Currently, a great deal of attention is being paid to the challenges associated with a business climate that is often described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). This acronym was coined by the Army War College in the late 1990s to describe the post-Cold War era and was applied more broadly after 9/11. When I share the concept with my coaching clients and workshop attendees, I am always struck by how much it resonates in terms of what they are experiencing every single day – both in their work and personal lives.
Much has been written about how to cope in a VUCA world and the advice is well-founded. For leaders, a key message has been to increase their own, and their organization’s capacity to be agile and adaptive. We specifically encourage them to challenge limiting assumptions, consistently develop new responses to changing conditions, and question unproductive norms. All of this can be pretty unsettling – especially for individuals who have gained comfort and confidence by “being in control.” Living in a constant state of VUCA can weigh heavily on individuals.
I recently gave some thought to the toll that VUCA seems to be taking on my clients. I began to wonder if, perhaps, we are giving it too much credence. What if we were to upend the notion and think about the positive aspects of living in a VUCA world?
- The challenges posed by a VUCA environment provide endless possibilities for innovative problem-solving. For those who thrive on creativity and thinking outside the box, it is a virtual paradise filled with opportunities to apply ingenuity and reveal potentially leading-edge concepts.
- VUCA also offers a chance to build resiliency, an attribute that can see us through the types of difficult and tragic experiences humans have faced throughout history – the death or severe illness of a loved one, the aftermath of a violent act, or the devastation following a natural disaster.
- It also is likely that VUCA allows us to benefit from the joy of continuous learning throughout our lifetime. The ambiguity associated with VUCA may instill a determination to hone our capacity for discernment (fact from fiction) and challenge us to take on multiple perspectives in an effort to learn from those who either have come before us or sit among us. It is that openness that enriches our understanding of how many gifts of wisdom are already there for the taking.
My hope for my clients, and myself, is that we can accept the moments of overwhelm that come over us when we face a challenge that conjures up feelings of angst. We associate with VUCA and quickly see the challenge as a chance to become what many have told me is their ultimate aspiration – to become the very best version of themselves.