Do you remember the fables from your childhood? The hare and the tortoise, for example, or the ant and the caterpillar. They all teach us lessons for life. For example, we learn from the tortoise that a slow, steady pace wins the race or from the ant that we shouldn’t burn our bridges. Today, I’d like to contribute my own fable which taught me a valuable lesson for the current VUCA times with plenty of volatility, uncertainty, change and ambiguity. Here we go…
On a warm summer’s day
A few years back, I was helping out in a neighbourhood help group. We were taking it in turns to walk the dog of an elderly neighbour who couldn’t walk her dog any longer. The dog was fluffy, white and very lively – let’s call him Fluffy then. On a warm summer’s day, Fluffy and I set out for a walk for the first time. I took him along a riverbank flanked by reeds. Sheep grazed in the meadows, the birds were singing. Fluffy happily ran along, then stopped and sniffed at every shrub and every clump of grass.
But with Fluffy’s extendable lead that didn’t bother me. It was part of the deal I had made with Fluffy before we took off: “Listen, Fluffy, we don’t know each other so I will not take you off the lead. But you can go as far as the lead extends at your leisure. I don’t want any chasing after ducks, pulling or silly business. You stick with these rules, and I will happily walk through this beautiful countryside with you for as long as you like.” And so, Fluffy and I enjoyed the sun, the clear blue sky and nature.
After about an hour, I started to notice that he got slower, less enthusiastic about scents, his tongue was hanging out and he was panting. Of course! It was a hot summer’s day, and I hadn’t brought any water for Fluffy to drink! We were on a path through a reedbed at the foot of a hill when I decided to turn around, worried about the hour’s walk back.
Swamp monster horror
Suddenly I heard a squelching sound! I looked around. There was no sign of Fluffy! But the lead was fully extended and disappeared into the reeds where the squelching sound was coming from. I stepped closer and heard a lapping noise – and then I spotted Fluffy: down to his belly in the muddy water among the reeds and quenching his thirst! I couldn’t blame him. After all, it was a hot day and he was thirsty.
When he sauntered back onto the path, however, it was no longer cute white Fluffy; it was the monster from the swamp! Most of the dog was coated in black-grey mud! How was I going to explain that to Fluffy’s mum when I brought him back?! What would my fellow neighbourhood-helpers say?! How could I not have thought to bring some water for the dog?! How could I get the dog clean before we got back?!
My mind was racing. I knew I had a bit less than 45 minutes to restore Fluffy to his formerly white glory. Yet, I was surrounded by nothing but beautiful countryside all the way to Fluffy’s home. No washing or drinking facilities for Fluffy, and the only water in a river with banks too steep to safely get down or back up. There was nothing I could do. My only hope was that a miraculous solution would present itself somehow.
The fork in the path
So we walked on, still under a great blue sky in an idyllic countryside – which somehow didn’t look quite so nice anymore. How I wished that the sun would stop shining so that Fluffy would be less thirsty! How I wished for rain even, so that we could wash Fluffy’s fur! We came to a fork where the trail came out of the reedbed and joined the path along the canal. The banks were slightly less steep there. Lying on my belly, I might just be able to reach down and scoop out some water with my hands for Fluffy. It was worth a try, I mean: What else could possibly go wrong? I told Fluffy to wait beside me while I was getting down on my hands and knees.
Now I was lying on my belly above the drop into the river, I managed to reach the water and then – I heard a splash behind me. I looked up: no Fluffy!! My eyes followed the lead which led straight into the water a bit upstream – where a desperate Fluffy was paddling back towards the bank. “You stupid dog!” I shouted at him. “Why didn’t you wait until I scooped up some water for you! And how are you going to get back out again?” On cue, Fluffy reached the bank but it was too steep for him to climb out.
However, as he fell back into the water, I realised what a stroke of luck Fluffy’s water adventure was! As he was paddling in the clean river, he rinsed the mud from his fur! “Keep paddling, Fluffy!” I shouted, hoping every last trace of mud would have washed away by the time I got him out of the water.
Which was, of course, our next problem. Fluffy couldn’t get out on his own, but if I would lay flat at the top of the bank again, I might just be able to grab his dog collar and pull him out. As I got in position, I sent a plea towards heaven: Please, please help me get the dog out without hurting him! Please, please don’t let me fall in as well! Please, please make this turn out well! And to Fluffy: “Come on, Fluffy, come here! Together we can do this!”
And we did! I managed to grab his collar and lift him out far enough so his paws found purchase on the riverbank and he made the rest of the climb, without either of us landing in the water. “Well done, Fluffy, and look: You are all white again!!!” I sent a big, big thank you heavenwards for – well, for what exactly?
Fluffy’s gratitude was shorter lived, and he made it clear that he really wanted to get home now. On the way back, the countryside looked glorious once more – and the warm summer sun in the clear blue sky shone down, drying Fluffy’s fur as we walked. Strangely, Fluffy had lost all interest in shrubs and scents. By the time we reached Fluffy’s home, the only thing that hinted at our adventures that day, was how he raced through the garden gate without ever looking back.
A solution will present itself
So, what did I learn from my adventure with Fluffy? Well, many things! But my most important lesson for a VUCA situation was to wait and be patient when things go wrong and accept that some things are outside of my control. A solution will present itself, even when I can’t see one anywhere for miles. The solution may not be what I imagined, but it can be good enough for what it needs to do.
PS: Oh, and if I ever get asked to walk a dog on a hot summer’s day again, I will take some water and small bowl… this (and better planning) would prevent things like these happening in the first place.
PPS: Fluffy is not his real name and events have been slightly changed for dramatic effect. No one was harmed during these events, but I have never been asked to help walk Fluffy again.