Five Metaphors to Navigate through Darkness

Our world is witnessing rapid increases in VUCA. That is an increase in Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. These changes are connected to each other and form their small network. For example, increases in ambiguity will uncertainty. The increasing interacting factors of change increase complexity and the link between cause and effect diminishes and this again compounding ambiguity.

Such continuous rise in VUCA will lead to communication that is more ambiguous between leaders and followers, which in turn produce poverty of understanding between them. This decreasing misunderstanding again deteriorates uncertainty causing in volatile environments and brings about lesser understandable actions and decisions.

These unfortunate effects come at a time when people need to work closer together, learn from each other to exchange skills and expertise needed to face the rising challenges.

Leaders find themselves riding a hamster wheel turning faster and faster with leaders fearing, they may be thrown out violently. Such fears reduce the attention of leaders and they become self-protecting. They tend to ask closed questions because they are not willing to listen or understand new ideas and suggestions. They produce a chilling effect adding to the severity of VUCA. In such an environment, the teams get lost as well and communication between them becomes vaguer. This intensifies the chaos they are in and its darkness.

VUCA puts humans on the extreme of chaos and normal solutions shall fail to deal with it. So, how can humans deal with such an environment?

 Luckily, humans are not alone in this dilemma. There are:

  • Birds that choose to fly at night. How they can meet the challenge of flying in the dark?
  • Marine species that live deep in the oceans with rare oxygen supplies, spreading darkness and high pressures?
  • Mountaineers who had the courage to reach Everest top with all the challenges they had. These include lack of oxygen, severe cold weather with no shelter; secure enough food, and a host of other challenges.
  • Human divers who dive at depth and face the same challenges marine species face.
  • Blind people who walk in the dark and how they manage to do so using their senses, new technologies, and human assistance.

The above cases provide us with the opportunity to observe how living bodies deal with extreme conditions and challenges so that leaders may benefit from the experience of others.

Lessons derived from the above metaphors

The Blind Metaphor– blind people tend to foster their available senses to compensate for the loss of their sight. For example, they can detect a crossroad from the change in airflow.

Blind people use eye sticks to move around. They double the of these sticks by being able to use echoes to identify streets. Technology has also offered some solutions such as the use of guiding talking digital maps and screen readers. As important as these technologies are human assistance is the main source of safe walking for the blind.

Lesson –leaders need to encourage senses when they reach crosswalks or paths because of the airflow changes. They need to develop their skills and co-workers’ skills as well to better the use of their senses. The darkness of VUCA environments dictates this sense development. Leaders are responsible for guiding co-workers to safe walks.

For references to this metaphor read this post and this research report

The Mountaineers Metaphor –A recent finding is that two analytical themes, (i) personality characteristics of mountaineers, and (ii) psychological experiences in mountaineering apply to mountaineers. A heart-moving story of a mountaineer is a living example of the experiences of mountaineers and the challenges they face. This detailed post describes the pre-planning requirements of mountaineers before attempting to climb the Everest Mountains and the great diversity of challenges they face while climbing. I strongly advise leaders and co-workers to enjoy and learn from reading it.

When to start the mountaineering trip? This is an uneasy question to answer. You need to have the weather forecast for up to four days accurate enough before deciding to climb. However, the weather has its own surprises quite often and a mountaineer should never fully trust the weather forecast.

One other preparation is to do rotations of up and down climb to decide where to place all equipment in the right place.

The availability of an experienced leader is a great advantage for they lived the challenges and as a leader, she/he has to share the previous with the co-mountaineers team in open discussions to avoid the chilling effect and enhance the understanding among the team members in case something goes wrong while climbing. Hot topics for discussions include the possibility of running out of food and water, depletion of food and water supplies, severe cold with no decent place to hide just in case the strong wind would fall down the tents and freezing of batteries in cameras and torches due to frosting.

Other issues include the passing near dead bodies of previous mountaineers who fell during climbing. Here the leader may be tempted to count the dead, but a leader with character will just encourage his team to go on.

Lessons –leaders must consult with all team members regarding all future possibilities and difficulties that they may encounter while attempting to ascend the mountains of achievements. They should do to improve expectations and to be ready for the worst cases. The leader leaves no vague instructions and encourages all members to present their thoughts and possible reactions. If not, the team shall fall even before climbing.

The birds flying in dark metaphor– birds that fly in the dark do so to avoid predators and benefit from the cool night hours. These birds use the stars and moon to help find their way. They know how to make use of every available source of light.


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

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