For those unfamiliar with the acronym, VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
It is a relatively trendy way to describe our modern world. It is a VUCA place.
Of course, the world has always been three of those things - volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous, and maybe all four depending on who you ask. If you asked a farmer at any time over recorded history he could tell you that his fortunes and those of his family were impacted by things out of his control. The world of most people has always been, at least, V, U, and A.
It is only recently, where we came to think of the world as NOT those three things. i.e. We could expect a certain amount of regularity, certainty, and definitiveness. But alas (or maybe not), no more.
As the pace of knowledge creation, globalization, and business speeds up we are more exposed to VUCA and we must develop ways to prepare for and manage the world.
It helps if we realize that this is a state of affairs that we evolved to deal with - the acronym may be new, but the conditions really aren't. We humans evolved to meet these types of challenges, are brains are big and we can handle the related stress, assuming we put some time and energy into it.
As for complexity, I think humans have introduced a lot more of that recently, but I also believe we have the tools to manage that.
If you're looking for somewhere to start - use the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People you can cut down by a lot of VUCA simply by focusing on what is in your power to control. Eventually you will get more power, simply by not trying to change that which you can't. Steven Covey covers that much better than I can. If you haven't read it, read it. If you read it and forgot, read it again.
There are other books that deal with this subject head on, such as Dr. Alan Watkins' 4D Leadership. In that book Dr. Watkins outlines paths to personal development that make us more resilient and more capable to deal with all the V, U, C, and A that we run into.
Beyond that though, what other tools are available to help us cope with the VUCA-ness of our present world?
I'm a firm believer that art - engaging with it, thinking about it, looking at it, trying to understand it - makes us more tolerant of the VUCA world.
Here is how art helps with each of the 4 areas:
Volatility - Engaging with art a little bit every day can take you out of your comfort zone on multiple fronts and help to prepare you mentally for all those volatile challenges that you are going to face. Art itself can be volatile - as it relates to traditions or other art. And it can show us ways of grappling with volatility, such as French painters in the 19th century beginning to look at the urban landscape and explore outside the 'approved' arenas for artwork. Much of modern art is challenging and a great many people simply ignore or disregard it because it may be non-representational. Do they take the time to think about it? Do they consider why the artist wanted to challenge us as viewers?
Uncertainty - art is a means of digesting and facing the challenges of the world and allowing you to see how others wrestle with things. Don't want to think about war or crime or poverty or disease? Here it comes anyway. art exposes you quite directly to another mind. That mind may be wrestling with or interested in the same things as you, but doing so in very different ways. Reading a poem written by another person or looking at a painting can help to expose you to different angles and you will not always know what is coming. Also, because the artist is not providing you with a written set of instructions, you walk into every artistic experience with a certain degree of uncertainty that is instructive if you are willing to open up to it.
Complex - Art can deal with complex topics and it can be, in and of itself, quite complex. Re-reading or extended observation is often key. To really appreciate, sometimes, frankly, to understand, you need to spend some time to appreciate the art, maybe do some additional research on the subject matter. This is helpful to get us ready to ask questions and understand the complex systems and situations we confront. Move beyond your first impressions, move beyond your initial read. Re-evaluate, think, engage.
Ambiguous - Some art may attempt to get a hold of a subject and tie it down for explanation, but most art rarely does this. We are given the artist's point of view, but that point of view can be ambiguous. Even when it isn't ambiguous, our own reaction may be. Self-reflection and self-evaluation help us to grapple with such ambiguity. Do I agree with this? Would I have written it this way? Does this help?
This is not how art or art appreciation is taught, but it is how I have used it and I have found it useful.
At times, with the best work that you encounter, you can find an antidote to all this VUCA-ness. A well written book or poem that speaks to you deeply can make the world seem suddenly clear and not ambigous at all. Great art can lift you up and offer you new ways of seeing things. You won't find this all the time or in every interaction, but when you do it is a powerful and uplifting.
Even when you don't encounter this feeling, you can still improve your faculties and increase your mental resilience by engaging with and thinking about a difficult topic.
A few resources worth considering:
Look around - nearly everywhere you go has some artwork on display: photogrpahs, paintings, sculpture. Take some time to look at this stuff and think about it. Take a notebook with you, write things down.
Review You High School/College Syllabus - was there a book that you hated? Why did you hate it? Read it again as an adult and see if there is wisdom there that you overlooked.
