VUCA”O” – Why I add Overwhelming to Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous

VUCAO Lifecycle

Because when we’re overwhelmed, we make simple and complicated situations, complex and chaotic.

Complexity & uncertainty handling is starting to get recognition as a skill set, ability and aptitude associated to agility. A lot of my executive coaching conversations are indeed around this topic.

The interesting thing is that often through the coaching conversation, we discover that actually it was the coachee themselves that made the situation complex and even chaotic (a nice way to say that things got out of hand).

Consider the following. Airplane crashes are typically a result of unfortunate chain of events. Weather and mechanical failures are the typical triggers, but almost all statistics that I’ve looked up catalog pilot error as the ultimate cause of failure. In many cases, the trigger events were impactful but nonetheless simple or at best complicated incidents. Yet the pilots, working to take action under incredible duress, made fatal errors that let to the catastrophic consequences. They most likely were overwhelmed, panicked.

And this is the point: don’t underestimate overwhelmingness.

As with building resilience to complexity and uncertainty, we can seek training, coaching and counseling that will help us maintain the cool in overwhelming situations.

When it happens, it will happen. We will be overwhelmed, and sometimes panicked. But that’s okay. So long as we are able to become self-aware that we are overwhelmed and panicked, and we activate the tools, approaches and mindsets that we have practiced before to handle high pressure situations, we will be okay. And hopefully not crash the plane.

Complicated vs Complex and VUCAO

Solving complex problems algorithmically

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