What to Do When you are Facing an Urgent Challenge, But Everyone is Sticking their Heads in the Sand …

Ever heard of the acronym “VUCA”? It means Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and it was first coined by military planners nearly 20 years ago to describe the type of environment soldiers have to adapt to as they enter a war zone.

And sometimes it feels like the corporate and business world of today embodies that VUCA type enviroment more and more. Political upheaval and threats of war, global climate disasters, stock market volatility, growing distrust of media and institutions, the rebirth of the woment’s movement, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, massive data, new and innovative human/computer interfaces.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that change is coming and if you’re not facing urgent challenges right now, then you will be shortly.

But what if you are the Cassandra of your organization? The doomed prophet that everyone is ignoring as they blithely go about their day sticking their collective heads in the sand? How do you get your organization to wake up and face head on the urgent challenges that are either looming on the horizon, just starting to perculate in the background, or flashing red warning signals?

Companies are used to slow, incremental change, introducing new concepts, new methods, new products over time. But what if change has to happen fast? What if your staff (or senior managment) either doesn’t recognize the need for it or is fighting against it? (no one really likes change after all, and especially if it is happening fast).

Well, let me be blunt:

First, you need a new story and it needs to be galvanizing.

You need new metaphors, new images around the story of who you are and what you are doing. Story provides the container for emotional energy and action. It provides a way for people to instantly ‘get it’ – to figure out the new plot and the new journey ahead. Story fits into the human brain and galvanizes people forward.

It is the spark that lights action. It is what lifts the head out of the sand.

Second, once the spark is lit, you need to build sustainable structures around it. In other words, the company must adapt new ways of talking about the new journey ahead. New ideas need to arise to support how you are moving forward. A culture of innovation, conversation and storytelling has to be created. Creativity arises from the group.

(And, God knows, we need creative thinking in times of change. Solutions just don’t arise from old thinking. Not in today’s age.)

Finally, your new story and your new ideas have to be communicated well. It’s not just about telling a new story within the organization, it’s about telling it to the world, to your customers, your suppliers, your bankers, your community. We live in a distributed world of stories, connections and money. For new ideas and stories to work, they have to be translated and distributed in strategic ways.

This is not easy work. Leading change, especially urgent change, must be thoughtful, brilliant even, and I hope, conducted in a spirit of both excitement and compassion.

It requires leadership.

And it requires better stories.

*** If you are interested in learning more about how to create better stories in your organization, ask me about my keynote/workshop I can bring to your organization: “Inventing the Future – How to Master the Persuasive Story and Create Change” or about my in-house workshop Urgent Challenge Solution: Storytelling for Change Makers (contact diane@beabetterstory.com)

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