The Identity Circle Viewsletter
Issue Twenty Three | September 2014

VUCA vs. You -- Who will win?




Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity.


You may be familiar with it. The term has been around for quite a while. Originally coined by the military to characterize the increasingly chaotic state of the world, then adopted by organizations to better address demanding leadership challenges, VUCA has now become a reality for all of us. No one is immune from its impact. Not organizations, not their leaders, not you or me.


VUCA keeps everything off-balance, making it tough to find a reliable rudder in turbulent times.


In an article in The New York Times recently, Michael Beschloss addressed "the 'split screen' convergence of important news this summer -- from Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri." Referring to all of these unnerving events in one sentence dramatizes the fact that VUCA is with us, in spades.


VUCA challenges our sense of meaning, complicates our choices, clouds our understanding, generates fear and generally produces a kind of inescapable insanity that can make living "normally" difficult at best.


The question is: How do we navigate life in a VUCA world?


Welcome the world according to "COSS"


One good acronym deserves another. The way I see it, the antidote to volatility is steadiness. The remedy for uncertainty is order. The treatment for complexity is simplicity. The cure for ambiguity is clarity. Allowing for a bit of editorial license in how these words are arranged, we have COSS ... 


Clarity. Order. Simplicity. Steadiness.


Getting to COSS isn't a matter of turning on a hidden switch that suddenly makes VUCA disappear. Nor can COSS be found in the outside world where VUCA holds sway. Just as VUCA is an external phenomenon, COSS is an internal one. It resides inside us, in the fabric of our identities that make us the unique individuals, leaders, and organizations we are.  


Here is how COSS works:


Clarity is ours when we know who we are (and who we are not) and embrace that reality. Nothing, not even VUCA, can rob us of that truth. While things may be ambiguous 'out there,' having clarity about ourselves, our purpose, allows ambiguity to wash over us with little ill effect.


Order resides within us and trumps the uncertainty that is all around us. The kind of order I'm talking about emerges when we recognize that our identities provide a lens through which to evaluate outside events and people, allowing us to make sense of things -- to interpret, accept, organize, and prioritize them -- in ways that reinforce, or don't reinforce, who we are and what we believe in.


Simplicity can seem like an impossible goal in a world inundated with information, social media, family demands, work requirements and other forces outside ourselves that complicate life. Short of becoming a hermit, complexity has become part of our days. What can be "simple" however -- and extraordinarily powerful -- is using our identities as timeless touchstones to refer back to when we feel overwhelmed. I am Larry Ackerman and I am driven to help people to see. See? Simple!


Steadiness is a state of being we achieve when we allow our identities to anchor us in volatile seas. Volatility keeps us askew. Our identities are the counter-force that keeps us stable, allowing us to move forward, adapting and changing from a changeless foundation.


What can COSS do for you?


Whereas, we cannot control when and how VUCA shows up in our lives, we can control COSS as the answer to VUCA.   


Consider how you can apply COSS to your life as an individual, as a leader, or to the life of your organization. The roots of COSS are already there, waiting to be tapped in the fundamental identity that makes you who you are.


For all of its fearsome qualities, VUCA is no match for the timeless power of COSS. Tap in!


Join the conversation at Identity Beacon


See you online!  


Larry Ackerman  

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There has been plenty written recently about the need to tap into one's inner life to achieve the kind of self-awareness that breeds authenticity. For those aspiring to lead, this isn't just a nice-to-have; it's a must-have. Here's an article that talks about how to get "in" there and come out stronger as a result.    




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Larry Ackerman, Westport, CT
Larry Ackerman
Founder and President
The Identity Circle

"How do we navigate life in a VUCA world?"


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