VUCA is a nicely packed acronym which describes the opposite of being contained and controlled. Another military derived concept now used in leadership and organisational circles, it was originally used to describe extreme battlefield conditions.
It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
And increasingly it is used by leaders to explain the nature of the environment they are operating in. And those leaders are looking for help to build capacity to navigate through their VUCA landscape. Just over the last 3 weeks with Impact International, whether we were in the heart of Africa or in the middle of northern Europe, leaders were keen to talk VUCA. Their context may vary enormously, but they know they need to embrace learning and leadership agility. They want to be able to scan their inner and outer worlds, and respond rather than react. And they know this comes from a calm mind and open heart.
The power of reflection
As Peter Drucker wrote, ‘follow effective action with quiet reflection’.
From my experience, the best thing we can do to help leaders navigate VUCA, is to give them the space and stimulus to reflect on it. They are so in it, they often don’t pause and consider how they are doing, and what they are learning. Their experience of VUCA, particularly in some organisations and countries is so immense. But the wisdom comes when they take stock and consciously understand their mindsets and skillsets. What are my experiences? What does leadership look like in ‘our’ VUCA world? How am I reacting and responding? What are my preferences? And what do I do under stress? When do I edge towards stability? Or towards change? In what circumstances, do I operate independently? When with the collective? What do I get blinded to? When do I go into lock down? What are my reset strategies? The questions go on.
Normal or Super?
One perspective is that there is another word for VUCA, and that is… normal. The four areas may manifest themselves differently depending on the context, but for many, the acronym captures life as it is. As it always will be. For all of us.
Ex Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, who released a book about leadership in a crazy world (and who resigned off the back of promoting it) wrote about being in a super-VUCA world. I am pretty sure he didn’t mean super-normal. One thing I appreciated about the book, is that at its heart, it is about being a creative leader, and viewing VUCA optimistically. His SuperVUCA world, is one in which ideas rule and where the challenge is to create outcomes that are V-ibrant, U-nreal, C-razy, and A-stounding.
In my opinion, the danger of seeing VUCA as normal, fails to acknowledge the speed at which change is happening. And what is at stake for our communities, companies and planet. The issues are serious, and so we have to embrace the light and the dark. The paradox of VUCA. And a super optimistic approach will inevitably help.
And so I too feel compelled to play with the acronym. But through a slightly different lens. One that may be more useful for the #decadeforaction. I will call it VUCA 2.0. Drawing on positive psychology, as well as sustainability and nature based wisdom, I offer this.
Namely, that a VUCA world is:
Vibrant – everything is a source of life
Universal – there are universal truths, laws of nature, patterns and symmetry amongst it all
Connected – everything is interconnected
Agile – we are all in constant change
And to respond to such conditions, we need leaders and ourselves to be:
Visionary – to dream big and help others share those dreams
Understanding – to seek to understand oneself and others
Curious – to cultivate interest, ideas and connections
Aware – to be fully present, aware and attentive
Perhaps taking into consideration this VUCA 2.0 as well, will remind us to take a more holistic, creative, courageous and sustainable view of the dynamic challenges we face.
Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash