Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do You Speak VUCA?

Never the same wave twice
VUCA is an acronym describing many of the conditions and situations we face today – from battlefields to business environments. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.  It derives from military vocabulary used in relation to strategic leadership at the U.S. Army War College, and has been in use since the late 1990s.  Let’s dig a little deeper.
Volatility: The rapid rates of change in information and situations. Rapid changes in an environment require adaptive and innovative decision making. Also required are better ways to anticipate the future (foresight).
Uncertainty: The inability to know everything about the current situation and the difficulty of predicting what the effects of a change now will be on the future. Leaders must be willing to take measured and prudent risks, assess risk accurately, and develop risk management strategies.
Complexity: The web of cause and effect relationships have become much more complex in a global and technologically connected world.  Leaders must avoid the temptation to address symptoms quickly and apply short-term solutions. 
Ambiguity:  The difficulty of understanding what is happening in many situations or of identifying what is significant. There is an increased chance for misreading situations because the reality might be interpreted in more than one way, or observers might have insufficient mental models to make sense of what is happening.  Leaders need to create a climate of openness and questioning to uncover different perspectives.
In his book, “Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present,” Bob Johansen of the Institute of the Future says:
·         Volatility yields to Vision
·         Uncertainty yields to Understanding
·         Complexity yields to Clarity, and
·         Ambiguity yields to Agility
Speaking VUCA doesn’t grant us a greater degree of control, but it does enable us to look at challenges in a more sophisticated way, as well as help us calibrate our expectations appropriately.  It also provides a compelling rationale for why it is so important to bring diverse perspectives, experiences, and skills together in collaboration.  

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