Are you VUCA-Resilient?


Watching the press conference of the Dutch PM last night announcing an easing of the current lockdown measures, my attention faded away because of so much déjà vu, and I started to reflect on the nine months of the Covid-pandemic we’ve been through.

No doubt, it’s been a time of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, a.k.a. a VUCA-crisis. I wondered whether we’d been able to transform it into a process of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility, the terms used to design the new normal we all want to create together (a.k.a. the new VUCA)*.

My attention was brought back to the press conference when I heard the always optimistic Mark Rutte exhorting us to persist in our efforts to reduce the impact of the virus. Easy to say, I thought, but isn’t something missing? I realized what we need in this recovery process is resilience or “the ability to advance by personal crises instead of breaking from them, to be able to cope well with changes and the ups and downs of life”.

Resilience is often compared to a muscle you can train, but not strain, which implies we have to exercise it before we fully need it in a time of crisis. So we’d better start using that muscle little by little, and not force it too much at the beginning. Although it’s a personal state of mind, we ideally should get help from others, in other words: train collectively like in sports. Predictably, this can be the real challenge for those who are isolated due to the current crisis, as it’s the case at TU/e for many (international) students and staff. So what can we do to train the resilience muscle and help create inclusion and a sense of belonging?

On a personal level, we must first become aware that in a crisis people are often thinking in catastrophe mode. As our thoughts have a major impact on our feelings, we must go through the mental process of reflecting, stopping negative thoughts and finally realizing that every crisis is limited in time and that the current situation will eventually ease. This means creating self-inclusion and developing self-confidence, and avoiding seeing ourselves as victims of the crisis, allowing us to consider its positive aspects. For example, balancing the pros and cons of online vs onsite working or learning. A concrete step is to (re)structure our lives by establishing a plan that provides guidance for the next day or the next week, or weekend.

As a community, we must keep in touch with others and share or exchange personal experiences, coping strategies and best practices. This way we also feel confirmed that we are on the right track. The same applies to preventing or dealing with culture shock.

TU/e organized various activities and events all through the summer to help create individual resilience. Likewise, I see many initiatives taking place now at various levels, and no doubt the Vitality Week will potentially help create the ultimate level of resilience: wellbeing.

Finally, let me relate to you an experiment I read about somewhere. An employer sent sunflower seeds to all staff members. Everyone could observe how the sunflowers were growing beautifully, but it also had a connecting function for the people not being able to meet. A way to compensate social distancing using distant socializing. Isn’t it an inspiring and attractive notion in this Van Gogh region? So how about this as an idea for our kerstpakket?

*For details about both VUCA-approaches, see the column I wrote back in May in the midst of the first lockdown we had in the Netherlands.

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