Feeling overwhelmed? You are not alone. As I scan my world or work, friends and family, I see more and more people struggling. Australians are portrayed as a laid back bunch of irreverents - always at the bar, the beach or the barbie. In truth, most are more likely to be at the grindstone - particularly in Sydney - one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Nice view, shame we don’t have time to take it in.
Blame it on the VUCA
We can put most of this down to our newly-minted ‘VUCA’ world. If you are new to the term, it’s an acronym derived from the US military that has found its way into the lexicon of leadership and life. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. I like the idea and use it a lot in my keynotes. It neatly captures the world we find ourselves in. Fast, confronting, exhausting and scary. Building a successful career and life in a VUCA world is becoming harder and the challenges just keep on coming.
There are myriad ‘7-step processes’ and apps out there designed to help us to shine. Trouble is, when we’re already sinking, the offer of another 5 minute hack - however brilliant - can send us under. We need to find new talents and energy to respond. We need to unleash out inner Super Powers. But do they exist, and how can we unlock them?
We need to hook into our hidden strengths
I think the smart play is to leverage strengths that are innate in all of us, but typically under-developed. These are our deeply-embedded human traits to CREATE, CONNECT and COMPETE.
We live in the ‘Ideas economy’, or, my favourite, ‘The Imagination Age’ (as coined by Silvia Damiano). I wrote in “Why Humanity is our Point of Difference”, that, as leaders, we need to become creators. It’s where we add the value that differentiates us from computers and A.I.
We’ve got Creativity all wrong
A lot of clever people I meet feel threatened by the idea of creativity. They see it as a gift for the few, or something arty, or ethereal. Something that can only be accessed in moments of tranquility. I think most of us have got ‘creativity’ all wrong.
More sweat than stardust
Creativity is founded in hard grind. As Steven Pressfield writes in ‘Do The Work’, (his excellently short book), “the creative act is primitive”. The creation of anything from a business, project or book to a ballet, play or building is founded in hard work and discipline. When we ‘get’ this, the mystique disappears. So too our fear of inadequacy at not being clever, gifted or ‘creative’ enough. Creativity is not magic - it is available to all of us.
The magic comes second
But there is magic on the other side of the yakka. Once we ‘Do The Work’, we’re blessed with the sense of having brought something new into being. This is the innate Super Power that, once experienced, changes everything. The act of creating something STRETCHES us. We are never the same again - our sense of what is possible is enlarged. Our understanding of what we are capable of is increased and our confidence boosted.
Dr Brené Brown wrote that;
“Connection, the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically wired. It is why we are here”.
It’s one of the ironies of the digital world that we’ve never been more dis-connected. Fake ‘friends’, ‘followers’ and ‘likers’ don’t count where it matters. When we rub shoulders with fellow human beings to share our ideas, lives, concerns, hopes and fears, we find strength and support. Whether we realise it or not, this connection NURTURES us deeply.
Going solo sucks
One of the biggest challenges of cutting the corporate chord to, ‘work from home’ is that we lose human connection. A 100mbps superhighway to the world is no substitute for huddling together on a project or simply sharing a coffee. My rowing crew is currently in winter hibernation. After the peak of competing at the Australian finals in Perth just a few weeks ago, we are now on the beach. I hate it. I am missing the physical workout and the ocean, but mostly, I am missing the companionship of 5 men in a small boat.
Our need to connect is one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. It unlocks another of our hidden Super Powers.
After four very close 800 metre races, my rowing crew came 4th in the final by a few AGONISING inches. As they say in sport, “We woz gutted!”. But boy did we have a red-hot crack - pushing ourselves deep into the pain zone. That’s what accessing our competitive spirit does. As with connection, we’re hard-wired to compete. It is an act and a mindset that pushes us to achieve that next level of performance. It SHARPENS everything we do. When we stop competing, our decline in all things becomes inevitable.
Measure what matters
Whether we are competing with others, or ourselves it is vital to set ourselves up for productive competition - that search to be better tomorrow than we are today at business, sport, cooking, or just doing the crossword. So measure what matters and let your competitive spirit do the rest.
Build Confidence and Purpose
When we understand the power of these three primal forces and make sure we are actively accessing each of them, the results can be amazing.
When we Create, Connect and Compete consistently well, we build both confidence and purpose. I reckon those are exactly the super powers we all need to take on the VUCA world and win.
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