I had shared some thoughts earlier on how students graduating to the workplace can say “Hello Real World”. Now, let’s see how experienced professionals can survive the VUCA world that is Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous!
Hello VUCA World
Over the last few months, I had been working with Careers360 on a contest. In addition to exciting prizes from PayTM, LexisNexis, and GoIbibo, the contest provided Top 21 students an opportunity to intern at our firm. More than 5,000 college students participated in the contemporary and exciting multi-stage contest.
The innovative, creative and social format of the contest prompted me to think of the challenges that the students may have faced during the contest. I also shared my thoughts about challenges that students face on graduating from the academic world as they say Hello to the Real World.
You Be The Judge
The contest not only demanded creativity and innovation from the contestants, but also from our side. I developed some AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools based on Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning to process and evaluate the numerous submissions. This supplemented the traditional manual evaluation process.
Probably, it is time to pause and think about our external environment and how prepared we are for the same. I find experienced professionals who are striving to adjust to the demands of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.
So, let us peel a few more layers and examine the patterns that are developing in our VUCA world!
The Typical Pattern
Let’s start with the educational institutes, that continue to be rooted in the Industrial Age. They prepare us for a world that ceased to exist few decades ago.
We then receive well meaning advice upon joining the workforce on how the ‘real world’ is different and what it takes to succeed. The list is arduously long but a few attributes have featured consistently – team-work, positive attitude, hard work, passion, purpose, and you get the picture.
The situation changes drastically when one joins the workforce, but for the most part, a lot of people get used to chasing routine targets, making marginal improvements to productivity and efficiency and at best, trudging up the value chain and the working up the meaningless multi-layered hierarchical organization structure before plateauing.
These patterns could have continued ad infinitum and nothing would be terribly wrong about it, had it not been for the VUCA world around us.
Challenges in The VUCA World
In the VUCA world, a significant portion of what we are trained to do, is being done more efficiently and more reliably, by machines. The frenetic pace of change has caused a dramatic shift in the nature of the workforce the world needs.
At the same time, our experiences have not trained us to be ready for the same. Our educational system has not done course corrections on quite the same magnitude. Further, the mind-numbing competition, dulls the innate curiosity and mental faculties that distinguish us from our Darwinian ancestors.
The final nail in the coffin is the quarterly phenomenon, arguably a by-product of zealous stock market regulators. This leaves little room for long term thinking; as the organization’s primary focus is delivering the goods for the next quarter.
You are pushing yourself to do more of the same stuff. If you think there is nothing wrong with it, think again!
The underlying changes in the VUCA world may cause disruptive changes to your industry or your skills ecosystem. All of a sudden, the nature of work may undergo a tectonic change and several roles may become redundant.
However, there is a silver lining. One may see the glass as half empty or half full, but in my view the glass is always full. Such changes almost always create massive opportunities. New roles typically get created. The demand for such roles and skills typically exceeds the available supply, at least initially.
So, what does it take to be on the right side of such massive changes? How does one prepare a toolkit to survive in the VUCA world?
Survival Toolkit for the VUCA World
Well, at one level, the answer is very contextual and depends on the nature of your skills and industry and their respective stages in the lifecycle.
However, at a higher level, we can generalize and distill some elements. Let’s enlist some attributes to not just survive but thrive in this VUCA world:
A series of disruptive innovations is transforming the course of industries, governments and society. Consequently, there has been a metamorphosis in the nature of skills and competencies required for success in the VUCA world.
The successful 21st Century worker is one who is agile and responds creatively with answers for tomorrow. It is not effective enough to efficiently reproduce answers that were discovered in the past.
The creative knowledge worker will be the expert at handling “What If” scenarios. This is crucial in a complex environment where most variables are dynamic and difficult to anticipate.
A good reference point is the internship contest that we conducted earlier this year. Even to get through the first round of the internship contest, the students were required to exhibit creativity that differentiated them from over 5,000 peers.
One can visualize the increasing importance of creativity by extrapolating the above example on two dimensions. Firstly, the importance increases significantly as one moves up the hierarchy. Secondly, creative traits get valued exponentially as digital innovation disrupts the world even further.
Hello Disruptive World
Powered by Creativity
We are living in the most connected world ever! The traditional six degrees of separation is quickly shrinking. Facebook reported the distance has reduced to 3.57 earlier this year.
Team work is typically far more important than individual abilities. The ability to influence and connect with audiences and stakeholders are differentiators.
However, in the rapidly shrinking VUCA world, social influence is slowly but surely becoming a gatekeeping criteria. We saw this once again in the above mentioned contest. The contestants needed to establish a threshold level of social engagement skills by getting peers to post reviews before proceeding to the next round. This was followed by an online debate on Facebook, amplifying the importance of making your point, in a contemporary social setting.
Social Influence is now a mandatory attribute and no longer a differentiator!
Hello Connected World
Phone and Life – Both need strong networks
Do you think you are coming out of a Learning Institution and your skills and knowledge are workplace ready? Think Again
You may have been working for a while. If so, what are the chances that whatever you learnt few years ago in college is still relevant?
Industry watchers bemoan the shockingly low proportion of graduates that are employable. Even if they are employable, developing leading skills is a different ball game.
This often requires lifelong dedication to one’s stated purpose. One has to tread the path of continuous self-directed learning. This autodidactual approach appears to be the only fail-safe counter to the VUCA world!
Extending the full glass analogy, we took advantage of the advances in digital learning and upgraded our skills in greenfield areas. This led to a virtuous cycle that was recognized on several platforms. We were the only Asia-headquartered firm to be recognized by Financial Times for Innovation in the use of Technology for the above initiatives in an event held in Hong Kong in June this year
It is indeed time for the Rise of the Autodidacts.
Hello VUCA World
Entry for Autodidacts Only
One Final Thought
Can you recall any app or software you use that has not offered a version upgrade for some time?
In the VUCA world, do keep a record of the latest Version Upgrade of your skills, abilities and knowledge?
If you can’t recollect the last upgrade, the time to do it is NOW – Carpe Diem!