Surviving our VUCA world

A quote from Charles M Schultz in the comic strip Peanuts goes like this ‘Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good’. Here, he is referring to our personal ability to manage a VUCA world.

Have you heard of the acronym VUCA? It’s a very useful term right now.

Defined on Wiki, VUCA was first used in the leadership theories of Bennis and Nanus to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.

  • V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.
  • A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

VUCA often impacts how individuals and organisations make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. Our ability to operate in a VUCA world is defined by our fear, comfort levels, optimism and by how much we try to control or avoid uncertainty.

More than ever, we are living in a VUCA world. None of us know how this corona virus epidemic will end. Here in Sweden, society seems to be shutting down and the economy is in the middle of a major crisis. A global recession seems inevitable.

So how do we get through it?

Our ability to get through this without emotional breakdown does not come from panic, rumour and phobia.

According to Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, it calls for a response which he calls VUCA 2.0: Vision, Understanding, Courage and Adaptability. From the government, from employers and from each individual. Thinking and acting in this way provides us with the stability and psychological safety we will need to get through to the other side.

So, how do you personally handle the concept of VUCA?

Dear Swede – does this shameful act represent you??!

Currently at the border between Greece and Turkey, there are thousands of desperate refugees. Greece cannot cope with such a new massive influx of people and so, with support of the EU, the country is strengthening and protecting the border. Fortress Europe is a reality.

As a member of the EU, Sweden supports this approach and hopes to arrive at a new agreement with Turkey to cope with this humanitarian catastrophe. The aim is to find a solution that is manageable for both Turkey and the EU, and that is a responsible way to handle mass migration and immigration.

But one Swedish political party has taken matters into their own shameful hands. Literally. The leader of the right wing party Swedish Democrats has mustered up the energy to travel to the border. Here, he is facing the refugees eye to eye. He is looking into the fearful faces of men, women, elderly people and children. And he is handing them a flyer. The flyer has the following words on it:

Sweden is full. Don’t come to us! We can’t give you more money or provide any housing. Sorry about this message.’ The flyer is then signed ‘The Swedish people, Swedish Democrats’

I cannot imagine the lack of empathy that is required to be able to this. I cannot imagine how cold and hard this man’s heart must be. To stand at the border and hand out these fliers as part of a political caper is both callous and cruel.

He claims to represent Sweden in this matter. His party has only 17.5% of the vote. A massive majority of 82.5% of the electorate do not support him or his political ideals. He does not therefore represent Sweden or the ‘Swedish people’. And he certainly does not represent me. I absolutely and unequivocally reject him and condemn his beliefs and actions.

The Swedish Democrats claim to be patriots – true lovers of Sweden. What they have actually done with this action is drag Sweden’s good name down into the gutter with them. Shame on them.

And you, dear Swede, does this action represent you? If not, I ask you to react strongly and without hesitation.

10 reasons Europe is good for Sweden


Today, May 9th, is Europe Day. This is an annual celebration of peace and unity in Europe. Sweden has been a part of the European continent since continents were first described and a member of the EU since 1995. As a continent, Europe has 50 sovereign states and speaks around 225 languages – diverse to say the least.

High up here in the North, it’s easy to forget the benefits of being on the European continent and what the access to all the diversity has provided Sweden with.

Here is a list of ten reasons why Sweden has benefited from its geographical location as part of Europe.

  1. Pizza. One of Sweden’s most popular cheesy weekend foods would probably not have been on the menu if Sweden and Italy were not part of the same continent.
  2. The Bernadottes. The Swedish Royal family would not have existed if Napoleon and his French army were not available to lend a king to a dying Nordic monarchy.
  3. ABBA. One of the members of ABBA, Anni-Frid, was Norwegian. Without the country of Norway, the megagroup would have been known as ABB.
  4. The Canary Islands. Had Spain not settled the Canaries, Swedes would have had no sunny paradise to travel to in the long, cold winters. Brrrr.
  5. Visby. The medieval town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland would just have been a windy hell hole if it wasn’t for the German Hansa traders who built houses and churches and pretty walls.
  6. The Economy. Sweden exports goods and services of over 50 billion SEK to Europe on a yearly basis. Just that.
  7. The Eurovision Song Contest. Just think how long and boring February, March and May would be if Sweden wasn’t in the Eurovision region. What else would SVT televise if it wasn’t for endless Melodifestival heats and Eurovision semis, and finals and summaries and retrospectives.
  8. Speaking Swedish. If it wasn’t for Germany, France and the UK, people in Sweden wouldn’t have a language. Everybody would walk around in silence. Oh…hang on a minute…
  9. City breaks. Without Europe on the doorstep, people wouldn’t be able to go to Berlin or Barcelona for long weekends or bank holiday breaks. They would have to satisfy themselves with a long weekend in Börås or Flen instead.
  10. Europe. Not the place, the Swedish hard rock band, founded in a suburb outside of Stockholm with vocalist Joey Tempest and hits such as ‘The Final Countdown’. If they hadn’t been inspired by Sweden’s position in Europe, what would they have called themselves? ‘Upplands Väsby’?!

Breakfasting under Brexit

Currently in the UK watching the Brits instead of the Swedes. At breakfast this morning I reflected over the Brexit referendum that takes place tomorrow, the day I make my exit back to Scandinavia. I can’t vote in this referendum, even though I’m British, because I’ve lived abroad for more than 15 years. I might not have the right to vote but I do have the right to my opinion. 

