You may not have heard of it before, but you intrinsically know it, because we've all been deeply immersed in VUCA living since March 2020. The acronym stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Good descriptors for how the past year-plus has felt, right? First used by U.S. military strategists in 1987 to address the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that arose following the collapse of the Soviet Union, VUCA entered the more frequent lexicon of organizational strategists in 2002. Today the concept is a key driver in leadership thinking in organizations from large corporations to education.
Our guest blogger David Culberhouse is a seasoned educator turned futurist thinker. Currently in his seventh year as Program Manager for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (County Office of Education), Culberhouse has served as Senior Director of Elementary Education in the Rialto Unified School District in Rialto, California and as a classroom teacher at both the elementary and secondary levels. Administratively, he has served as a Program Specialist, an Elementary Administrator, and an Elementary Principal, the last year of which the school received the honor of being recognized as a California Distinguished School. We're pleased to introduce David and offer up a sample of his thinking. For more, check out his thoughts on education and leadership at his blog, www.dculberh.wordpress.com and on Twitter @DCulberhouse.
In-Between Stories: Old World vs. New World.
“It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The Old Story – the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it – is not functioning properly, and we have not learned the New Story.” -Thomas Berry via Creating Better Futures
Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (VUCA) become amplified in those environments where we find ourselves in between stories. Before a new narrative surfaces. Before a new vision for the future is realized. In that space where “old world” and “new world” clash, but before a victor emerges and a direction is determined.
Or as put forth in The Changing Face of Modern Leadership, “We lead and live in tense and volatile times, amidst a collision of “old world” meets “new world” thinking. It can be seen as a perplexing and disorienting time for those leaders who have comfortably remained within and relied upon a neat and orderly way of viewing our world and our organizations.”
A time and space that can and will create both individual and organizational disequilibrium, especially as the complexity of change forces explodes forth in a relentless and much more accelerated manner. Dismantling our mental models of the past, in order to create room for new visions of the future.
Which will be necessary under the escalating rise in dilemmas and adaptive challenges that will test our leaders and stretch our organizations, often to their capacity. Requiring leaders to deepen their own capacity and competency for better understanding these forces, along with a deepening resiliency towards keeping our individuals, organizations and systems from recoiling themselves back into the perceived safety of the past, of the known, of what existed before change arrived.
Which is an ongoing and formidable task in its own right.
What we will have to realize in moving forward, is that there will not just be one point, one idea, one narrative that can and will lead us into the future. We will have to change our thinking and our discussions towards our future thinking. Or as Eugene Eubanks, Ralph Parish, and Dianne Smith share in Changing the Discourse in Schools, we will have to move from Discourse I to Discourse II thinking.
For example, here are a few of the discourse shifts they share:
Moving from singular truths to multiple stories; from the change process to the desired circumstances; from improving what exists to changing something significant; from symptoms to causes; from the familiar to the uncomfortable; from information transfer to knowledge creation; and from reproduction to transformation.
Which will not only require the ongoing deconstructing and reconstructing of our mental models, but shifts and reframes in our thinking and mindset.
Which is why a variety of narratives, or scenarios will be necessary for moving us and our organizations more relevantly into the future. And not only for the reason that the future is not predictable and cannot and will not be predicted, but for the very fact that it has become much more non-obvious in its direction and the speed and agility in which it now allows itself to shift and change. Remaining agile and adaptable to the future will require planning for a variety of scenarios, a variety of narratives, from today’s leaders and organizations. Or as Jay Ogilvy shares in Creating Better Futures, “Therefore, in thinking ahead over the long term, as a sense of responsibility demands, we need to think about several possible futures, not just one. We need a strategy for all seasons, not just one.”
Creating a variety of scenarios for the future will not only necessitate a variety of perspectives, and a diversity of thinking, but a score of voices and a multiplicity of stakeholders, all aspiring to a better future.
“Fresh thinking about the future calls for alternative scenarios based on new assumptions that differ from the old, not just quantitatively but qualitatively. A coherent set of qualitatively new assumptions amounts to a new paradigm, a new way of looking at something we thought we knew.” -Jay Ogilvy via Creating Better Futures
Reprinted with the author’s permission. Originally published June 17, 2020 at https://dculberh.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/in-between-stories/