How do we live in a VUCA world?

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The VUCA concept seems to have been first introduced in the early 90s by the US Army War College in reference to a multilateral world post the Cold War. It was a world that was seen as being more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous than ever before.

After the financial crisis in 2008 the business world adopted the same acronym and it now seems to be featuring heavily in organisations post Brexit and after the US Presidential election results. The concept describes a business environment depicted by:

Volatility: An increase in four dimensions of the changes that we face today: type, speed, volume, and scale.

Uncertainty: As a result of the Volatility, we are unable to predict future events.

Complexity: Widespread confusion, with no clear connection between cause and effect, touching all organisations nowadays.

Ambiguity: There is a growing presence of multiple meanings within the conditions surrounding us.

The world is changing quicker and greater than we have encountered before and it seems the future is less predictable than it has been previously, the options available are increasing, and the way we think about these options has undoubtedly changed. Today, leaders must make decisions faster, processing huge amounts of information, and where everything is more interconnected than ever before. We may think that this has been the case for every generation for every period in history; surely the feeling must be the same?

The one big issue is that we have been raised thinking that the world is predictable and so we now have to develop a different mind-set, where we focus on not what is probable but what is possible.

This is not easy as our brains have learnt to learn from the past in order to secure the future. The VUCA environment means that we must focus on what is possible (because anything can happen) rather than on what is likely to occur (which is determined by what happened before).

There are four habits that can help us evolve and improve our ability to deal with higher levels of complexity. These four habits are easy to implement:

  • Ask different types of questions
  • Take on multiple perspectives
  • Develop a systemic vision
  • Look at the whole picture; take a step back to see what’s possible

As Christopher Reeves once said, “At first, something may seem impossible, keep at it and it turns into the improbable, keep going at it becomes inevitable!” That is why we all need to keep practicing the art of possibility in a VUCA world.