Many Brits are truly confused over this. It seems like the arguments are contradictory and vague. Both the remain side and the leave side are using propaganda scare tactics to clinch the vote. False information abounds, unrealistic statistics and outright lies are published in the newspapers. Celebrities are publicly coming out on both sides of the campaign. 

What this referendum seems to be about, for those wanting to leave,  is simply immigration. Fuelled by racist politicians and nationalistic media, the message is ‘make Britain great again’. There is a clear sense of victimisation amongst some people – poor Britain brought to its knees by the evil EU. (When in fact Britain is highly respected and has a powerful voice in the EU). Old conflicts bubble to the surface – Britain won two world wars and now they are cow towing to the Germans and Angela Merkel. And there is a constant fear of being under attack and overrun by refugees queuing up on the other side of the Channel. 

I get that people feel disenchanted with the EU and not in control of their own lives. In my mind that has to do with the policies of the UK and less to do with the EU. If you elect David Cameron as PM, you get his cost-cutting, welfare-slashing, begrudging cynical policies. 

There is no denying that the UK has serious problems. It saddens me to see that there are significant rifts in society, between the remains and the leaves, the Scots and the English, the rich and the poor, the working and the unemployed, the ethnic Brits and the immigrants. Britain is not embracing its changing identity and instead is feeling a strong sense of loss. And the insecurity and frustration this causes makes people look to the past to the halcyon days of the British empire, when ‘things were better’.  But this is an irretrievable illusion, a fantasy. We need to deal with the here and now, and Britain has a lot of healing to do. 

With Brexit, we can debate about economy, trade, freedom of movement, peace, immigration, taxation but the bottom line is a philosophical one. Do you want to live in a country that looks to the past, that isolates itself and looks inwards? Or do you want to live in a country that looks to the future, cooperates with others and looks outwards? For me it’s a no brainer. The EU has its flaws, but it’s better to be a part of it to be able to influence and improve it. 

If I could vote, I would proudly vote to REMAIN. 

Begging for clarity – Swedish EU politics


The EU campaigns are in full swing and Sweden’s right wing nationalistic party (SD) has already caused a stir. Huge signs have been put up in the underground and direct mail shots have been dumped in people’s letter boxes describing their policies. One particular policy is against ‘organized begging’.

From their program: ‘In Swedish Towns beggars from other EU countries have become a common sight…..The organized begging must be stopped. Visa requirements should be introduced for countries that abuse freedom of movement within the EU.’

This, and other policies, have caused outrage amongst many. People are calling for action against the SD, people are criticizing them for racist actions, people are burning, returning and even eating up their printed policy material.

But here’s the thing – SD are smart at rhetoric. Very smart. Just like other populistic nationalistic parties throughout history, they are very good at raising issues that ordinary people care about and they are not afraid of stating their position. Agree or not, they are the only party as far as I know to communicate an actionable position about the issue of begging.

And this is where I think the other parties are about to make a costly mistake. Almost everybody I know in Stockholm has an opinion about the influx of street beggars from other EU countries. Everybody is uncomfortable with it and doesn’t like it. It goes against the grain, and many Swedes are really divided as to whether they should ignore the beggars, buy food for them or give them cash. It is a daily challenge for many and a common topic of discussion. It is a modern dilemma, and, dear politicians…this makes it a pressing political issue! Ignoring the issue of begging will not make it go away. Ignoring it does not reduce anxieties nor does it deal with the underlying issues of poverty and inequality in our society.

The way for the Alliance, the Greens, Fi, the Left Party and the Social Democrats to deal with the SD is not only to express outrage and criticism. It is to state clearly, publicly and unequivocally what their party’s actionable policies are in relation to the increased begging on our streets.

Failure to do this is equivalent to pushing many voters straight into the hands of the SD.

Swedes – the healthiest in the EU?


The image of the healthy, well-trained Swede has found support in some research from the Europabarometer released recently.

 According to this research, ‘41% of Europeans exercise or play sport at least once a week, while an important proportion of EU citizens (59%) never or seldom do so.’

Generally speaking, ”citizens in the Northern part of the EU are the most physically active. The proportion that exercises or plays sport at least once a week is 70% in Sweden, 68% in Denmark, 66% in Finland, 58% in the Netherlands and 54% in Luxembourg. The lowest levels of participation are clustered in the Southern EU Member States. Most respondents who never exercise or play sport can be found in Bulgaria (78%), Malta (75%), Portugal (64%), Romania (60%) and Italy (60%).”

So, Sweden tops this research at 70% of interviewees saying the exercise at least once a week, closely followed by Denmark and Finland. Why might this be? Why could there be such a difference between Scandinavian countries and the Southern European countries?

  • One answer could be the climate – maybe the long, dark winters require some kind of exercise regime in order for us to survive?  
  • Another answer might be ‘peer pressure’ or ‘training hysteria’ as it’s sometimes called in Sweden. Does a tendency to Group Think mean that we follow what others are doing in order to be ‘in’?

I think a major contributing factor is values. We all know that values differ from group to group , and that those values often determine the desired behaviours of the people.

According to the respected ‘World Values Survey’, in Scandinavia, and in Sweden especially, a strong value is self-actualisation, or self-realisation. In other words, we as individuals have the right to be who we want to be, live how we want to live, think what we want to think and make the most of ourselves in the way we choose.

While other countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, are focusing on how to survive the day, many Swedes are focusing on self-development, education, environmentalism and, not least, physical appearance and health.

So that Sweden comes out top in this research is not surprising. In Sweden, most of the serious ‘survival problems’ of life have already been solved, allowing many citizens to focus on other things.

Such as themselves.

If you’re interested in reading more about the research, find it here.

Please like and share this blog