The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

VUCA is deservedly becoming the coin-of-the-realm among contemporary organizational analysts. These four conditions (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) clearly capture much of the dynamics swirling around in the perfect troubling storm of contemporary organizational life—and challenge us in our own role as leader and learner (Abidi and Joshi, 2018).

I have offered a similar description of our current environment but have added two additional conditions: turbulence and contradiction (Bergquist, 2019a). In describing Turbulence, I turn to a metaphor offered by Peter Vaill (2008), who suggests that we are living in a “white water” world. I have suggested that this whitewater world represents a turbulent system (Bergquist, 2019a). With regard to Contradiction, I have identified the frequent presence of contradictory constructions and interpretations of reality and the differing meaning assigning to the reality that is being constructed (Bergquist, 2019b). I suggest that we are living and leading in a world of Irony and must make decisions that are contingent and subject to frequent review and modification. Obviously, Turbulence and Contradiction are strongly influenced by and tightly interweave with all four of the VUCA challenges. I use the term VUCA-Plus with this expansion on the description of a VUCA environment.

VUCA Plus and COVID-19

I now wish to expand on VUCA-Plus by identifying not only the sources of challenge for us in 21st Century life and work, but also the typical outcomes of these challenges—especially as they related to COVID-19. In doing so, I stay with the VUCA acronym, while once again adding two additional factors. I will be expanding on each of these outcomes throughout this essay as they relate to virus-based global perspectives and practices to be found throughout the world and as they relate in a distinctive manner to societal and cultural characteristics that are prevalent in the United States.

V = Vulnerable: Covid-19 has confronted us with a level of anxiety, stress and loss of control that elevates these psychological factors beyond what is found in the general conditions of VUCA-Plus. Dr. Silberberg (2020, p. 12) is finding a similar condition when she identifies the COVID-19 experience reflected in the eyes of her participants—the authors of the issue she edited:

. . . loss of control, fear, anxiety and stress, as well as potential loneliness, a threat that increases for members of at-risk populations. In general, Covid-19 fundamentally disrupts people’s lives. The experience reflected in participants’ descriptions certainly evokes a sense of “shattered lives.

While Dr. Silberberg (2020, p. 6) points to a study suggesting that worries about and stress associated with COVID might be greater in the United States than in Israel, there probably has been a strong sense of vulnerability on the part of citizens of both countries—as well as citizens throughout the world.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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