Living in a VUCA World

It is March 2020. The first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Minnesota (where I live). What’s next? Everyone on the planet is being forced to live in times of VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

It should be no surprise the co-founder Brian and I use the Agile Best Self principles to structure our thought processes and actions. Why? We’ve found that the best way to learn the framework is to practice and apply it to current situations. And right now, that current situation is COVID-19. By now, I hope you have seen the graph on how we can “Flatten the Curve” and help slow down the spread of COVID-19. I love this data visualization because it shows WHY entire communities should change habits and interaction patterns. Protective measures can: a) potentially mitigate overwhelming our already burdened health care system and b) give us some time to figure out more about COVID-19.

Why we should all practice protective measures.

Agile Best Self Principle #1: Our highest priority is to be our best self and enable others to be their best selves.

Concrete examples of how I’m living principle #1 right now.

  1. Texting my 97 year old grandma. She is in an assisted living facility. Although she has no underlying health concerns, she is 97! Texting is a quick easy way to let her know we have not forgotten about her. Interestingly enough, she has adopted the younger generations’ habit of not picking up the phone when I call, so although texting sounds impersonal, it is the best way to connect with her.
  2. I walked my 72 year old father through setting up a free Zoom account. He is savvy enough to know that a URL is the equivalent of phone number, but was (naturally) frustrated at having to up his tech stack. Changing his browser, integrating his gmail, etc.

In regards to the next Agile Best Self principle, “welcome change with curiosity” – we have no choice about living in the VUCA world, but we do have a choice on whether we are curious, limit our self-imposed stress levels and take a fact based approach.

Agile Best Self Principle #2: Welcome change with curiosity.

On March 7th, one day after a “presumptive” case of COVID-19 was documented in my state, I was on a regular Costco run. It was not a major event, and I did not buy a pallet of toilet paper. The most concerning thing of the day was one side of a phone conversation I overhead in the checkout line. “Yes, I heard someone in Minnesota has died from coronavirus.” Misinformation like that helps no one. No one has died from COVID-19 and the test still hasn’t been confirmed by the CDC.

Let’s all be curious and as proactive as possible. Some things are in our control, some things are not. Personally, I’m looking for science, not opinion. I’m also intentionally “rolling with it” more. To welcome change with curiosity, I’ve changed my mindset. I’ve:

  1. Realized that the numbers are going to go up for a while. I’ve stopped looking at the John Hopkins graph because it scares me and demotivates me.
  2. Upped my meditation practice. I’d rather spend 30 minutes meditating than reading the news. If I read the news for 30 minutes, I have to spend another 30 minutes doing fact checking.
  3. Learned new online tools for my day job and my job as adjunct faculty at a university. Teaching a Saturday, 8 hour online class requires a ton of curiosity! Especially since I had about an hour to prepare. Luckily my students actively engaged in defining the day’s problem statement “How do we create as rich of learning environment as possible?” and were patient as I said things like: “I wonder how this functionality works?” BTW: Zoom breakout rooms are pretty cool. A side benefit is that my students are going to be online meeting rock stars.

The purpose of this post is to show how I can apply the first 4 Agile Best Self principles to specific situations. So, let’s go on to the next principle:

Agile Best Self Principle #3: Build daily self-care habits.

Self-care practices are already a focal point for most in our Agile Best Self community. There are so many blogs and messages out there to WASH YOUR HANDS and up your hygiene practices at home, that I don’t need to reiterate those message here. I would suggest making sure you have a good hand lotion (buy it before stores are out). I also need to wear cotton gloves over my thick slather of hand lotion at night. This habit keeps my hands from developing a lizard like texture. Overall, I’m focusing right now on the following things that help reduce stress and increase resiliency.

  1. Unplugging at 8 pm. As mentioned before, we are living in a VUCA world. However, many people can inject some control into their lives by actively determining where to put mental time and energy.
  2. Taking more Vitamin D. There are plenty of studies to support this. I have read several. Living in Minnesota in March, it almost guaranteed that my Vitamin D levels are low. This article gives a good overview and recommends 1,000 – 4,000 IU daily supplement to get levels up.
  3. Focusing on good sleep habits.

On to principle #4 – engaging my trusted circle daily. This is crucial to help keep some sense of connection. When I think of the difference between my trusted circle and my like-hearted community, the glaring difference is that I can show up exactly as I am for the day with my trusted circle. You can’t cry on someone’s shoulder via Zoom, but that would be the bar to differentiate between a like-hearted community and a trusted circle. I want to show up balanced for a like-hearted community, so that I can give back and support others. The rules of engagement are different for my trusted circle: I’m certainly willing to break down with my trusted circle – or be there to help someone through a tough time. There is a different type of vulnerability in trusted circle conversations.

Agile Best Self Principle #4: Engage your trusted circle daily.

  1. There are many people in my trusted circle that live less than a 30 minute drive from my house. Oddly enough, we rarely meet up because our days are a blur of working, parenting and caring for others. A trend has popped up for local friends to go online. I’m scheduling online happy hours with friends who live less than 10 miles away. I’ve never considered this as an option before – uhhh, duh. And this from someone whose go to quote is: “Expectation trumps reality.” Now that being online is a necessity, I’m applying the online approach to all social situations.
  2. Using online tools has allowed me to engage more with my trusted circle in non-work or volunteer related events. Prior to now, suggesting a Zoom call with a friend seemed kind of weird.
  3. My trusted circle tends to be driven by data and science, not hype. I’m thankful for that.

There are upsides to this strange new world we are all living in. It has given everyone ways to show up in a more positive manner and be more intentional, if we so choose to behave in that way. Personally, I’ve upped my game and learned some things that hopefully stay with me. These range from simple habits like better hand washing techniques to an important mindset shift of embracing a VUCA world while also maintaining focus on science.

The main takeaways are paradoxically simple: We are in unprecedented times, surrounded by misinformation, unknowns and have little control over a pandemic. We do have control over our daily actions and our choices. Do what you can to stay safe, engage you trusted circle, stay healthy and flatten the curve.


*Source: Like many things that have been incrementally improved, it was difficult to track down the original source. The important thing to note is that this Here is a quote from FastCompany – To read the full story, please go to the original article.

Copyright © 2020 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson

Published by MichaeleBestSelf

Connector, Catalyst.

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