How-To VUCA

An acronym and its transformation into digital reality!

Have you ever heard of VUCA? The professionals might say: yes, of course! I admit that I wasn’t familiar with this term. I checked on Wikipedia and realized that the term actually has nothing to do with digitalization. However, it is used more often in this context – for good reason. But let’s take one thing at a time.

VUCA – The acronym and its meaning

The acronym VUCA stands for …

  • Volatility (V)
  • Uncertainty (U)
  • Complexity (C)
  • Ambiguity (A).

Where does VUCA come from?

According to the Wikipedia-article, an American military academy came up with this acronym. This happened in the 1990s, when digitalization became a subject in everyday life. Still, the people were not aware of the dramatic impact digitalization would have on the economic and social systems.

What does VUCA mean?

If you put it within the context of that time, it clearly shows that the world had already got more complex and inconsistent. It also indicates clearly that we all have to adjust to changes. The VUCA-acronym developed from this insight.

Volatility = Nothing stays constantly for a long time. Uncertainty = There is a risk in everything. Complexity = Nothing is easy to explain anymore. Ambiguity = It’s not only one correct answer but many answers besides it.

As already mentioned, we’re talking about the 1990s. The acronym was created to refer to challenges and aims at designating the essential parameters in clear patterns.
Such concepts or terms always become a hot topic within intellectual elites that try to explain such phenomena so that everyone is able to understand it.

What does this mean in 2018, in a clearly digitalized world?

It is more relevant than ever. The VUCA-world is real. The parameters are correct and they show pragmatically the most important challenges. You can continue intellectualizing this or even give a lecture, but the basic conditions are set. We still need to adjust (which is a fact), no matter if it brings new limits and problems. Or many people will not be able to stay up-to-date – economically or socially.

Actually, this is the most important insight. Not all of us are intellectuals or mega-performers, but we all have to help one another, especially those who don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, people who don’t want to conquer the world (which in this case is the target-group we’re talking about) need a lot more security and steadiness, and most of all, less complexity. If this is not considered, it occurs that extreme positions are taken on both sides. We strongly notice this when it comes to politics and can consider this a cry for help – not more and not less.

How can we escape this dilemma?

VUCA – The solution already comes with the acronym

The strategy for “survival” can be found in the same acronym:

  • Vision (V)
  • Understanding (U)
  • Clarity (C)
  • Agility (A).

Fits perfectly, don’t you think? Let’s take a closer look.

Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. It requires a change of thinking. It means that the common understanding of hierarchy in companies is outdated. You can’t run a business or an organization efficiently and future-proof in a VUCA-world if you stick to hierarchies. Such a realization hits those hard that are convinced that success and a promotion give you the freedom to act top-down.

What is the reason for that? Let’s look at the following approaches …

Vision: What we need is a vision and a clear idea what the future will look like. You need a strategy you follow and ambitions you want to fulfill. In other words: A future-oriented concept is required.

Understanding: Digitalization is not as simple as it seems. According to companies, imparting knowledge is the responsibility of educational institutions only. To find out if a candidate has the required skills, he or she has to pass the assessment center. But this doesn’t work anymore in a multidimensional world. The understanding of a specific matter becomes a continuous task and requires the ability to listen, as well as the will to share knowledge, even if this might be a difficult task.

Clarity: No lectures! No hiding behind technical terms! You should really make sure that you make an impact. All people involved have to be aware of all the actions that need to be taken. In doing so, you should really avoid using fancy terms and acronyms nobody understands.

Agility: Keep moving! Avoid stagnation! This is a basic capability to question existing processes and procedures and strike out in new directions. We are already aware of these principles in agile software development, but it is also contrary to the human need for continuity and reliability.

Here is my conclusion:

I always find approaches like this very exciting. They inspire you and help you to think about new guidelines. In doing so, you are able to categorize challenges at least roughly which makes it easier to understand them.

What we should avoid is a hiding behind empty placeholders. Instead we should consider the general aspiration for the potential change can bring. You can make the best of such an approach, if you get fully involved. Keeping this in mind, good luck and VUCA-on!

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Digitalberatung durch Oliver Dietz, CEO