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?

Watching the Swedes react to corona virus

As the corona virus sweeps across the world, it’s interesting to watch how people react. While the measures the Swedish government are making do not seem as extreme as many other countries, the behaviour of some people is. Panic buying seems to be the name of the game. Panic buying and hoarding. And it doesn’t seem unique to Sweden.

Social media is awash with images of empty supermarket shelves. People are hoarding certain obvious items – such as hand gel, pasta, eggs, rice, beans and flour. But also weird items. For example, in my local supermarket, cucumbers are totally gone! And the Italian red wine shelf was pumped dry at my local wine store!

But the item causing the most debate seems to be toilet paper. Apparently the loo roll shelves have been totally cleaned out. It seems Swedes, and many others around the world, are seriously worried about wiping their bums if they get the virus.

Currently in Sweden, there is no general quarantine or curfew, as in many other countries. However, many companies have temporarily closed and employees are being asked to work from home. Public gatherings of over 500 people are forbidden. At the time of writing this the borders are still open and so are the schools.

We do have to be vigilant and we do have to act responsibly. Washing hands regularly, avoiding people who show symptoms, coughing/sneezing into the fold of our arms and not participating in large gatherings of people are a few of the ways. ‘Social distancing’ is the term this has been given – a new word for the 2020 dictionary.

But wiping out the supermarket shelves? In general, it’s good to have enough food at home to last a couple of weeks I guess. But do we really need enough toilet paper and red wine to last 6 months?

Hoarding is a logical panic reaction to a crisis situation, and it’s interesting to see how quickly people succumb to herd mentality. But it’s also a selfish action. Draining the supermarket shelves means that there is nothing left to buy for lower income people (elderly, unemployed, studying, sick) who live day to day and do not have the economic means to bulk buy. So let’s remember the concept of solidarity next time we go shopping.

One thing I’ve observed so far from this crisis; how quickly self-interest and self-preservation takes over.

Am I Swedish? A reply to my haters.

After my latest blog, I was hate trolled and told to ‘go home’ because I am ‘not Swedish’. This has happened numerous times before. Normally I don’t respond to haters. I don’t think it benefits to feed the troll. But this got me thinking about what makes somebody Swedish. And I realised the answer isn’t just about me, but about anybody who moves to this country.

Here’s my reply to my haters:

Dear hater,

You are right, I wasn’t born here. I was raised in the UK. That makes me British.

I have lived in Sweden for 25 years. 9 years ago I became a Swedish citizen. That granted me the right to be Swedish.

I have a Swedish passport. That makes me a Swedish national.

Dear hater, how do you define who is Swedish? Is it citizenship, or is it birthright? Often when people discuss this subject, they mix up nationality and ethnicity. Nationality is the relationship between an individual and the nation(s) that he or she is affiliated with. Ethnicity is the identification between an individual and a particular racial, cultural or religious group.

So when you tell me to ‘go home’ because I am not ‘Swedish’, you are not referring to my nationality – because I am a Swedish citizen. You are referring to my ethnicity. And there is a word for wanting to remove people from a population based on their ethnicity – it’s called ethnic cleansing.

I can accept that I wasn’t born here. But I can’t accept being told to ‘go home’ based on the fact that I am ‘not Swedish’ and have a different opinion. I am a Swedish citizen and have as much right as you or any other Swede to voice my opinion in whatever channel I want.

In fact, not only am I a Swedish citizen, I am a model citizen. Let’s just take a look at my track record, shall we?

I am educated to Master’s degree level and all of my education was taken outside of Sweden. I haven’t cost the state a single krona for my schooling.

I have no children – so I have not taken any parental benefits in money or paid time off work. I haven’t cost the state a single krona.

In a quarter of a century, I have only received state sick benefit for two weeks.

I have never been unemployed but have always worked and paid my own way. I have never received any social benefits from the Swedish state.

I have worked for 25 years in Sweden and paid all the relevant income taxes.

I own a company and pay corporate tax. I provide a livelihood for others by employing them and paying employee tax on their salaries. And they, in turn, also pay income tax.

Should we compare my track record to yours?

So, you see dear hater, the state has earned a lot more on me than I have cost. I have contributed a great deal in financial terms to this country – just like so many new Swedes have.

I am not complaining; I am happy to contribute via my taxes. I believe in socialized healthcare, welfare and education. I strongly appreciate that the benefit system is a strong one, and that it exists to help people who need it when they need it. And maybe one day I will need it. Solidarity is one of the reasons I admire Sweden so much.

My moving here was a choice. Probably yours wasn’t. My contribution to society is positive. Probably yours isn’t. I haven’t cost Sweden a single krona. I’m guessing you are very expensive for society.

So as long as I am here, I will continue to voice my opinion. I have earned it. And if you want to keep trolling, then go ahead. But realise that your comments put fire in my belly – you are not my hater, you are my motivator.

Oh, and by the way, I will not be ‘going home’ – because I already am home.

