Exclusive interview with new film ‘It’s VUCA’ star Mike Schindler

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Mike Schindler filming with Joe Wankelman. (IMDB)

The film “It’s VUCA” features historic footage and present-day interviews with the world’s greatest VUCA experts including generals, elite Navy SEALs, Futurists, Blue Angels and best-selling authors. It is based on a little-known military secret for succeeding in chaos, and how to take advantage of this exponentially accelerating, compounding 21st Century VUCA World (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) we live in. “It’s VUCA” will not only change how you see your life and the world around you, but also what you believe you are capable of.

WATM sat down with “It’s VUCA” star Mike Schindler to talk all things Army, perseverance and VUCA.

WATM: In the documentary you explain that VUCA is derived from Army War College documents that date as far back as 1987. Commandant MG Thompson, the first pioneer of VUCA, what stood out to you the most about the importance of implementing VUCA in the military?

Well I think there stood two sides of VUCA. The Army War College version they taught the volatility side. The importance of understanding VUCA is understanding your environment. Once you understand your environment, your situation, then you can develop that offensive mindset. Most people get caught up in the mind game of naming or misnaming it and then they have no way of thinking through of how to get out of it. They get paralyzed by it. So, for me, if we understand that we live in a VUCA environment — we live in volatility, in uncertainty, in complex times, ambiguous times. If we understand that that’s the standard, that standard to external forces, we can’t change it. It’s always going to be. Make sense?

WATM: Motivation seems to be one of the key ingredients to implementing VUCA to its greatest potential, how do you keep yourself motivated when the chips are down?

Mainly because I have a vision that’s bigger than me. So, when you have a vision that is so big, the circumstances don’t matter. If you take it back into a military mindset, right?

Well, our job is to complete this mission. You know this being in the Marine Corps, you could plan for 100% of [the mission]. OK, we’re going to plan for everything that we know. Then the unknown happens, and it screws up your plans, right?

Do you give up or do you keep going because your vision is to complete the mission? How I stay motivated is understanding what my vision is. When the vision is big, the circumstances don’t matter. I can’t always control the circumstances but if I’m so focused on just the day-to-day, it’s easy to get.

It’s easy to get anxious and depressed. Overwhelmed? We lose sight of where we’re going. Remove center where we’re going. What are you still doing out there? Because you got a vision, right? You got somebody else that inspires you, too. I have my daughters. So, I keep going.

WATM: What is your favorite example of veterans implementing VUCA in their post active duty lives?

Oh gosh, you’ve seen it. You’ve probably seen them 40,000 different times when you look at all the different nonprofits, companies, corporations that veterans start when they get out.

That’s because they were inspired by something right there. They latched on the vision, they are understanding the clarity to adapt. The adaptability piece. I could say that it’s every non nonprofit.

What truly inspires me are guys that get themselves totally out of a mess. Guys who are falling victim to some medication. Substance abuse, right, all of a sudden you know they’re either homeless or they’re on the verge of being homeless and suddenly they go, ‘Wait a second.’ There’s something they’re going to need. There’s mission, there’s purpose. ‘I’m going to latch on to that’ and they clean their lives up.

To me, that is positive. There’s somebody that says, ‘You know what I’m going to let I’m not going to let my circumstances be me. I’m going to pick myself up and I’ve got training skills and ability to go ahead and do it, and I’m not going to be defined by my circumstances. I’m going to go ahead and own my future and I’m going to latch on to the vision I have for my life. For my family’s life. For my professional life.

Those stories.

Totally inspire me. I’ll tell you what I’ll give you a specific. There is an individual who was brought to my attention about two months ago.

A Marine — as a matter of fact, and a young kid, early 20s.

Seen a lot, done a lot, experienced a number of things that are going wrong in his life. He’s essentially getting through the days with a 6-pack or 12-pack.

No job; unemployed.

I said, OK, well, we know what we need to do. First of all we got to get him back into [the veteran] relationship. We got to get him back into camaraderie. We got to get him back into that brotherhood, right? Because that’s the stuff that we love when we’re in the military.

It’s that relationship that we have around us where we can joke with. We can give each other crap but we love each other no matter what. One team, one fight. You and I could disagree on politics. We can disagree on religion. We can disagree on a number of different things, but when there’s a mission, we rally around each other, right? And so, they brought this kid. We get them around a bunch of the other guys and we just start weaning him off the alcohol.

Baby steps and count the micro wins. [For example,] before you have a beer, have a glass of water. Or just small stuff, right? Like hey, ‘Listen, here’s my phone number. If you ever need anything call me and you know what I want you to do. I want you to call me with the micro win.’

Mike Schindler

I want you to call me when you have a micro win. When you get up and make that. Then we start to slowly move into, ‘if you had your best day, what does that look like?’

‘Take your best year. What does that look like?’

We just started working. Three weeks in. He’s no longer drinking as much. He’s staying sober. He’s waking up sober. Then he’s realizing, wow, you know what, I wanna make something.

He loves knives. He’s got a collection of knives. He loves cooking. We let him cook for our group because he loves to cook. He wants to make designs.

So he joined a machinery class. He got enrolled in a machinery class and, my brother, that’s exciting. I’m so excited that when he is done with the Sunday classes he calls me goes, ‘Man! I learned something new. I’m totally loving it!’

That is positive in my book. That’s an example of a veteran going, ‘You know what? My life is kind of a mess at this point.’ Granted he owns most of it, right? Like most of us do when we run into bad circumstance because of bad, you know, bad decisions, not always, but in most cases.

