Are we living in a VUCA world?


It is commonly believed that the conditions leaders now need to operate within an environment best described as VUCA (Volatile, Complex, Complex and Ambiguous). All the forecasts are suggesting that VUCA is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future (if there is still such a thing as a foreseeable future in the VUCA world).


The acronym VUCA came into common usage in the military in the late 1990s.  As the Cold War ended the U.S. military was finding it was operating in an emerging multilateral, rather than bilateral, environment. This meant being prepared to take on increasing challenges from non-state militias, loosely organised groups, and increasingly “virtual” groups engaged in cyber warfare.  These groups did not comply with the normal conventions of war; they frequently changed, evolved and collaborated; and improvised with their tactics and weapons.  In this increasingly chaotic battlefield it became increasingly difficult to predict their opponents next move or even to determine who their opponent was, which resulted in increasing ambiguity over who was an “enemy combatant” and who was an “innocent civilian”.  This type of operating environment was then described as being VUCA.


Whilst leaders in most organisations are not facing warfare, they are report as experiencing VUCA in their operating environments. They see new products and services being launched with increasing frequency and the nature of the competition continually changing with many collaborations and joint ventures.  As organisations collaborate a competitor can be a partner and a customer all at the same time.  Globalisation has meant that the competitors, collaborators and customers can come from anywhere in the world.  Economic volatility has meant that people have lost confidence in economic forecasts.  Advances in technology continue to have major impacts on how we live and work disrupting markets and even whole industries. Climate change is increasingly having an impact on access to resources and markets. The need to reduce carbon footprints is changing how organisations produce, market and maintain their products and services.  As a result of the information age, the large amount of data available overwhelms decision makers and creates ambiguity rather than clarity.  All of this and much more means that many organisations are now indeed operating in a VUCA world.


Terry Sexton

Leadership Psychologist

28th September 2017

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