Finding your place in a VUCA world is one thing, but navigating the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous terrain is yet another. Should one care at all? Is it not possible to avoid this VUCA world completely or only engage with it on one’s own terms; withdraw from the system to make your own living in nature – like the people in Ben Fogle’s TV series ‘Return to the Wild’? Is the alternative a life characterised by endless efforts to try and make sense of everything that gets thrown at us (from the latest ‘must have app’ to the latest news of looming natural, economical or political disasters), desperately trying to keep up with the pace that is set for us? Hopefully we have other options and hopefully we can apply ourselves to them in a responsible way.

How to be firm

It is easy to conclude that our only option is to go with the flow and give up on standing on or building foundations. There are simply too many examples of how the strongholds of earlier beliefs and ideologies crumbled to the degree that they obviously failed in practice or were reasonably questioned and proven wrong or misplaced. It is easy to become sceptical of everything, even you own thinking. Alternatively, to become a hard-headed, self-serving, reckless egoist in a position of power and/or wealth. No wonder there is a general feeling of desperation when it comes to leadership.

The challenge is how and when to be firm and how and when to be flexible. As we can see in the way the Brexit drama is unfolding, the margins of error are small. It is harder to know what we stand for than to know what we stand against. It is also harder to be open-minded and collaborative than it is to stay in love with your own ideas – particularly when we have invested so much of our ego in an argument.

How to be flexible

We can only know when and how to be firm if we also know when and how to be flexible. It is a balancing act in a real-life context. There is no perfect formula. The first hurdle however is a dualistic mind-set and worldview, and thus the illusion of perfection. The dualistic mind is essentially either/or thinking. It works for simplification but not for the subtlety of actual personal experience. With a dualistic approach we use words like right/wrong, good/bad, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, winner/loser, not realising there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum.

A dualistic mind cannot process infinity, mystery, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love. All of which is very real in our experience of life. Seeing the world with a dualistic mind is easier because we rely mostly on what we were told and how we were trained in what is right, good, pretty, smart and winning. Letting go of it is hard because we have to think for ourselves. What do we truly believe? What do we truly value? What do we find meaningful?

To be firm and flexible requires knowing yourself, both the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, the confident and the vulnerable, the light and the dark. It requires authenticity and self-reflection. It requires self- and social awareness and the willingness to withhold judgment until such time that you, with a clear and calm mind, can lead yourself and others appropriately with both firmness and flexibility, comfortable with the paradox.

In the context of the VUCA world, as a rule of thumb, spend 10 minutes of reflection and contemplation for every 1 minute of checking your messages.