Instead of being defined by it he chose to allow himself to be mentored by others. With a positive example for the veteran, they are going to latch on to a positive group. I’m going to have a vision for my life. I’m going to gain understanding through my situation. I’m going to be very clear in the direction I’m going and I’m going to adapt and overcome when things get really rough. I’m going to figure out how to be adaptable. Maybe you just forgot it. We’re just here to remind you.

Pre-order your copy here.

WATM: When filming the documentary ‘It’s VUCA’, did you face a behind-the-scenes situation where you had to adapt and overcome using VUCA?

Oh yeah, yeah, like a million different times. Yeah, I mean we shot that film during COVID. The real story behind that is Chris Nolan, who’s in the film, is a three time Emmy award-winning producer/writer. He’s the one that said, we need to do it on VUCA. I flew out September of 2020. I’m flying out from General Casey’s home in Boston from Seattle. There’s nobody on the plane. There’s like maybe five of us on the airplane. We’re kind of wearing masks. This is before masks were mandated. Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t, nobody knew at the time.

We couldn’t get sound people — we would have to get stringer crews. Aye. There is, you know, logistical issues that we were overcoming. I was the grip and I was the sound guy and I was the equipment guy. I was the writer. I was the editor. We were in the film and now I got to remember lines.

Yeah, there was a time in the Moore Theater where we had to book for four hours and we had to shoot a whole bunch of stuff. [There’s a] scene when they were in the theater. We had to go back twice to that theater because we couldn’t get it done the first time and then we had to do some reshoots stuff because it didn’t turn out right.

There was some stuff where we shot and we didn’t have audio for whatever reason, so we had to reshoot scenes like we were always having to adapt.

I joked with Chris, ‘You know, famous people have their trailers, right? You know they go to in between scenes?’ and I would joke with Chris like, ‘Hey, you know where’s my trailer and my trailer?’ My trailer would be like a wagon that was used to carry equipment!

Setting up lighting, trying to figure all this stuff out, was such an amazing experience. That was action. Think about it, we’re shooting during a pandemic and having to beat situations and scenarios where there’s a lot to do there.

Managing time and layovers into a city, we gotta get out of there in 24 hour, otherwise you’re going to stay for two weeks.

I mean we were happy to be very flexible on how we got stuff done. We were shooting some of the scenes via Zoom like a whole scene with the Blue Angels. Remember John Foley?

Chris and I are directing that scene in Tahoe. He’s in the Sun Valley. We weren’t in Sudan.

People see this. They see the story of VUCA, but what glued that film was the fact that we were in VUCA moments every day shooting.

WATM: How would you advise civilians, who do not have a military mindset, to adopt VUCA to navigate the troubled waters of life?

Well, they must develop. My answer to that is you can’t use 20th century thinking. It’s all 21st century problems, right?

How many people have had their life kind of up-ended this last two and a half years? And most people like yeah, everybody raises their hand, right? Do you think the old ways are going to get you through the big problems?

Most people shake their head and say, yeah, no, probably not. That’s right. So you have to develop a new way.

You’re going to develop an offense and so how do you do that? You have to start looking at life through a different lens, through a VUCA lens. You must understand that the environment that you’re in today, which is chaos and uncertainty is increasing. This is only going to accelerate.

Screenshot from VUCA Documentary.

So, the next 10 years is going to be 100 years of technological growth.

Let’s be massive. There’s massive change in the next decade. So, in our lifetime. We’re going to have 100 years of technological growth, so if you don’t do things differently, you’re going to be very ill-prepared.

You have to develop a new mindset.

Most people who want to succeed in life, succeed. I don’t mean necessarily financially, but certainly emotionally, mentally, relationships. They want to have those successes in their life, and the only way to do that is to get around people who look into the future and help you navigate these times coming forward. Most people want that. Most people want to be told what to do, how to do it and move forward, but they want the freedom to be able to have the option.

WATM: Do you have anything you would like to say to the military audience?

Those of us who have served in the military, we accomplished something that 93% of Americans have not, and those skills, that training, that mindset, are abilities, which will essentially help America and other countries around the world. We’ll usher them into the golden era if we work together as one team, one fight.

We need to leverage what we know, our ability to adapt, our ability to see things differently than the rest of the world. You can see things differently, through a different lens, and the people that you work with because you’re trained.

I believe today’s veteran really needs to embrace the fact that you’re part of America’s greatest asset. You will help change the world.

As long as you have your vision, understand what your purpose is and be focused on your mission — and your mission should be to change the world one person at a time.

WATM: What is next for you?

We’ve got a book coming out during the next six months. The film just came out.

We’ve got a VUCA Max leadership resiliency training program. That is just rolling out here in August. That’s coming out where we’re taking leaders and we’re essentially teaching them the 15 latest principles in VUCA and how to navigate the 21st century so that they can go back to their teams and really set their teams up for success.

And you know, who knows? We’ll see. We might do a series on the movie, and so we’re seriously looking at that. Going around and telling the stories of individuals who have faced amazing negative focus situations that have overcome them using VUCA principles.

So, we’re looking at doing a potential series after that. People can follow us. Head over to itsvuca.com and book a free session. They could sign up for newsletter or updates social media they can find all that stuff that website itsvuca.com.

They can talk to me and say, ‘Here’s my big idea’ and I’ll give him 30 minutes of my time for nothing.

If they want to talk about, ‘Hey, here’s my plan. How do I execute moving forward?’ I’m happy to do that, especially for our vets. We’re all brothers and sisters and I believe that we’ll be the ones that help save the planet.

Call me crazy, but I don’t. I truly believe that.