Kate's Nuggets

When the future is wildly uncertain, planning is difficult. How can we maximize our ability to take advantage of opportunities and minimize our exposure to risk? Kate presents an approach to planning that can be used to navigate rapid change with maximum ease.

Kate presents an approach to planning that minimizes exposure to risk and maximizes the ability to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Mentioned in this episode:
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman & Kaley Klemp
Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead by Karen Kimsey-House & Henry Kimsey-House

Learn More About Agile on Wikipedia

Resources for Developing Your Resilience and Self-Leadership:
Extreme Resilience Toolkit: An email course with 40 tools to develop Extreme Resilience or Antifragility

What is Kate's Nuggets?

Bite-sized chunks of wisdom about self-leadership for you to chew on.

Planning When the Future is Uncertain
Episode 19

Podcast Opening over Theme Music:
Hello and welcome. This is Kate's Nuggets, the podcast where I share bite-size nuggets of wisdom about self-leadership. I am your host, Kate Arms. I invite you to listen lightly, let these ideas wash over you. Take what you take and let the rest go. You can always come back and listen again.

Kate Arms:
Today, I want to talk about how to plan when the future is wildly uncertain. People who are planners rather than spontaneous improvisers are really struggling now that everything seems to be changing rapidly and unpredictably.

This is an incredibly volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous time. If you are familiar with those words, you know the acronym VUCA and everybody who is not familiar with those words is getting a very rapid lesson in what it is to function under such uncertain times.

Part of the problem with planning in these kinds of circumstances is as soon as we start implementing the plan, we are going to discover that there are flaws in it that we need to adjust on the fly, and we're going to have to adapt rapidly to the changing circumstances around us because it is impossible to predict what is going to come out of this present moment. There are too many moving parts.

I am going to introduce a few different frameworks and then talk about what those frameworks imply regarding planning. It's going to be a super high-level look at the frameworks. There will be links in the show notes to more detailed information about each of the frameworks, and it's going to be a high-level look at how to do planning and there's going to be some resources in the show notes about where to go if you want help implementing this kind of approach.

The frameworks I'm going to include are the concept of anti-fragility, as laid out by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the high-level principles of agile software development, the principles of Coactive leadership and conscious leadership. Coactive leadership and conscious leadership are both models of leadership and frameworks for thinking about leadership that you can read about in books that will be linked to in the show notes. And they both offer schools of training and classes for those of you who are interested in further development.

So, without further ado, I'm going to start by looking at anti-fragility. Anti-fragile things are not just "not fragile." Fragile things break under stress. Robust things withstand stress. Resilient things compress under stress and bounce back to where they were. Anti-fragile things are improved by their encounters with stressors. Living an anti-fragile life means being poised for post-traumatic growth or possessing what I refer to as extreme resilience. The ability to quickly recover to the part of yourself that can make the best out of the opportunities that exist in the present moment.

To be anti-fragile, there are two things you need to do. You need to minimize your exposure to risks that will wipe you out the devastating losses you need to protect yourself against. And at the same time, you need to maximize your freedom to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves opportunities. Opportunities you cannot predict, stressors and challenges that will present themselves to you.

To be anti-fragile, you need to resist your urge to suppress randomness and uncertainty, and you need to experiment and take lots of small risks and extract the learning from them fast. It's about stopping optimizing for today and thinking about the long game. What can I do today that will make it most likely that whatever happens tomorrow will be something I can take advantage of? Even when that means doing something uncomfortable or unpleasant in the short run, dealing with the uncomfortable discomfort of stepping into a conversation that you know is going to be hard, knowing that the only way to a better relationship with that person is through that difficult conversation. So that's the concept of fragility.

Agile method for software development is a process of developing software in response to ongoing changing demands from the client and being able to incorporate learning from the process of developing small increments of a big project.

And fundamentally, the agile methodology involves coming up with a vision for the project, figuring out what's going to need to happen for that project to happen, then starting to create the first small incremental piece of that in a deliverable form so that you can get that live, get it testing, and then have a process of reflecting and learning from what is already happened. And during that process, while you're paused, figuring out what the next step is, you have an opportunity to incorporate new information, new requirements from the client, new technologies that might have been developed while you were working on the other technology.

