Shane Kempton: how to survive in a volatile world

Shane Kempton says we're living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and the rules that helped us through life thus far won't work in the future. For those that like to be 'in control' it's an unsettling concept. Here, Shane shares his five top tips to strengthen your resilience and win in a VUCA world.

There is no doubt we have all faced some challenges over the past two years.

And just when we hoped and expected 2022 was going to be the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, global events have seen us enter another period of uncertainty and disruption. 

In fact, academics around the world are suggesting we are all being impacted by the most significant political, environmental, social, and economic challenges in history.

Stay with me team, there is “light at the end of the tunnel” and it’s not a train.

What is VUCA?

It would be fair to say that VUCA is the new normal. What is VUCA I hear some of you ask? 

VUCA is short for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In other words, ‘it’s crazy out there’.

The acronym was first established in the defence force but is now more widely used. 

The terms in VUCA can be explained in the following way.

When things are ‘volatile’ they are unpredictable, unexpected and/or unstable.

With ‘uncertainty’, change in your favour is possible, but not a given.

When things are ‘complex’ they generally have many layers, overlapping relationships and interconnected parts and variables.

And ‘ambiguity’ comes with no precedents and is the pinnacle of the unknown. 

The impact of VUCA

When we read those definitions and look at what is happening in the world, the industry, and our own backyard, we can see, the game has changed.

Many of the rules, plans and thinking that got us to this point, both at a macro and micro level, are not going to provide the answers for what lies ahead. 

A VUCA environment creates antagonistic conditions for us as humans, as we generally live with great expectation that things will go as we hoped or planned.

When reality doesn’t meet our expectations, we can feel vulnerable and out of control.

Therefore, we need to establish how we can win within this VUCA environment in all pillars of our life (wealth, career, happiness …).

Winning in VUCA

As with all periods of uncertainty and disruption in our history, there will always be victims of change and winners.

Victims of change choose to be rigid, stay stuck in the past and stubbornly stick to their old redundant ways.

Winners are adaptable and don’t get lost in what they cannot influence. They stay focused on the things they can control.

They see and seize the great opportunities that present themselves in new frontiers.

Winning in these VUCA times requires two skills, which are learnable and 100 per cent in your control.

They are resilience and being anti-fragile.

Let’s get into resilience this edition and I will deep dive into becoming anti-fragile in the future.

Shield against VUCA

All of us have displayed various degrees of resilience throughout our life due to the challenges we have faced and overcome through shear grit and determination.

The good news is that resilience is a skill, and like any skill you can improve it, so it becomes more efficient and effective as life’s challenges increase in complexity.

There have been many talks, books, and blogs written on the topic of resilience.

Through the study of these, you will find there is a golden thread of common attributes that weaves its way through many of them.

The most recent body of work that I have read, applied, and my clients have related to the most is, The Resilience Shield by Dan and Ben Pronk and Tim Curtis.

In it, they refer to resilience having layers and forming a shield, with no layer more important than another, with its strength coming from their interconnectedness. 

In summary, there are six layers to your shield.

The first being your innate and existing resilience skills, formed from your life experiences.

The next is the mental layer and your mindset (fixed or growth).

The third is your physical layer and is based upon the quality of your sleep, diet, and exercise.

From here we move to the social layer and the extent of your friendships beyond work colleagues.

Next is your professional layer and finding meaning in your work.

Finally, there is your adaptability or ability to apply your resilience to differing situations and continue to thrive.

Strengthen your shield  

You can gauge your own strengths and weaknesses in each layer through some self-reflection and honest personal examination.

In the meantime, here are my top five behaviours and routines you can consider to strengthen several layers and boost your resilience.

  1. Daily Meditation. Even 10 minutes, twice a day, can have a massive impact on your focus and calmness. Try using an App like Headspace.

I meditate first thing when I wake up. I get up and do 15 to 20 minutes guided by the Headspace App, then two or three times throughout the day I will do one minute of Box Breathing (breath in for a count of four, hold for four, breath out for four, hold for four, then repeat) and then 10 minutes of guided meditation before bed.

  1. Exercise. Move your body to the level you are physically at right now. The latest research shows even as little as 15 to 20 minutes high intensity interval training a day is as beneficial as many longer/standard workouts.

One example is 90 seconds of low intensity (like walking), followed by 30 seconds of high intensity (sprinting) and completing six to eight rounds is effective. You can swap between swimming, bike, or cross trainer/rider for different fitness levels.

  1. Diet. We are what we eat. Choose less processed foods, more vegetables than fruits (due to sugar levels) and aim to drink at least two litres of water each day, and more if you are exercising.

Do your own research into the benefits of fasting. I do 16 hours of fasting, five days a week, and it works brilliantly for me.

  1. Sleep. Aim for six to eight hours of quality sleep. I function perfectly on 6.5 hours. I get quality sleep by having no caffeine after 2pm, finishing eating and drinking two to three hours before sleep and no technology or TV for 15 to 20 minutes before bed.

Applying the first three steps above also helps. If you have concerns about your sleep (snoring etc) get a sleep test. I did and it changed my life for the better.

  1. Volunteer. Do something for other people and outside of your workplace. Donate some of your time to a charity, organisation, or cause you believe in. 

Serving and socialising outside of work does wonders for your personal resilience. Personally, I give my time to veterans, RSLs and men’s mental health.

Yes, this VUCA environment will be challenging! It can also be very rewarding if you are open to it.

It could even be the compelling reason and catalyst you need, to make the personal changes you have always promised yourself.

But you must be prepared.

Strengthening your resilience will give you the adaptability to pivot with confidence no matter what life throws at you.

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Shane Kempton

Shane Kempton is the CEO of Harcourts WA and the network high performance coach.