VUCA World: Coronavirus, Delhi Riots and Preparing for Civil Services
What is happening around you? Does anything make absolute sense to you? Is there anything that has been proven to be true or false? Can you differentiate between fake and real? Can anyone be sure about the future? The answer to all these questions lies in a simple but significant realization- we all live in a VUCA world. Already a cliché in management and leadership circles, VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Look around and you will find enough evidence of the VUCA world. It only took a tiny single-celled creature called the coronavirus to bring the world to its knees in a matter of few months. Such is the volatility of this increasingly smaller world. The entire aviation and tourism industry is looking downhill with an uncertain future. Are we even certain that the Tokyo Olympics will take place? No one actually knows. Such is the uncertainty that the world faces today! Are there simple solutions to the coronavirus problem? Even though personal hygiene and non-contagion practices appear to be the simple solutions to this pandemic, the seemingly simple solutions require complex networking and concerted efforts in a globalized world. Things are much more complex than they appear to be. Added to this complexity is the ambiguities that emanate from media and social networking sites. Are we even clear whether coronavirus is curable? The answer to this question ranges from a resounding YES to a disappointing NO and in between you have people prescribing cow urine and dung as perfect treatment of the coronavirus. Indeed we live in a VUCA world!
What are the challenges of living in a VUCA world? There are many but there is one thing that is the most disturbing. It attempts to create binaries. In the Indian context, the threat of binaries is even more evident. What binaries are we talking about and who creates these binaries? Take the recent Delhi riots for example. Political leaders, mass media and social networking platforms want you to believe that there are only two sides to the story. One on hand you have the victims and on the other, you have the perpetrators of violence. You are forced to think in this binary and also take sides. Depending upon which side you are convinced to join, you are finally a part of a polarised society. But to what extent does the binary of good versus bad or right versus wrong portray the correct picture? Well, most of what you see, perceive and internalize is either wrong or incomplete. In an age of pervasive social media and artificial intelligence capable of creating deepfakes, the truth can be twisted and taken out of context to create imagery that suits a particular group or propaganda. To think that in the chaos of violence and hate, there is a side speaking the complete truth, is entering the very trap of the VUCA world. There are agendas being pursued by numerous groups; some are quite vocal about them while others are not that conspicuous. Depending upon which news channel you are watching, you will be made to believe that you belong to the righteous group while the others are enemies whose interests conflict with that of yours. What are these interests and who are these people? Do the people rioting on the streets represent the whole lot? Of course not! The problem of the VUCA world is that the discourse is set by a fringe whereas the majority is conspicuously indifferent to the happenings.
We are all driven by ideologies. However, on the continuum of the ideological scale, the majority is placed somewhere in the middle. Then, there are few who will lie on either side of the middle segment. On the same continuum, lies a minuscule minority on the opposite ends. It is this minority that sets the tone for hate politics. The actions of this minority and the inaction of the indifferent majority create the political environment that we are witnessing today. This fringe wants the majority to gravitate towards the extreme ends of the continuum. If you find yourself moving towards the ends, you are a loser already. If you are counting the number of casualties of a particular religion, you are no different than the perpetrators of violence. If you like and share social media content that spread hate, you are no more a thinking individual. The fringe is the ultimate victor.
But why are we telling this to you? Let us tell you that it has great significance for you. Preparing for civil services in a VUCA world is equally challenging. You are supposed to be a thinking individual who understands the complexities of political developments and takes a blanched view of ambiguous issues. As a civil servant, you will have to take control of volatile situations and take comprehensive preemptive measures of an uncertain future. The first step towards having a balanced worldview is to accept the fact that things are way more complex and agenda-driven than they appear on ground. The second step is to develop the aptitude of critical thinking and deep diving. Don’t get satisfied with only one answer.
Probe further. Ask and think in terms of What, Who, Where, Why and How. Make attempts to gain a 360-degree view of an issue. Try knowing both sides of a story. Develop empathy and the requisite emotional intelligence to understand the underlying emotions driving individual behavior or even mob action. Believe in the values of our nation and spread harmony through your thoughts, speech, and actions.
All the Best