Future Friday: Redefining how we see this crazy world

by Michael Haberman on June 2, 2017 · 1 comment


This crazy world requires a new definition of VUCA

In certification education material students are taught the acronym VUCA. VUCA was created by the US Army War College to describe the period of time around the end of the Cold War. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Its common usage started in 1990 and now applies to almost any organization and the fast-paced world we live in. It is used by organizations to get a handle on the business conditions under which they make decisions, plan the future, manage their risks and solve their problems. Unfortunately, according to Ira Wolfe, in Recruiting in the Age of Googlization: When The SHIFT Hits Your Plan[1], most leaders today are not prepared for the speed of change and thus don’t function well in a VUCA world. He says it requires a change in mindset. It requires redefining what VUCA means.

New definition

Wolfe talks about a newly redefined meaning to VUCA that will allow leaders to better operate in today’s world. In this definition, called VUCA Prime, the acronym means:

  • V stands for Vision rather than volatility. According to Wolfe “Vision instills a powerful motivation to create a better future. The speed and turbulence of change won’t go away but fear and anxiety do fade when your strategy is guided by a clear vision. With vision, you see past the small distractions so that you’re able to stay focused on the bigger picture. Vision doesn’t only benefit you but it helps you serve others better. It helps align your decisions with your values.”
  • U becomes Understanding, rather than Uncertainty. leaders must learn to dance with change. According to Wolfe leaders must “…ask challenging questions. Teach and coach others. Accept and welcome feedback. Develop, build, and manage networks of team. Make sure you’re open to and getting fresh perspective, no matter how outrageous the source or idea. Understanding also requires that decisions are based less on tradition and anecdote and made with more data driven evidence.”
  • C stands for Clarity rather than complexity. Leaders must seek to communicate clearly. Wolfe says that leaders much not “…forget that communication is a 2-way street and collaboration is a key. Actively observe and make sense of what you see. But don’t dismiss perplexing and unusual answers. Set realistic expectations for yourself and communicate them to others. Strive for perfection and think of mistakes and failures as a resource you’ve already paid for. Accept that ―permanent fixes and solutions in a VUCA world have a short shelf-life.”
  • A stands for Agility rather than ambiguity. In my blog “Agile HR” Means Looking Ahead I said “Your vision needs to be out in front several steps to chart your path through the branches of the future.” Wolfe, in his book says “Most organizations do pretty well at what they do today. It’s what they need to be doing tomorrow that is missing. The same can be said about individuals too. Agility shifts the mindset from ―I don’t see how change will affect me or the organization‖ or ―I don’t see how I/we can do anything about it? to ―I know change is coming and this is what I’m/we’re going to do to respond. Disruptions will happen but the element of surprise is lost when you anticipate the subtle changes and respond with agility.” (My emphasis)

What got you there before probably won’t get you there tomorrow

Life is complex. I think we will all agree with that statement. Using methods and plans that worked yesterday most likely will not work tomorrow. Wolfe says “Crossing the chasm from VUCA to VUCA Prime requires a different mindset. Neuroscience research suggests that the assumption that what worked in the past will also work in the future is one of the most significant impediments to change.” He talks about the work of Carol Dweck in a favorite book of mine Mindset, where she talks about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets. Wolfe says that to be successful in today’s world you must have the latter. “A growth mindset is critical to succeed and thrive in a VUCA world. At the organizational level, VUCA Prime-savvy leaders embrace volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity with courage, confidence, and empowerment. At a personal level, VUCA Prime-savvy individuals demonstrate the ability to be fully present, mindful, and attentive to the stream of information that flows to them and respond accordingly.”

Critical for future success

Wolfe’s book makes it clear that adopting a new mindset and using the new definition is what will be critical for leaders to be successful in the future. His book is packed with great information and I encourage you to watch for it. Next Friday I will be covering questions he says all leaders should be asking and answering in order to help their organizations and themselves survive.

[1] Recruiting in the Age of Googlization When The SHIFT Hits Your Plan is as of June 2017 yet unpublished. It will be out later in 2017. I had access to a prepublication issue.


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