VUCA is Dead – Long live VUCA!
Management trends and fads are funny things – here today, gone tomorrow. Take VUCA (1) – the approach to scenario analysis and solving management challenges which originated with the U.S. military during the Cold War era. It gained strength as a strategic initiative for military, business, and even non-profit organizations in the 90s. It doesn’t seem to be discussed or used as much these days in forecasting business futures.
Did the world suddenly become less volatile and more certain? Less ambiguous? Simpler? Hardly. VUCA’s lessons may be even more relevant today than ever before.
For many years, VUCA had strategic importance for how business leaders prepared and responded to unanticipated events and consequences in the world around them. Case studies abound from a wide range of organizations that successfully navigated their operations by understanding past systemic, behavioral, and organizational failures in response to current events.
Another fashion of the 90s onwards was the Systems View of Business, popularized by Peter Senge’s Systems Thinking, or further back through Jay Forester’s work on System Dynamics. The Systems View of Business was (is) a powerful tool to analyze and discuss possible business outcomes in an uncertain world.
A VUCA world is navigated best by those who can remain comfortable in uncomfortable situations and maintain flexibility through rapid and unpredictable change.
But, why don’t we hear so much of these approaches now?
Developing Leaders to Respond to a VUCA, Systemic World
Preparation for a VUCA world can include short- and long-term strategic planning, analysis of past performance against forecasted market, industry, or other evolving conditions, and more.
For many businesses, it’s a matter of preparing leaders to consider, in advance, what the business’s response will be to various potential scenarios. Embracing the thought that change may be the only constant is one aspect of preparing leaders to face unforeseen evolutions in the economic, political, societal, and environmental landscape.
The ability to view the big picture and to place things in proper perspective while navigating through the immediate challenge is a prized skill in a VUCA world.
Practice in decision making, agility, and stress management are necessary so that when faced with such tests, businesses and their leaders can emerge intact and perhaps better able to address the next obstacle.
Modern business simulation models allow wide-ranged thinking to develop about a whole host of possible outcomes. Young managers and future leaders imagine the future, to use the business simulation as a test-bed, and to visualize future business potential. We have noted in previous posts the experience gap in cadres of future leaders, as they prepare to take the reins from existing leaders.
How do you give them the sense of purpose, of scale, of opportunity when they can’t fall back on prior experience? How do they see the Systems View of Business in a VUCA world?
Complex business simulations are the answer.
(1) Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity