A VUCA World

Bob Sevier

Bob Sevier

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I am writing this blog while attending the annual Council of Independent Colleges’ (CIC) Presidents Institute in Marco Island. As with past Institutes, it has been an extraordinary event. Of particular value, I believe, is the interest of participants in actually solving some of the issues facing higher education rather than merely enumerating them and, to some degree, just kicking them down the road for the next guy, or gal, to handle.

The opening keynote address was given by Ann M. Fudge, former chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands. During her speech she used a phrase I had not heard before. “We are,” she said, “living in a VUCA world.”

VUCA, it is a term drawn from the military, especially the special forces. It is an acronym used to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of a specific situation or area of engagement. Of late, it has been adopted by strategic planners in all manner of organizations including higher education.

A quick scan of Wikipedia, my favorite source of immediate, but not always overly accurate information, “outlines” each element of VUCA:

  • Volatility: The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts
  • Uncertainty: The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events
  • Complexity: The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization
  • Ambiguity: The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion

These elements often come together in ways that either confound decisions or sharpen the capacity to look ahead, plan ahead, and move ahead. VUCA, as a lens through which the world is seen, sets the stage for managing and leading.

Again, drawing from Wikipedia, VUCA is designed to heighten an organization’s capacity to:

  1. Anticipate the issues that shape conditions
  2. Understand the consequences of issues and actions
  3. Appreciate the interdependence of variables
  4. Prepare for alternative realities and challenges
  5. Interpret and address relevant opportunities

The capacity for VUCA leadership in strategic terms depends on a well-developed mindset for gauging the technical, social, political, market, and economic realities of the environment in which people work.

Working with deeper smarts about the elements of VUCA may be a driver for survival and sustainability in an otherwise complicated world.

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