The VUCA Advantage

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We live in a VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex, and is a concept first developed by the US Army War College in the late 1980’s. Far more than a trendy phrase describing the ever-changing world in which we are called to lead, each of the concepts in this acronym requires our organizations to act in specific ways to maximize our impact — call it the VUCA Advantage. 

Distilling down the components of the chaotic environment before us is the first step in positioning ourselves for success.

  1. Volatile means that a shift is fast and unexpected. It has to do with the unpredictable rate of change.
  2. Uncertain means the past is not a good predictor of the future, resulting in a lack of clarity about the best decision in the present.
  3. Complex means there is lots information to process and multiple inter-related variables impact decision-making.
  4. Ambiguous means that cause and effect are unclear, and there may be a number of “unknown unknowns.”

So how should you respond to gain a VUCA Advantage — to act in ways that position you for ultimate success in the midst of the fog?

  1. Volatility requires advance preparation, anticipation. What plans/supplies/safety nets do you have in place for a “rainy day”, or times when you have to pivot with little to no notice? Such preparation allows you to be reliable in the mist of volatility.
  1. Uncertainty is best addressed with information. What are you doing now to stay attuned to new developments, expand your knowledge base, and remain curious? Having a depth of knowledge results in you being seen as trustworthy when things are uncertain.
  1. Complexity calls for strong problem-solving. What organizational systems, structures or experts do you have in place to bring clarity to a myriad of seemingly disconnected variables?  Connecting the dots in advance allows you to bring logic and transparency to situations that may seem anything but clear.
  1. Ambiguity calls for experimentation. A culture that rewards innovation, and has a tolerance for making mistakes, learning, adapting and trying again, strengthens ability of the organization to adapt to change. It empowers people in the organization to become active participants in problem-solving.

Notice anything about the suggestions above? All of them require pre-emptive efforts — having specific systems, processes, mindsets and cultures in place BEFORE you are in the midst of a crisis. The VUCA Advantage is not about having all of the answers in advance. It is about creating an environment where you and your team have the solid confidence that you can find the answers and thus weather whatever VUCA storm might be coming your way.

Advantage indeed.

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