The Psychology of Investing

Living in a VUCA world

This video explores how volatile and unpredictable the world can be, and how overwhelming how decision making can seem. 

Rather than fretting over what could happen in the future, it is best to plan for the best, and prepare for the worst. With enough preparedness the right mindset, we can respond to what the world throws at us with compassion, purpose, agility, and agency.

This video is copyright to, and shared under licence from, Shaping Wealth.

“VUCA” was a term coined by the U.S. military in the 1990s.

After the Berlin Wall fell, things were Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. VUCA. Whilst the Cold War is long over, the world we live in today can seem strikingly similar.

One of the most recent examples of VUCA was the Coronavirus pandemic. As Covid played out on the world-stage, we saw people acting in extreme, erratic ways amidst all the chaos. For many covid is almost an afterthought, but we are now experiencing the second and third-order effects of this traumatic event.

We could never have predicted the way the world would change in March 2020. Whilst we like to know what’s waiting for us, sometimes the most accurate forecast is “you would never have guessed.” Historian Will Durant explained, “Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe.” One may think we would appreciate this by now, but the stickiest lesson of history is how quickly humans forget.

And, sooner rather than later we’ll be side-swiped again by another cataclysmic event. It will catch us off guard because we will still be busy thinking about the last difficult thing we lived through.

Systems that underpin our world, such as the global economy and the environment, are highly complex. They aren’t straight forward or easy to understand. Changes in one part of these systems can have far-reaching effects that are difficult to predict.

A butterfly flapping its wings halfway across the world can later affect the weather close to home.

Injecting further complexity to the mix is human behaviour. We are complicated creatures, with a wide range of motivations, biases, and emotions that influence our actions. When one person’s decision has unforeseen consequences for others, complexity expands.

But it’s hard to clarify complexity. Making things more difficult still, is trying to tolerate ambiguity. In a state of heightened emotion, we unconsciously conserve emotional bandwidth by evaluating things in all-or-nothing extremes. Nuance requires energy and so we default to black-and-white thinking to tolerate the discomfort of gray.

And all of this means that decision-making and calculating risk in VUCA environments is challenging. Nothing is clear-cut or guaranteed. Our only option is to attempt to take the next best step with incomplete and imperfect information. And yet, we need to be able to survive a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world in perpetuity. Major crises resulting in global upheaval occur about once a decade. Instead of being surprised when they happen, it would serve us to do a better job of bracing for impact instead.

We can’t predict what’s next, but it’s safe to bet that it won’t be easy. Life will be forever full of unanswerable questions.

VUCA = life. So we need to learn to deal with it. To respond skillfully in a VUCA world, we must respond with compassion, purpose, agility, and agency.

Extend grace—to yourself and everyone around you. Assume positive intention. Humans regress under stress. In the moments when you aren’t showing up as your best self, forgive fast, move forward, and do better next time. And suspend judgment. Single moments in time don’t define who we are.

Everyday you have a new opportunity to show up with laser focus and have a positive impact. Stay centred on your “why” because today is all you’ve got. Use it to do something that matters. Sometimes, in VUCA environments, people wish someone would just tell them what to do to achieve the outcomes they want. Instead of being concerned about having all the answers in advance, develop trust that you can adapt amid evolving circumstances. Don’t always reach for someone else’s instructions. They may not suit your situation. Instead, develop the skills that will allow you to respond to challenges with resilience, creativity, and ingenuity.

Living in a VUCA world isn’t always easy, but environments that test us are the ones that leave us stronger. Remember, your life is one long track record that proves you can do hard things. So – keep doing them. Slowly, and then suddenly, someday in the future, you’ll realize you’re moving with a lot less friction.

Scared to spend?

As financial advisers, we often focus on spending responsibly. However, many people struggle to spend enough. Beliefs and feelings about money can mean that many don’t enjoy a life that they could afford. This video below shows why some people may restrict themselves to living below their means and provides some useful tips to help