Responding to VUCA

Our primary focus is on what you can do to respond to VUCA – positively and productively. Our clients have been soaking up everything we have to offer on VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. And we’re working on dancing with it on our own, too (of course)!

What is VUCA?

  • Volatility – the nature, dynamics and speed of change – things are happening fast and in unpredictable and non-repeatable ways
  • Uncertainty – the lack of predictability and likelihood of surprise – the past is not an accurate predictor of the future
  • Complexity – the multiple forces, chaos and confusion – there are so many factors involved it’s difficult to know what affects what
  • Ambiguity – the fuzziness of reality, potential for misreads, and cause and effect confusion – who, what, when, where, how and why is unclear

It seems the challenges of uncertainty and ongoing change are pretty universal.  Even when we’re dealing with traditional issues like team building, hiring and delegation, the current VUCA context is relevant – and that’s how we address them.

VUCA isn’t a problem to be solved.  It’s part of a dilemma, a polarity, a paradox.  It requires a shift in world view or perspective.  It’s something to be danced with.

Why Should I Care?

VUCA is like the air we breathe, even if we pretend it’s not, even if we’re waiting for things to go back to being predictable and stable.  They aren’t going to.  And the sooner we accept this and figure out how to deal with this VUCA‘d and unpredictable world, the better chance we have of surviving – even thriving.  VUCA is the new normal.

VUCA is easier to deal with when you see it as part of a larger dynamic.  The dynamic we have found to be most useful in understanding VUCA’s impact came from our participation in a delightful collaboration.  It looks like this:

  • Volatility amplifies Vulnerability
  • Uncertainty amplifies Unwillingness
  • Complexity amplifies unintended Consequences
  • Ambiguity amplifies Assumptions

There are many other suggested approaches, such as Bob Johansen’s VUCA-Prime – Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility – as ways to respond to VUCA.  There are other alternatives, often presented as the “antidote to VUCA.”  Although we don’t think VUCA has an antidote, we do think they all have a place because the heart of responding well in a VUCA world is how we show up as leaders, and how we bring our organizations along.  We believe the most important question is:

What helps dampen VUCA’s impact?

  • Volatility amplifies Vulnerability, Vigilance dampens the impact of that Vulnerability
  • Uncertainty amplifies Unwillingness, Understanding dampens the impact of that Unwillingness
  • Complexity amplifies unintended Consequences, Containment dampens the impact of those unintended Consequences
  • Ambiguity amplifies Assumptions, Agility dampens the impact of those Assumptions

What Can I Do?

Leading in the midst of Uncertainty and VUCA requires personal characteristics not usually rewarded in our traditional business world as well as new leadership and management skills that fortunately are beginning to be rewarded (along with traditional skills being used in a different way).  They include:

  • Embrace the benefits of not knowing
  • Make friends with ambiguity
  • Find security in being ready, instead of being right
  • Know that the signals you miss could sink you
  • VUCA will throw you off center – learn to notice sooner and re-center more quickly
  • Be curious
  • Move forward before you are sure, knowing you’ll be adjusting as you go

You can also join our LinkedIn group “Leadership in a VUCA world