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.

Sweden’s ‘Vasalopp’ – the world’s longest cross-country ski race.

Today, the world’s longest cross country ski race takes place in Sweden. It was, this year, touch and go if it would actually happen, as there wasn’t much snow on the ground. But at 8.00 this morning the race began.

Called Vasaloppet, the race entails participants skiing 90 kilometers from start to finish. It’s an extremely popular international event, which can take up to 12 hours to complete, and which is broadcast live on tv. When tickets to participate are released, they sell out in 15 minutes – it’s that popular.

The first Vasalopp was in 1922 and it takes place annually, the first Sunday in March and it is a first sign of spring. It’s an amazing sight to watch, as more than 15000 mad, happy skiers glide along, the swishing sound of ski on snow filling the air. For the elite athletes, 12 hours to complete the race is of course unthinkable. They go considerably faster. The person who has completed the race fastest is Jörgen Brink, who in 2012 won the race in just over 3 hours 40 minutes, roughly 25 km per hour.

So why is this race called the Vasalopp? Well, it takes its name from a Swedish king. The race commemorates the escape to Norway, through the forest, of King Gustav Vasa in 1521. Legend has it that he carried out the gruelling journey on skis, but experts believe he more likely completed this escape on snow shoes. Nevertheless, out of this legend sprung the race which is so popular today.

Modern day skiers don’t see the experience as an escape, they see it as a challenge and for many of them it’s a rite of passage. And as you sit watching the TV comfortably from the sofa, under a duvet, with tea and toast, you take vicarious pleasure in this long, amazing Swedish race.

English Leap Day and Swedish ‘Skott’ Day

2020 is a leap year, and today 29 February is Leap Day. In Swedish, leap year is called ‘skottår’ and Leap Day is ’skottdag’.

So, why ‘skott’? And why indeed ‘leap’? Well, the English word refers to the fact that the extra day in February means we leap over a day for the rest of the year. For example, the 1st March would have been a Saturday, but because of the leap day, it is now a Sunday.

What about the Swedish word ‘skott’? Well, it has nothing to do with Scotland. Nor does it mean ‘leap.’ The word ‘skott’ originally means ‘inserted in between’. So ‘skottdag’ is literally an extra day inserted in between two other days.

An interesting fact, those born on 29 February are called leaplings in English, and there are about 4,000,000 of them in the world!

The month the world shrank

The existence and the spreading of the Corona virus in the last few weeks cannot have passed anybody by. In the earlier stages of the virus, flights were cancelled in and out of China, then we were advised to avoid other countries in South East Asia. Then Iran? And Italy? Should we also soon avoid Gothenburg?

The world went from a wide open planet of international travel to a closed place where we are advised to stay put. In under a month, the world shrank.

How might this impact Sweden and the Swedes? Well, business is certainly affected. Imports are stuck in China. Events are cancelled. Employees returning from affected areas are told to stay home for two weeks, in a corporately-imposed quarantine. And this might just be the beginning.

What about the Swedes themselves? Swedes are well-known for being travelers. The people of this small, cold nation set out all over the world in search of sun, warmth, light, and adventure. Will it be so easy to tell them to stop traveling? Some would say it is impossible. You can take away many things from a Swede, but don’t touch their overseas holiday. For some, it is almost perceived as a human right to travel to warmer climates. I would say how easy it is to get Swedes to stop traveling depends on how any possible travel ban is imposed.

In general, Swedes value rules. And, in general, they follow them: traffic rules, laws, deadlines and agreements. In comparative cultural research one of the frameworks that is often used is the contrast between rules/task and relationships. Simply put, some societies value rules over relationships, thinking that rules should be followed irrespective of the relationship between people. Others value relationships over rules, often seeing the rule more as a recommendation.

Consistently in research, Sweden comes out as oriented towards the rules-side of the spectrum. While this is of course a generalization, it suggests that Swedes tend to take to rules and regulations very easily, tend to prioritize them, and tend to value them. When Sweden legislated against smoking in restaurants, people’s behavior fell into line over night. It wasn’t the case in many other countries. In the EU, Sweden is one of the countries that has applied most of the EU legislation on a local level. When participating in tenant association meetings, Swedes rely heavily on the house charter to understand what is right and wrong behaviour. A customer of mine refused a friendly lunch (in my mind to build relationship) because the company had issued a decree against corruption. None of this might be the case in other countries where a higher premium is put on individual relationships and circumstances, rather than what it says in the rule book.

So will Swedes stop traveling? If it is legislated, yes. If it becomes an official ban, then most Swedes will probably follow it. The practical nature of the Swede will understand its importance. The logic of the solution will prevail. However, if it just comes as a suggestion, left to the whims of the individual, then most Swedes will probably keep traveling. They will avoid the worst areas, and reroute to somewhere they perceive as safer.

You can take a lot of things away from a Swede, but don’t touch their overseas holiday.