How Can I Survive the Chaos of This VUCA World? » Mind Tools Blog
How Can I Survive the Chaos of This VUCA World?

How Can I Survive the Chaos of This VUCA World?

July 3, 2017


Q. VUCA? Is it a word? Is it a plane?
A. Yes and no. Yes, it’s a sort of word. And, no, it’s not a plane (although I see where you’re coming from, but that was a Stuka).

Q. OK. So what is it then?
A. Well, it’s an acronym. It stands for Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

Q. Sounds scary. Who came up with that?
A. Military brains. United States Army War College planners, to be precise. They used VUCA to describe the radically different international security environment they faced post-9/11.

Q. And?
A. Well, you can get a lot more info on VUCA from this Mind Tools article. But, in a nutshell, “Volatile” relates to rapid and unpredictable change. “Uncertain” is about the present being unclear and the future being unpredictable. (Think politics. But not for too long.) “Complex” encapsulates the interconnected factors in play at any time, with the potential for chaos and confusion. (Think politics, again.) And “Ambiguous” describes the lack of clarity or awareness about situations or events. (Don’t even go there.)

Q. Fair enough. But what’s that got to do with me? I mean, I’m not on the CIA’s Homeland Security detail, I’m a project manager at a mid-size software company in Illinois.
A. Sorry, you don’t get off that lightly, I’m afraid. Step forward Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future.

VUCA for the Business World

Q. Who’s he?
A. Bob adapted VUCA for the business world in his 2009 book, “Leaders Make the Future.” He said VUCA described how the disruptive forces of change could affect organizations… like yours.

Q. Disruptive forces? Such as?
A. First of all, we had the wheel, and fire. Then the Industrial Revolution. Then we had the automobile and the telephone. Nowadays, the pace of progress is mind-bogglingly rapid. There are swift and large-scale changes in technology, increasing connectivity, not to mention the threat/opportunity of automation. In fact, before you’ve finished reading this blog, there’s a fair chance that you’ll have lost your job to a robot. Only kidding, but we are talking turbulence of the highest order.

New Skills and Approaches

Q. Ahhh, I see. I was wondering why I had been feeling a bit queasy at work lately. Is there anything I can do about it?
A. You betcha. This volatile, uncertain world doesn’t have to be a disaster. But Bob argued that today’s managers do need to call on new skills, approaches and behaviors to combat the threat of VUCA.

Q. And now you’re going to tell me what those are?
A. I most certainly am. But, first, it’s important to understand a bit about what the VUCA environment actually means for people like you and me. And the organizations we work for. A few examples of the effects of VUCA are: it destabilizes people and makes them anxious; it can make it harder to make good decisions; it can hit long-term projects; and VUCA can actually infect organizations themselves. The volatility and uncertainty outside starts to spread within, as it were. So there you have it…

Q. Help!!! What next?
A. Your best move would be to return to the Mind Tools article I mentioned earlier. It explains Bob’s framework for responding to the threat of VUCA. Basically he replaces VUCA with VUCA.

Q. Sorry, can you translate that, please?
A. Well, put simply, you have to meet each aspect of VUCA with a strategy: Volatility with Vision; Uncertainty with Understanding; Complexity with Clarity; and Ambiguity with Agility. Don’t worry, it’s all really well explained in the article. Why not check it out?

OK, I will. Thanks for the tip.
You’re welcome.

Have you got any examples of how VUCA is affecting the organization you work for? Tell us in the Comments section, below.

2 thoughts on “How Can I Survive the Chaos of This VUCA World?

  1. Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D., PCC wrote:

    Great post, MindTools! With the rapid and escalating rate of change, VUCA is getting to everyone. Like Bob Johansen, I have experienced organizations and leaders who are reacting to VUCA. Without being aware of Bob’s work, I too landed on the idea of an antidote to VUCA—my VUCA Tools stands for Values, Us, Curiosity, and Aspiration—the basis of choice rather than reactivity in the face of VUCA.
    p.s. One correction to your engaging summary–the initial acronym VUCA came about in the 1990’s rather than after 9/11.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Ann for sharing your thoughts and what your VUCA stands for. I really love the idea of using it as a basis of choice rather than reactivity! Thanks also for letting us know that the VUCA came about in the 1990s. – Midgie, MT

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