FLIP to thrive in our VUCA world

by | Jun 5, 2012 | Blog | 3 comments

If you stand still, you’ll fall behind in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

Movement alone, however, doesn’t guarantee success.

Instead, you need to act deliberately, always leaning forward.

To keep your balance as you move forward, you also need to FLIP—focus, listen, involve and personalize.

Even if you’re already adopting what I’ve named FLIP behavior, consider adjusting your speed, degree and style of FLIPs. Don’t rely on following conventional wisdom. What worked yesterday may require a counter clockwise turn today.

Here’s how I’m defining FLIP as I work with my clients:

1. Focus….on the vital few that support your purpose, rather than the trivial many, to paraphrase Dr. Joseph Juran, who advanced Pareto’s Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.

All too often, it’s tempting to get fixated on the newest shiny object, divert our attention from our plans and before we know it, we’re overwhelmed.

We need to identify and focus on the 20% that will produce 80% of our results.

At the same time, in today’s VUCA world, we need to broaden our focus to include the periphery. You need to scan the environment so you’ll know what’s coming so you can build, borrow and buy the right things to keep up-to-date.

It’s not enough to work smart; you need to focus on the things that are intelligent for you and your organization.

2. Listen…especially to the language that people inside and outside your organization are using. Note the word choices individuals make to describe their actions, which will help you determine what you need to reinforce, what obstacles you need to remove and other steps you may need to take.

For example, are people talking about what they’ve been doing versus what they’re going to do?

Are they referring to “we” and “us” versus “them”?

Do they share “Here’s what I’m hearing from customers…..” versus explaining “I’m keeping my head down.”

Also listen to the types of questions they ask. Are they expressing curiosity? Are they delving deeper? Or are they rushing to the next thing?

Last but not least, listen for what’s not being said, such as the unmentionables that someone may be thinking but not comfortable articulating.

As explained in another post, Put on your listening ears, the data you gather by listening carefully helps you get real-information without filters that you can assess and use to help determine what to do next.

3. Involve…people to take advantage of the best ideas and actions. Adopt Tom Sawyer as your role model and get others to help you.

By doing so, you’re figuratively painting the fence—getting the job done by pooling others’ talent while sharing the experience, as described in another post, Lead to better thinking, not drinking.

This technique is a form of smart-mob organizing in which you bring together groups of people for a common business challenge or social change,  often but not necessarily through social media or other technology. (Please note that I’m conducting a webinar for the Best Practice Institute on June 19 at 2 pm ET on this topic. Please join me for Change Through Crowdsourcing: How to Use Peer-by-Peer Practices to Transform Organizations.)

With smart mobs, you can collaborate and cooperate in new, clever ways faster and more effective than ever before.

Just be sure to position your requests authentically as well as respect individuals’ time and ideas when you involve them.

For example, don’t do what my next door neighbor did last year when she was moving in and investigating the type of fence she wanted to build. She asked me to share photos of appropriate fences, both aesthetically and functionally. She never acknowledged the photos I sent to her. Furthermore, she surprised us by building a six-foot fortress topped with multiple video surveillance cameras turned on our house. Needless to say, she has lost credibility with us as a good neighbor.

4. Personalize…the way you connect with people. People prefer meaningful conversations with other individuals rather than mass, faceless and soulless encounters and appeals from organizations.

Even if you can’t reach out directly to thousands of individuals, you can target your communication by group to make it meaningful.

Otherwise, you risk being ignored with the volume of information at everyone’s fingertips.

It’s critical to cut through the clutter to clarify your points and communicate a clear call to action. (And you do want to request action. After all, information without action is excess stuff we can do without, even if it is interesting.)

With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to customize your approach and be customer centric. You need to take time to identify the individuals you need to reach, think through what messages and media will resonate most with them and craft a clear, concise compelling call to action.

By committing to FLIP (focus, listen, involve and personalize), you’re leading from wherever you are. And you’re serving as a role model to encourage others to be active, not passive, about your responsibilities.

And you’re practicing a bigger organizational flip too, which will help you and your organization not just survive, but thrive.

Rather than be content living with uncertainty and ambiguity in a VUCA world, you’re switching them around. You’re showing “agility” instead of “ambiguity” by seeking “understanding” instead of floundering in uncertainty.

So be more resolved than reactive, and start to FLIP!

And contact me if you want to learn about my FLIP playbook to help you improve your FLIPs.



  1. Deb Nystrom

    I love the practice FLIP acronym you’ve shared to deal with the VUCA aspects of our world. Leading from where your are, targeting your communication carefully (your specialty!) makes action accessible, less overwhelming. Going for a state of strategic agility, a big interest of mine this past year, speaks to VUCA preparedness so well!

    I’m glad to catch up on what you’ve been writing. There are so many gems here. Thanks for the FLIP tool, VUCA reference and reminders of all the other good stuff you’ve got going, PowerNoodle and all.

    Warm, summery regards, ~ Deb

  2. Deb Nystrom

    PS to my post below: It’s funny that I missed doing a spelling check, not spell check, which would have missed my typo in using “practice FLIP acronym” vs. “practical FLIP acronym.” That goes well with your most recent post on measure twice, cut once, and would save me some Facebook deletes and reposts. Heh!

  3. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks for your comments and support, Deb! Yes, “wordos” (words that are spelled correctly but aren’t totally appropriate for the context) are difficult to catch. The easiest way for me to spot them is by printing out a document and reading it, sometimes sideways or upside down. But that’s not good for the environment. It’s so hard to be good in a bad world, much less a VUCA world….

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