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  • Writer's pictureOlivier S.E. Courtois

Does Your Brain Function at Its Best in This VUCA World?

With the collapse of the USSR, the relatively binary world entered a much more unstable and complex era. It was on this occasion that the American army put forward the VUCA concept, which was taken up by Donald Rumsfeld in a now famous quote: "... there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

VUCA has now entered the headquarters of many organizations. Indeed, it is becoming difficult today to develop strategies in a world that is changing faster and faster (volatility), that is more and more unpredictable (uncertainty), where cause and effect links are more and more multiple and interconnected (complexity) and where the potential for misinterpretation is higher than ever (ambiguity).

In response, methods and approaches are proposed to develop organizational agility, to analyze multiple data more quickly and efficiently, to develop innovation and experimentation and to equip our organizations to be more resilient. Yet, these systemic or organizational 'remedies' must be complemented by work on personal agility.

In a clear and stable context, the neocortex and the prefrontal brains function optimally. The more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situations are, the more insecurity and stress set in, and the more decision fatigue they require and generate? The reptilian brain then takes over. However, it operates in a mode that is most often inappropriate for these situations, which can be summed up in three words: Fight/Flight/Freeze.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for decision-making entities to resort to these survival strategies, due to a lack of agility and serenity. One of the exciting aspects of my job is to work with leadership teams to create the necessary conditions for the development of mental agility and the diffusion of a growth mindset within their organizations.

What about you, where are you on this journey? Do you discuss these aspects within your team? What strategies have you put in place to develop the mental agility of your teams and yourself? To what extent are your decisions based on sound and rational analysis? Do you detect old reptilian reflexes in the making of decisions or in their implementation?

This work is necessary and rewarding. I wish you serenity and agility in this VUCA world!


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