Poetry Dail - I'm partial to Poetry Daily. They publish and re-publish the best of contemporary poetry. With a new, very good poem every day. It is worth the time, and it is always there, offering something new and challenging.
Not every piece of art will speak to you. Not every book will help. But every artwork can be turned around in the mind and examined for the resources it provides. If you find none, your mind has spent time engaged in an activity that strengthens it and which can provide you meaning in itself.
Vance Kirkland's art has a goregous new home in Denver.
Kirkland was a painter who lived and worked in Denver for most of his life and career (roughly 1930 until his death in 1981).
Kirkland Museum opened in Denver in 2003. It incorporated Kirkland's original studio building with additional gallery space. It was an amazing, but small, museum with many wonderful pieces.
The museum was closed for nearly two years and reopened recently in their new home, a new building at 13th and Bannock St. in Denver. This move included moving the old studio building to the new location.
What will you see if you visit?
Kirkland was a modernist. If you think that modern art is challenging, his work has a universal appeal that often makes an impression beyond the normal core audience for modern art. This appeal comes from 3 places:
His late-period dot paintings are large and spectacular. They have visual force.
Kirkland's career spanned many decades and styles of painting. Though all of those styles are modern, there is a variety to his work and a visible evolution that attracts casual visitors. Kirkland did not stop evolving, challenging himself, or creating new things. Late into his life he was experimenting and breaking new ground. This life-long quest and variety are visible everywhere you look in the museum.
Even though it is modern, it is still landscape painting. From early, more traditional landscapes, to later surreal, fantastic, and other-worldly pictures, the art remains rooted in landscape. This is true even when there is no 'land' in it. Some late work can be considered pure abstraction, though he gave them names suggestive of science fact and fiction: Explosions of Energy Near Mars 10 Million Years B.C. Or Five Red-Orange Suns in Space.
The studio building that was moved contains Kirkland's unique 'over the table suspension' rig that he used to paint. It allowed him to lie down and work suspended above the painting for long periods of time. This piece of the museum collection is something that people often comment on.
I've been a member of the museum for more than 10 years and I am really happy about the move to the new location and facility. And I am also happy the museum is open again.
It is remarkable art, and now it has a remarkable building to live in. The new building has room to allow a visitor to view larger canvases from a greater distance than was possible in the old, smaller building.
If you are put off by modern art, and my points above don't convince you, there is a lot more to the Kirkland. Kirkland Museum has 3 major collections:
Paintings by Vance Kirkland
Mid-Century Modern Design
The Mid-Century Design collection includes some furniture and other home decor with very broad appeal. A sofa that looks like lips? Yep. Lamps shaped like pharmeceutical capsules? You know it.
They also have a TV that looks like a space helmet and a 'marshmallow sofa'.
The Kirkland used to be small and a little out of the way in Denver, and with the move they've changed all that.
It demands a visit if you're local or visiting Denver for some other reason. It's central location makes it easy to get to. It's also easy to combine with a visit to the Denver Art Museum or the Clyfford Still Museum, both less than a block away.
Seeing these three buildings and their housed collections are worth a visit to town, all on their own.
Leadership Angle: Kirkland didn't stop pushing himself to do new things and didn't rest on his laurels, even late in his life. Also, he chose Denver as his base of operations. He could have chosen a more cosmopolitan location - New York, Paris, San Francisco - as an artist might today. He was drawn to the city and to the landscapes of Colorado and chose to make this his home for more than 50 years.
HTML and CSS are the guts of the web and they do a lot of neat things. Usually they're used to make menus, position buttons, display data, animate things, and do other heavy lifting tasks of the web.
Most people who wanted to make an image like this would go into a graphics or drawing program (or get out some paints) and draw the picture, which would then be converted to an image file.
What this artist (her name is Diana Smith) has done is to use the same technology developers and designers use to position a 'Save' button on a web page, and she's used it position every single strand of hair (and everything else), as well as color and shade all of it.
If you look closely you can even see veins in her skin.
This is incredible talent with this technology, and a willingness to do something more and see what a particular tool can really do.
It also shows the versatility and power of HTML and CSS to do almost anything when it comes to display and visuals on the web.
As a leader ask yourself, "Do I ask enough of myself and those around me? Am I prepared to put this type of discretionary effort to my own work and art?"