inspiring leaders, but what about the people ‘in the trenches’? How do we find that unequivocal core of stability, certainty and simplicity that allows us to become agile and resilient in the midst of a whirlwind of unsolicited change? About twelve months ago I came across a definition of resilience which resonated really strongly;

Resilience is the ability to hold true to your core values in times when they are challenged.

Could this be the key? It sounds easy; when the sea gets rough, hang on tight to your life raft of core values. But what if you don’t know what your values are? What if you weren’t hanging on to them before the storm hit? A life raft stowed away somewhere you can’t get to it quickly and easily is of no use when a southerly front hits you in Bass Strait, with little warning. It needs to be securely lashed on deck, ready to deploy in an instant. All the crew – not just the skipper – need to know with absolute certainty how and when to use it. If I asked you to list your three most important enduring core values, how quickly could you name them? How sure would you be that those were your top three? If you had to rate yourself on how closely your behaviour aligns to them on a day to day basis, how would you score? How practiced are you at steering by them when the going gets tough?

Here’s an activity; find some mental and physical space. Give yourself time to think of all the things which are important to you. All the things which make you happy, satisfied and fulfilled in life. All the things without which your life would be less enriched. Make your list as long as it needs to be. Then start trimming it back. Prioritise your values, rank them in order and test the order by asking yourself if you would truly be happy if you had the top few but couldn’t have those below. ‘Chunk up’ your common values – for example I started out with honesty, integrity, kindness, fairness, loyalty, gratitude, which I ended up summarising as ‘conduct’. Hone your list until all you have left are three enduring core values which mean more to you than anything else.

Did you find that challenging? You’re not alone. Living in a society where we take for granted much of what we have doesn’t encourage us to give a lot of thought to what we absolutely can’t live without. Many of us spend a surprisingly large number of our waking hours actively pursuing other ‘stuff’, all of which is ‘nice to have’. Here’s the real challenge; now that you’ve identified your enduring core values, practice living by them. Practice holding them in your conscious awareness, keeping them in balance. You can steer a boat using only the tiller but it’s hard work. It’s only when the sails are well-trimmed that you’ll find your true course.

If you’d like to know more about Values coaching, email

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