Home Concepts Best Practices The VUCA-Plus Challenge of COVID-Related Expertise: Dancing on a Moving and Warped Plane

The VUCA-Plus Challenge of COVID-Related Expertise: Dancing on a Moving and Warped Plane

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There is another important challenge regarding triangulation: Because rugged landscapes (and complex systems) are a set of triangulations, they tend to be strong and stable—that is what makes change in any system so difficult. Rugged landscapes and complex systems are hard to measure and even more difficult to change. Yet, once you have shifted one element in a rugged landscape or complex system, the other elements will tend also to shift—and shift in unpredictable and profound ways. All the triangulations must adjust to accommodate the change in any one triangle.

This is the opportunity (and threat) inherent in rugged landscapes and complex systems (organizations, communities, societies). They are hard to change, but once they begin to change— watch out! We witness the profound power of geological earthquakes that can change an entire landscape. We similarly witness the profound operational and psychological earthquakes that often are experienced inside a complex organization. Both systems are vulnerable and tippy, while at the same time being stable and hard to change. We are now witnessing the tippy-ness and remarkable changes occurring at many levels of our society and other societies throughout the world as the result of sometime microscopic in size; the COVID-19 virus.

The VUCA-plus world of the 21st Century is requiring us to live on dancing landscapes. Organizational, community and societal earthquakes are occurring all the time. We witness them when a black man declares that he can’t breathe and soon dies. An earthquake is rumpling when the merger of two communication giants alters the way in which media is produced and controlled (or not controlled). As the landscape begins to dance, we must learn how to join this dance and we must dance alongside other members of our family, organization, community and society.

Navigating on a Warped Plane

One of the most important and sometimes overlooked concepts to come out of chaos theory is the observed tendency of all fluid systems to bifurcate (split into two or more pathways). In essence, when fluid systems begin to break up (as a function of the speed at which the fluid is moving or as a result of the introduction of a foreign, intrusive element) parts of the system tend to move in different directions. These diverse movements of particles, units or people will, in turn, form two or more coherent subsystems that may later subdivide again. Thus, if I pour a small glass of water on a smooth surface (such as a table or countertop) it will tend not to flow in one direction or remain together as one coherent mass. Rather, it will soon break into two or more sub-streams that flow in two or more directions across the surface of the table or countertop.

The noted biologist, Conrad Waddington (1997) describes this same tendency toward bifurcation in his model of chreods—warped planes on which objects move in an unpredictable manner. Waddington uses the metaphor of a ball being placed at the top of a slopping plane (thin sheet of metal or plastic). As we bend and warp the plane, ridges and valleys are formed. When the ball is placed on a tilted plane, the inherent dynamics of the plane become evident. The ball will begin to roll straight down the plane until it encounters one of the ridges. At this point a series of oscillations tend to occur. The ball moves back and forth before it eventually begins to roll down one of the valleys and picks up speed again.

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