The methodology includes creating a vision so that you know which way to go forward, picking the next step, creating the next step, and then revisiting whether that big vision needs to change or if that big vision has already changed, revisiting the plan to incorporate that new information.

It's a structured form of improvising on the fly. You need the structure to do that kind of improvisational, reacting to changing circumstances as part of a team. So, in the concept of being agile as a metaphor within yourself, it's a question of checking in moment by moment and after you do a thing, what have I learned from that? Have the circumstances around me changed?

If you're thinking about how to be a little more agile and adaptable and speedily responsive as a family, you need some more formal systems. You need procedures for checking in with your partner, with any co-parents of your kids, with extended family, with your kids. Having some regular frequent check-ins about what the current status is, what new information do we have, what are we learning keeps you agile, adaptable, flexible. Notice that this is about create something and then figure out what's doing. So, you get your head up, look around, then you put your head down, do the work, then you take your head up and you look around.

Next framework, coactive leadership. Coactive leadership has several elements. The ones that I'm going to touch on now are when you are working with someone, you are looking for the places where you can agree enough to take action. In coactive leadership, everybody gets full permission to be themselves, to act on their urges, to have their own motivations, to have their own responses to things, to be their full selves. And everybody takes responsibility for their own impact and everybody commits to staying through the conflicts, staying to see what the impact of the actions that they take are and to then choose what the next step is. It is very much an agile process.

You take action. You see what happens. You decide what action you need to take at that point, and you stay in the conversation, and you work creating in the places where you have agreement. You take care of your own self-management. You take care of yourself by doing what you need to do to come back to what are my values, what is my purpose, who am I when I like who I'm being, and when I'm in touch with those things, then I see what the situation needs and I do that, and then I stick around to see what intended and unintended consequences there are. If you tie this to the concept of anti-fragility, what you're really doing is did I expose myself to any risks that I need to cover from? Did I do any damage that I need to make sure I remedy? Did I open up an opportunity, and if so, how do I take advantage of that?

Conscious leadership is fundamentally a question of am I being reactive to the situation or am I being proactive? Am I closed or am I open and present and committed to learning? Now, the thing about human beings under stress is that most of us default most of the time to being closed and being closed is very, very useful in terms of giving us awareness of that is the risk that I am not willing to take. So, to be an anti-fragile, we need to know that risk is going to wipe us out if it happens. And so, I need to protect against that. And to take advantage of possible opportunities, we need to be open and learning.

The practices and principles of conscious leadership are about being committed to learning, to noticing what's going on, to really being present as much as we can to noticing when we are closed and actively saying, "Is it important that I stay closed or am I willing to open up?" Are there acceptable risks to be anti-fragile, to really be able to grow from stress?

We want to be closed as little as possible. We want to be closed only in the arenas where the fundamental values that we have are under threat, the things that we would rather die than sacrifice. Becoming more anti-fragile is a process of training and becoming more open. Planning in an anti-fragile manner is what is called for when the world is fundamentally uncertain. So, what does this actually suggest in terms of an approach to planning?

The first thing is you do need a way of minimizing the risks that will wipe you out. Stay safe, stay home, wash your hands, social distancing, all of these measures have been put in place to minimize the risk that people will die. You also need a vision for what kind of world you want to create after this. What are the things that are the best possible outcomes?

Now, you may not know how to get from here to there, but it's worth spending the time asking yourself, what is the best possible future I can imagine coming out of this? Many people are finding that things that they thought were essential, they can live without. And some people are finding that things that they're being forced to live without are taking a real toll on them right now.

In terms of creating a vision for the future, this is a time when people are discovering what really matters to them. What do we really value? For many of us, we've had an implicit, hidden self-protective care of self value that now has become explicit. What would it look like if that became part of our explicit choices going forward? What other things do you value when push comes to shove? Either you are missing so desperately right now or you're finding ways to make happen anyway for a lot of us nature and connections with loved ones. What else? What does it matter for you?

