The Great Breaking Open—Navigating a Complex and Uncertain World (Part 1)

Interested in Becoming a Member?

An SIM Membership like no other, provides you with an abundance of tools, resources and opportunities to help you achieve your professional and personal success at every step of the way! Be part of our learning community of more than 34,000 corporate and individual members.

For more information about membership, please click here »

Member Login

If u are a subscriber, please use ur subscriber login.
If you are a SIM Member, please use your SIM Membership login.

Forgot your password?

Member Login

Forgot your password?
login  Cancel

Sign Up

If you wish to sign up for a SIM Membership, please click here


If you wish to subscribe to Today's Manager, please click here

If you wish to subscribe to Singapore Management Review, please click here

Website maintenance notice: Website will not be accessible from 27 June (11 pm) to 28 June (9 am) due to scheduled maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Home > Articles > The Great Breaking Open—Navigating a Complex and Uncertain World (Part 1)

 The Great Breaking Open—Navigating a Complex and Uncertain World (Part 1)

Alan Seale | Today's Manager
June 1, 2017

Genuine evolution and growth in a VUCA world requires us to “break open” by stretching our perception, beliefs, and worldviews rather than “break down” in the face of challenges.

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.—Ms Cynthia Occelli, author and blogger.

We are living in a world where it seems that every major system and structure is coming completely undone. The shells are cracking, the insides are coming out, and everything is changing. It looks and feels as though much of the world as we know it, is breaking down, falling apart, or being destroyed.

Yet I see this as a time of the Great Breaking Open, not the great breaking down. Challenging, difficult, and even painful as these times might be, this is how growth and evolution work. Part of what makes these times challenging and difficult is our resistance to the growth and evolution process. Looking at what is happening through the lens of the Great Breaking Open invites new perspectives and possibilities.

Change is happening at unprecedented rates. Everything is in transition. Yet when things are in transition, energy is moving and there are opportunities for transformation. Transformation is much easier when things are shifting anyway. Disruption is already happening, people are stirred up, and they are more willing to try a different approach. Transformation is much harder when things are rigid and fixed. The breaking open that is happening right before our eyes and under our feet is actually creating conditions, situations, and circumstances that are ripe for transformation. It is up to us to be clear and intentional about how we respond to what is happening.

The Great Breaking Open is cutting through to the core of our business and societal structures and to the core of our being as individuals. For as long as many of us can remember, our societies, governments, businesses, and education systems have increasingly focussed on immediate gratification and short-term bottom-line financial and economic results. When problems have arisen, we have tended to address only the surface issues and looked for short-term fixes; ignoring the pressures that were building under the surface because important core issues were not being addressed.

The Great Breaking Open is now forcing us to look at these core issues. And those core issues are not asking for “fixes”. They are asking us to create new forms, new structures, new approaches, and new policies—in other words, new ways of living and working together.

After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Army War College described the world as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). The acronym VUCA, created from those four descriptive words, first appeared in the late 1990s. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, the term was adopted by the business world to describe the turbulence, chaos, and rapid change that has since become the “new normal”—political, economic, and social unrest; more frequent terrorist attacks; government structures coming undone, “business as usual” no longer working. None of these things exist in isolation. They are all somehow connected and part of a much larger story.

On the surface, it’s a VUCA world. Yet there’s a seismic shift going on underneath the breaking open of systems, structures, and societies—it’s the breaking open of the human spirit. I believe that, if we will pay attention, it is this deeper breaking open of the human spirit that holds the power for the future of our organisations, companies, and societies. I am confident that if we focus
beyond the struggle and upheaval, we will find a bigger vision of our world that has been waiting for us for some time. The Great Breaking Open seems to be telling us that both the human spirit and the bigger vision have grown impatient. The time is now.

The breaking open of the human spirit is not a comfortable place to be, especially in organisations and businesses. And what makes it particularly uncomfortable is that we are not just witnessing it; we are experiencing it. All of us. Granted, some are on the front-lines more than others. However, no one remains untouched in some way. The breaking open just manifests in different ways for different people.

Some people experience the breaking open of their fundamental survival spirit, driven by their basic human need to be shown dignity and respect. Think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled their home countries and risked theirs’ and their children’s lives for the chance for something better. Think of all the people who have endured repression or prejudice due to the colour of their skin, their gender identification, or their ethnic or economic background.

For others, their suppressed rage, pain, resentment, and fear can no longer be contained. As their rage and pain explodes, the result is violence or fanaticism. They have not felt seen, respected, or valued. They believe that they are being cheated by systems designed to “keep them in their place”. And there is evidence that, in some cases, they are right.

Yet others are feeling their hearts breaking open to the awareness that everyone and everything is interconnected. They can no longer separate themselves from the pain and suffering of others. Increasingly, their compassion is moving them into service. Whole communities have responded to the refugees with enormous outpourings of support. People have opened their homes to strangers from far-away lands and sponsored refugee families. People from all over the world have travelled at their own expense to provide aid in war-torn regions or places that have experienced catastrophes. Others have been deeply involved in peaceful social action movements or have regularly volunteered their help in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other service agencies.

It is not the first time that this has happened, and it won’t be the last. Yet it is critical that we pay attention now. The human spirit is stronger and more powerful than many of us have ever imagined. It is much bigger than any company, any national spirit, or the spirit of any political party, religion, or economic class. The human spirit has no business, economic, political, or religious affiliation. It has a human affiliation. And it has a strong sense of its place within a more-than-human world. The human spirit is breaking open to let us know in no uncertain terms that we have been dreaming too small a dream and holding too small a vision. The next iteration of our world is waiting to be born.

Seale, A, 7 Nov 2016, A way forward for the VUCA States of America, The Center for Transformational Presence,

Seale, A, 22 Aug 2016, Consciously Choosing What We Create and What We Allow To Die, The Center for Transformational Presence,

Seale, A, 15 Aug 2016, The Danger of “Dumbing Down” Reality, The Center for Transformational Presence,

Look out for Part II in the next issue.



​Mr Alan Seale is an award-winning author, speaker, transformation catalyst, and the Director of the Center for Transformational Presence. His leadership and coaching programme, Transformational Presence for Leaders and Coaches, created in 2010, now has graduates from more than 30 countries. A global coach, Mr Seale serves clients from five continents. His books have been published in six languages. He lives near Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Copyright © 2017 Singapore Institute of Management

Article Found In

Today's Manager Issue 2, 2017

View Issue

Browse Articles

By Topic
By Industry
By Geography