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IN THE MEDIA: VUCA

Or: Why no one heroic leader can have all the answers.


The last few decades – characterized by accelerating globalization and digitization – have seen supposedly unambiguous or stable concepts of political, economical and social world order become obsolete or at least fundamentally changed in ever shorter periods of time.

The popular term “VUCA-World” is an attempt to sum up this state of constant progress and renewal. “VUCA” is an acronym to describe and deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in a world that no longer functions according to universally binding norms. The term is popular in business, first and foremost when it comes to leadership training. Its skyrocketing popularity within the last three to five years has led to a glut of training, consulting and coaching offerings. Liz Guthridge was right, when she recently said on FORBES, that in a VUCA world “no one heroic leader can know all of the answers”. Nevertheless, if everyone out there feels the need to try, some people will make a bloody fortune with it!

Ironically, the strange-sounding acronym’s greatest weakness – its lack of definition – is also a great strength in the advice book market. The open-endedness of the term means authors can monetize methods for dealing with justified concerns, as well as hawk pointless solutions for exaggerated fears of revolutionary upheavals. To prevent the latter, one has to sift the reasonable from the clutter. And because you have better things to do than panic from exaggerated scaremongering, we have compiled some bullshit-free must-reads on the topic from our library.

How to deal with volatility
In order to find out what possible major upheavals lie ahead of us, it’s worth taking a look at our summaries of the WEF Global Risks Report, the IMF World Economic Outlook (latest update here) and new summarized content initially coming from The Economist Intelligence Unit. They all deal with future risks and how likely they are. If you are especially concerned about the next upcoming financial crisis’ (like, well, almost everybody since 2008), you should be aware of ETH Zurich’s “Financial Crisis Observatory” – we don’t summarize their work (yet), but it’s awesome anyway.

How to arm yourself against remaining uncertainties
It may sound strange, but certainty never really existed. As, for example, Steven Pinker’s recent books The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now tell us, your grandpa’s life was probably much more uncertain than yours will ever be. Still, when looking back, he might tell you a different story of the “good old days.” Yet, even grandpa must agree that it’s never wrong to improve your skills or foster resilience. Margaret Heffernan, CEO of five companies and teaching at the University of Bath in England, tells you how.

To be certain on this one: A fulfilled life also requires a fulfilling job. In an economic environment, however, it’s often more complex and therefore more difficult to increase resilience and inhabit a mindset of change that deals with uncertainty and productivity at the same time companywide.

How can you adjust your companies culture?
Use our Sketch Notes! “Sketch Notes?” I hear you asking. That’s our visual and curated learning journeys that help you overcome specific business challenges in different contexts.

If you are in an executive position, you may encounter many objections on your way to implementing change. Our first Sketch Note deals with (overcoming) these as well as deals with the massive likely upsides of your project. Make sure to check out our PDF version to share with your board, if its members still prefer paper and QR-codes.

 

If you are an employee of a company – and do not have access to the network printer on the executive floor – you can influence the adaptability of the company, your colleagues and yourself, too. Here’s a second Sketch Note to guide you (sure, let’s not forget the good old PDF) – it might perfectly suit the fridge door in your bureau’s recreation room, don’t you think?


But how about complexity and ambiguity?
Well, deal with it! The world is complex and ambiguous, but it’s been this way for the last couple million of years – and at least that won’t change in the near future. The best way to deal with it is to cut down on useless distractions and make some space for quality time in your private and business life. Of course, you should keep up with world politics, science, your competitors and all the clever people around you. But if you are generally Open To Think and maybe even willing to build an institutionalized learning culture that helps you keeping track (good guess: here’s another Sketch Note to guide you!), you will be able to rapidly adapt to all kinds of changes in productive and effective ways if necessary.

People who use the term “VUCA” to describe the world’s status quo (or to promote their coaching activities), call this attitude “Agility.” Fortunately, that’s not an acronym. And it basically describes an attitude of accepting that one simply can’t know all the answers, yet trying to make sure to be prepared when the task is to find the right answers at the right time. Or even shorter: To be successful in the VUCA-world is, above all, a matter of habit.

 

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