Now, if you can have a vision of what it would be like to build a life and a world in which those were valued and protected and supported, let yourself dream for a bit and then think about if that's the goal, what are the things that would need to be in place for that to happen? And work backwards from that vision to where you are now in as much detail as you can. Knowing that if you can't bridge the gap, that's fine because in this moment what you are going to want to do is to figure out what is in my control right now, given the circumstances as they currently exist that I can do, that my best guess tells me will lead me towards that big vision that I have.

You need a way of deciding what action to take and the ways that you can decide what action to take are, who do you want to be? What version of yourself do you want to be as you're going through this?

Now that push has come to shove, what has proven itself to be important that you want to protect? What vision would you like to step towards building? And then you need a frequent process of reflection, reassessment, learning, pivoting, and choosing what the next step is.

Many governments are giving daily updates. It's great to use that as a moment to check in, get the update. Notice, what have I learned since the last update from what I've done? What am I learning now given the new update. And given all that new information, what's the next step that I want to take? While things are changing fast, it's really important that that reflection happens frequently so that you stay sort of caught up. Otherwise, you're making decisions based on yesterday's information or a week ago's information. That's not fast enough, if things are changing faster than that.

If you are at a place where things have settled and it looks like there's not going to be major change for a week or two, take advantage of that pause. Most of us are really tired right now because adapting this fast is hard work. Now, if you have not already done a lot of work on your ability to stay present and conscious while things are uncomfortable, you will probably find yourself needing a lot of escape time.

This is totally normal.

When human beings are born, they have very little tolerance for discomfort, and a huge part of maturing is learning how and when it's worth going through something that is uncomfortable in the short term. When we are born, we do the things that feel good. The things that we do that feel bad when we do them, we stop doing them. That is human nature.

People, who have developed an ability to feel the fear and do it anyway to work while being anxious, have a skill set that not everybody has right now. So almost everybody in the world right now is working to the extent of their capacity for managing discomfort, then having a recovery crash where they soothe, and they recover and they feel better and they do the things that make them calm. And then they start again, and they step into the discomfort for as much as they can, and then they have to recover and soothe.

This is building the skill of staying present with discomfort. Every time you step into something that doesn't feel good and stay there a little bit longer than you think you can, you are getting better at staying no matter what happens.

And as you go through this process of figuring out what's important, figuring out where you want to go, taking little bits of action, reassessing frequently, learning to work through the things that need to happen while the world is dealing with this major stressor, this is building your resilience in more ways than one. You're not used to working this way.

It's hard at first and it gets easier all the time. It never gets done. There's always something that can happen that pushes you past where you're comfortable. Most of us build lives that put us within what's comfortable or just on the edge of it, as often as we can stand, but no more because that's where we feel really alive. Most of us have been thrown off the deep end right now, and there's a lot more uncertainty than we feel capable of handling.

So we have to take it in bite-sized chunks. What is the thing that I can do right now that feels manageable to me, that's actually within my control, and what do I need to do to be able to take that step? A lot of us are leaning into our support networks harder than ever, and many of us are turning to our professional support networks, therapists and coaches, and there's no shame in that.

One of the things I like to say is that asking for help is a leadership skill. And Kate's Nuggets is focused on self-leadership, how to be the version of you you want to be, how to develop yourself so you become the version of you you want to be. And asking for help if this is an area you're struggling with is part of what you can do to help yourself build the future that you want to see for yourself. And may you find ease in the stress of this time, may you find your greatest resilience, and may you come through this stronger than ever.

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To dig deeper into the topics I cover on the podcast, follow me at instagram.com/SignalFireKate or at facebook.com/katearmscoach.
To take this work deeper and learn how I can support you personally as your coach, email me at kate@signalfirecoaching.com to schedule a free consultation.
Here's to Thriving! Catch you next time.
Kate's Nuggets is a Signal Fire Coaching production. The music is adapted under license from Heroic Age by Kevin McLeod.