The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) has long been adopted into business terminology to convey the unpredictable environment we live in. The phrase has been around since the late 1980s (first used by the American military) and signals that the economic climate we now need to consider as normal is disorderly and subject to persistent change.
More than 30 years later, however, VUCA is a state of play we haven’t fully come to terms with – organisations and individuals are still hugely susceptible to disruption. If we weren’t, events like the pandemic, Brexit or changes such as new technology wouldn’t continue to blindside businesses and leaders.
It begs the question: can we turn ourselves and our organisations into centres of resilience that, in effect, become ‘undisruptable’? A new book written by businessman and former professional rugby player Aidan McCullen suggests we can. By adapting our thinking, we can place ourselves in a mindset of ‘permanent reinvention’, he says.
Although humans instinctively cling to what they are familiar with, rather than opening themselves up to different ideas, solutions or ways of working, McCullen describes a series of mental disciplines that can help us discover how to exploit change to achieve exceptional results.
Project managers have a vital role to play in making sense of chaos and building organisational resilience to help manoeuvre their businesses through uncertain times.
The book offers several tips to help project professionals reprogramme their approach, so dealing with change becomes part of their everyday work, rather than being episodic – a perpetual cycle that can lead to new learning, growth and more successful outcomes.
Here are five key takeaways:
1. See resistance to change as a ‘milestone not a millstone’
Change can feel draining for those on the receiving end, but the same goes for the instigators of it. Innovators who recognise an opportunity where others see problems, and have a higher capacity for risk-taking, may feel frustrated by those who want to cling to the status quo. The good news for project professionals acting as change agents is that resistance should be taken as a sign of progress, not failure, according to McCullen. So, consider it to be motivating rather than deflating.
In fact, you may be playing it too safe if your ideas or changes don’t provoke any opposition from team members or stakeholders.
2. When you achieve success or you are at a career peak, the trough is already likely on the horizon
Reaching a high point has its risks – you can get too comfortable and close your mind to new information, which is a danger point. By embracing the concept of perpetual learning, you can reframe your mindset in a profound way. The trick is to stop focusing on a final ‘destination’ or goal and instead fix your attention on the process of development itself, so you are always challenging assumptions, seeking out new insight, reviewing and learning.
Be honest: at an individual level, are you always nurturing new skillsets and capabilities?
3. Avoid the success trap
This is linked to the point above. Drawing on the example of Nokia, which dominated the mobile phone market in 2007, then suffered a steep decline in its fortunes as it fell victim to disruption from Apple’s iPhone. McCullen explains that success can numb us into complacency and stop us seeing threats and opportunities. To prevent this, reflect carefully on how you behave when you are performing well and attaining successes. Also pay close attention to how you react when someone suggests new ways of doing things that go against your established practices. Do you listen or is your instinct to be defensive and focus on why their suggestions won’t work?
4. Introduce a bit of fear into your life – and reframe it as something positive rather than threatening
McCullen asks: what if fear wasn’t a signal telling you to stop, but merely growing pains indicating you are on the verge of new growth and pushing your limits? Think about what you can do differently to escape your comfort zone, whether that be taking on a new project or having the courage to speak up about a work issue you feel could make a real difference.
5. Recognise that a crisis can point a new way forward
Although, of course, they create obstacles, crises can also unveil latent opportunities that would otherwise have been overlooked. Consider carefully how you react to a crisis. It’s normal to feel fear at first, but by adjusting your perceptions and looking deeper, it could highlight improvements in the way you work that could sharpen efficiency, generate new solutions or lead to greater client/stakeholder satisfaction and more successful business outcomes.
Read more in Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life published by Wiley.
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