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Business, COVID-19 Edition COVID VUCA!



In 1989 the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and our World changed. Journalist Thomas Friedman said that the fall of the wall marked the end of the Cold War and changed our metaphors.

If the Cold War had been a sport, it would have been the sport of Sumo Wrestling. Two huge super-powers trying to out buffet each other. Might, ruled. Size mattered. Be big, be strong, be powerful.

When the Wall tumbled, the Sumo stumbled, and the sport changed to continual sprinting. You could now become a superpower by being fast. Speed, ruled. Nimble mattered. Be quick, be lithe, be flexible.

However, constant sprinting can damage muscles. Humans need recovery time and the Sprinting World didn’t factor this – constant sprinting can damage your hamstrings as well as frazzle your neurons.

By the 1990s, we were struggling to understand what was happening with our World. The sport seemed to have moved from Sumo to Sprinter and onto Calvinball.

Calvinball was invented by Calvin & Hobbes comic strip artist Bill Watterson. Calvinball has no rules, the players make their own rules up as they go along, meaning every game is unique, ever changing and like no other.

As Calvinball was being created, the Military was also shaping a way of defining this ever changing, no-rules World: it invented VUCA.

In a World of Acronyms this is a ripper!

V – Volatility

U – Uncertainty

C – Complexity

A – Ambiguity

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, I was fortunate to receive a Sir Winston Churchill Fellowship and studied the brain & thinking. As part of my study, I was introduced to the concepts of TAME and Wicked.

TAME being the kind of thinking where there is a single correct answer – getting our math, logic, analytical precise and in order. Wicked (thinking) is where there is no correct answer – there are a variety of partial causes and a variety of partial solutions with each combination being unique for each person/situation.

TAME is more Sumo or organized Olympic Games 100-meter sprint. Wicked is more Calvinball – more VUCA.

When the Coronavirus hit our World in 2020, the bizarre nature of VUCA made even more sense. Old rules changed. New rules were ambiguous. Responses and systems were filled with gaps and gasps. People wanted TAME – give me an answer, give me a solution – but the answers were partial at best, the situation called for embracing the fluid flow of uncertainty.

,, ,, If the Cold War had been a sport, it would have been the sport of Sumo Wrestling. Two huge super-powers trying to out buffet each other. Might, ruled. Size mattered. Be big, be strong, be powerful.

In VUCA times – now – we need an antidote and the very V of coronavirus and VUCA may give us the hint of how to behave/think/play in this strange World.


In a volatile World, having a single strategy, a single market, a single stream of income… is not healthy. Variety is the magic key. If you only have on major customer (a Wal-Mart… a China…) then the power rests with the customer. Having a variety of customers/markets may be more difficult but will work better for the long run (rather than the short sprint).

Having a variety of industries, a variety of manufacturing choices on home shores, (and elsewhere) will suit VUCA better than a singular (vulnerable) source.

Just as an athlete needs a variety of elements in their training, (to maintain freshness and fluidity) we need a variety of skills in our mind-set and a variety of streams feeding our ocean.


When your World gets rocked, and everything is shifting, it is time to take a deep dive into what you value and what your values are. Assess and reassess what you stand for and how your life actions exhibit this.

My onstage colleague has sometimes been psychologist Andrew Fuller and Andrew enjoys the quote from philosopher, author and Nobel Prize of Literature Laurette Albert Camus:

In the midst of winter I found, within me, An invincible summer

When everything is dour, sour and you feel without power… know that there is an energy source from within. Your purpose, your deep well of on-going learning, will be the best power for your darkest hour. And for your lightness of being.


In a VUCA World planning is tricky. Contingency planning becomes more contingency spanning and too many ‘spans’ can spin your mind.

Our human brains work better when we have purpose and when we know where we are heading. Therefore, when complexity sets off its fireworks, it is even more important to understand, contemplate and refine your Vision.

In Stephen Covey’s classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People one of the habits is to:

Begin with the end in mind

When things change; when the Olympics of 2020 are postponed, when your industry stops functioning, when your league gets cancelled then the specific ends you had in mind may no longer be accurate or possible. So, the advice of ‘making goals specific’ should dissolve. Have a great general Vision:

Be healthier. Make each day a Progress Day.d Be flexible

Ensure success and have a Vision for being playful in the long game.


TAME likes things to be Black & White: all or nothing. Wicked prefers a Yin/ Yang: within black you need some white, within white, some black. Every strength has weakness and every weakness has strength.

Yin/Yang helps make sense of ambiguity. In every certainty there should be some doubt!

Versatility asks us to go further than yin/yang and to embrace multiple perspectives, sense other points of view.

When designing a System, we need to understand it from the user’s point of view. When coaching, we need to consider the uniqueness of each player. When unearthing our own talent, we need to broaden our definition of how we define ourselves.


Be versatile. Be visionary. Be ‘valueable’. Be excited by the magic key – variety.

Have a little Sumo mixed with some sprinter and stir in some Calvinball – be excited in finding the best combo of strategies/skills that will work for you – flow!

GLENN CAPELLI CSP Sir Winston Churchill Fellow Professional Speaker Life Member Helping people think, learn and laugh.

[email protected] Glenn Capelli is available to speak at your next Conference or staff Professional Development – Virtual or Real!

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