Enid Blyton was onto something, but I didn’t make the connection until now.
As a I kid I lost myself in her books, hanging out with the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and wishing I could be as naughty as Amelia Jane. Until recently, I had never read The Magic Faraway Tree, and once again I have been caught up in the adventure of escaping reality, this time with my seven year old son as my partner in crime!
The story is about siblings Joe, Beth, and Frannie, their cousin Rick, and the adventures they have with a variety of characters who live in an enormous magical tree deep in the Enchanted Woods. At the very top of the tree is a branch that pokes through a hole in the clouds and when the children and their friends climb through they find themselves in a series of unfamiliar lands where strange and magical things happen to them.
Like I said, I think Enid Blyton was onto something. As we’ve been reading The Magic Faraway Tree, the lands that the children stumble into are not so different from the lands that we experience in the world of business today. I chuckle as I read about the Land of Topsy-Turvy, the Land of Spells, the Land of Dreams, the Land of Do-As-You-Please, the Land of Goodies, The Land of Magic Medicines, The Land of Presents and The Land of Tempers.
Back in the grown up world, business today requires you to be at the ready—relax for too long and it can feel like the rug has been pulled from underneath you. What was once the norm no longer is. Like white water rafting, gripping on for dear life through rapids and longing for deep calm waters, we know with absolute certainty that more rapids lie ahead.
There is an acronym for this phenomenon: VUCA. Created by the American military to describe the extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq–VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It’s not new and business leaders and consultants have jumped on board with this terminology as another way of describing ‘it’s crazy out there!’ What it does is highlight the necessity for a different set of skills to successfully navigate this constantly shifting landscape impacted by politics, economics, technology, society, and the environment.
To me, in the world of consulting, wherever I look it seems that VUCA is the current flavour of the month. It’s getting a lot of airplay—in books, workshops and conferences, there are VUCA quotes, and I see a lot of consultants talking about surfing the VUCA wave. It’s a useful acronym to help clients make sense of what is going on in their world.
My interest in VUCA though, is how consultants are looking at their own businesses and how they are choosing to ride the VUCA wave, or not! It’s that old story of the plumber with the leaky pipe at home…we can be very good at giving advice and making recommendations to clients and forget to walk the talk ourselves.
In my conversations, where the majority of consultants have a service business and are ‘trading their time for dollars,’ the consulting world through the VUCA lens looks something like this:
- Global events, new legislation, and economic decisions trigger constant shifts in business direction
- Restructures, budget cuts, mergers & acquisitions, revolving leadership appointments, strategic pivots etc. can see ‘reliable’ long term client relationships evaporate into thin air.
- The consultant market is cluttered and competitive, clients are pickier and acute in demanding an ROI on the impact of your offering (happy sheets don’t make the cut anymore)
- In a crowded space where the demand for learning events is shrinking and there is oversupply of e-learning content, how relevant is your market offering in today’s business environment?
Nothing groundbreaking here!
What fascinates me is the thinking that consultants are using (or not) to successfully navigate their own business in this shifting landscape. What skills do you need to develop? What systems do you need to upgrade or put in place? How do you shift your thinking so that you can scale and grow your business?
Are you paying attention to what is happening in your market, or have you got your head happily buried in the sand, trading off the old chestnut that ‘ignorance is bliss?’
My hope is that as you are reading this, it is another reminder to pause, continually review the value of your business proposition and take action to stay relevant so that more people benefit from the great work you do.
Like Joe, Beth, Frannie, Rick, and their magical friends, when you know that the lands beyond the hole in the clouds keep changing, even though you don’t know what land you will step into, you can enjoy and embrace the adventure that is waiting for you.
As for me and my partner in crime, we’re starting the next chapter, eagerly awaiting a new land at the top of The Magic Faraway Tree. Thanks Enid!