There’s nothing new about VUCA. And nothing bad about it either
Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous
“The world is changing too fast!” “I don’t understand it – scary!” “Crikey –it’s all so vague” ‘Doomed!’
This is what I’m hearing and reading in leadership conferences, papers, coffee time chats and with continuous splatter across social and mainstream media.
Is it really any different to what has gone before? Is the world really wobbling and re-shaping at an ever increasing velocity? Is this just a ‘Western’ thing? Does the world feel more VUCA say in Peru, China, Kazakhstan?
Or could it be that, in our hyper-connected lives of more and more information, immediate opinion, escalating reactions, could it be that the change we are noticing (and afraid of) is the change in us? Is it that we feel differently about the world: hyper-sensitised, raw and overwhelmed by the hyper-connectivity?
Too much what and how and not enough why and what for?
I don’t believe the world isn’t changing that much faster or getting that much more complex. What seems to be changing is our sensitivity, our fear of the unknown and of ‘other’, our ability to feel confident in unknowing and our assessment of the relative negativity of change’s impacts. Our self-confidence, self-construal eroded, our groundedness swept away.
Is this what the endless streams of chatter and news-fake-news are doing? Not changing the world, but changing how we view it and how we perceive ourselves and our role in it?
Yes some things are changing more visibly, destabilising and tilting – the political institutions of USA and UK; global climate patterns for example. On the other hand some things are changing ‘for the better’ – the harnessing of technologies for sustainability, global reduction in poverty etc. My point is change is a constant – the world, people, cultures, communities have always changed and always will.
Why now are we constructing change as ‘bad’ and stability / control as ‘good’? Why is VUCA so terribly sexy as a term, why does it generate such jittery excitement in academia? Why do we posit this as bad?
Perhaps we need to look back to its origins to help us get VUCA back into perspective. VUCA came from the military after the Cold War and got trendy in organisational and management circles in the 1990s. Both of those realms have a need for and reputation for liking control and controlled responses. That’s where VUCA gets helpful. VUCA as a framework is deployed to help source, analyse and align intelligence so that management / leadership can achieve a sense of control, a place of confidence from which to move. It’s a useful tool. An aid to sustainability.
Working with VUCA, going deeper into and feeling more comfortable in both understanding and being a VUCA state is where the smarts are at. Not being fearful, not catastrophizing. VUCA is normal. Read it, get into it, be better at being and playing in it. Find a way to make VUCA useful.
Come back to the centre, re-ground in to the essentials: why are we here, who are we, what are we good at, where are our gaps. Know this. And keep checking in to re-knowing this. Find your fulcrum from which to dance through the VUCA, surf the waves of information and pluck a harmony from the web strings of complexity.
Keep asking questions, keep feelers out into the streams of stuff filtering for what is useful. Use the momentum of change, embrace it, find a way to be comfortable in the uncomfortableness.
VUCA might just be the answer…. not the problem.