Do you know the acronym VUCA?
Standing for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, it was coined by the U.S. Army War College to describe the unpredictable state of the post-Cold War world.
Recently things have become very VUCA indeed!
We have volatility in the markets due to Brexit (the plunging pound) and Trump (the soaring dollar).
We have uncertainty in the political sphere with a new U.S. president who believes in impulsive tweeting, the rejection of expert advice, and cozying up to some countries (Russia) while provoking others (Mexico, China and North Korea).
We have complexity in the form of rapid technological change and shifting geopolitical power balances, especially in Asia.
And we have ambiguity—a blurring of the lines between the real and virtual worlds, between AI and human intelligence. Most of all, we simply do not know what the future holds in our volatile, uncertain and complex times.
As the new year begins, we all need to ask ourselves: What is the best way to survive and thrive in this VUCA world?
My answer is that we need to cultivate a positive attitude to help navigate a way through all this uncertainty.
My counterpunch to VUCA is another four-letter word: VEDA
“Veda” means “wisdom” in Sanskrit (as in “Ayurveda,” which means “life-wisdom”).
So what does my VEDA acronym stand for?
V = VISION
Even if the overall view is unclear, you need to have steady sense of direction in order to have a path to follow. A clear, overarching vision will help guide you.
E = EDUCATION
In a complex world, it’s important to get your hands on as much information as you can from primary sources. You should gather data, acquire knowledge, analyze and discuss things so you can make sound decisions even in a turbulent environment. Education has never been more important.
D = DIALOGUE
The year 2016 was all about divides opening up in society. Brexit and the election of Trump highlighted the gap between different groups—rural and urban, old and young, university-educated and high-school-educated, immigrants and non-immigrants etc. Elites who were out of touch with other sections of society were caught completely by surprise. To bridge those divides, it’s important to reach out to people with different points of view and engage them in ongoing dialogue.
A = ACTION
However volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous the world may be, sitting in the corner doing nothing is not a constructive option. It is important to do something. Why? Because any action—even a wrong action—necessarily produces a reaction. That reaction constitutes direct feedback to help you live in an ambiguous world. Without action, ambiguity remains in place. With action, you start to get clarity in its stead. Action generates hints and signals to guide you through the VUCA world.
I am attending the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. As I pointed out to the Japanese business and government leaders gathered at the recent pre-Davos meeting here in Tokyo, many of the leaders who will be at Davos have been rejected by their own publics. Few people I met at Davos in the past supported Brexit or Trump. Leaders need to start a clearer dialogue with society.
As 2017 opens, I’ll be interested to hear what sort of attitudes leaders will be proposing to confront our VUCA world.
Photo copyright: alphaspirit