VUCA: an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It was coined by the US Army War College to describe the unpredictable state of the post-Cold War world. But recent times 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 US 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 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. So my counterpunch to VUCA is another four-letter word: VEDA.
Veda means wisdom in Sanskrit (as in “Ayurveda,” which means “life-wisdom”). But what does the VEDA acronym stand for?
V is for vision.
Even if the overall view is unclear, you need a steady sense of direction in order to have a path to follow. A clear, overarching vision will help guide you.
But that’s not only true for you—it’s also true for your team, your organization, your community, and your country. A strong vision helps us focus our efforts in even the most VUCA times.
E is for 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 is for dialogue.
The year 2016 was all about divides opening up in society. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump highlighted the gap between different groups—rural and urban, old and young, university educated and high school educated, immigrants and non-immigrants. 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 is for 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.
Action generates hints and signals to guide you through the VUCA world.
While it may seem like we’re living in more volatile times than ever, the truth is that things are never as steady and peaceful as nostalgic hindsight sometimes suggests. So don’t focus on the past, pining away for that perfect age of peace and prosperity that probably never was. Instead, focus your mind on the future.
I think most successful leaders will agree that achieving the right mindset is half the battle. We will never be 100% free of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA is part of our reality, but it doesn’t have to define our reality. As long as you focus on the negative, the negative will pull you down.
So instead, embrace your vision. Educate yourself. Start a dialogue about how to make things better. And most importantly, take action. Embrace VEDA!