VUCA+ : new shorthand for “it’s incredibly tough out there”
In the 1990s organisations helped give a narrative to the nature of massive issues and why they arise by talking about ‘VUCA’. VUCA is a generally-accepted acronym used to describe the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of activities and situations. Nicky Carew and I wrote a couple of years ago in The Change Maker Group’s book ‘Change Wisdom’ (summarised here) about how massive issues evolve and shouldn’t be thought of as static, likening these issues to biology rather than physics. We said that whilst physics has rules, these wicked issues are similar to biology in that they are continuing to evolve. Consequently we couldn’t contemplate a situation where it is possible to start fixing any huge problem with a fully defined plan and manage to stick to it.
I was thinking about the implications of VUCA and how it applies to us now, and for me VUCA as a term doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Sure, things are volatile. They are definitely uncertain and complex. And ambiguous is the new black. But I sense that there is something else. Whilst in the past we could point to a few experiences in our lives where VUCA might apply to the planet and its sentient beings in general, there are so many more now. When I was growing up in the UK in the 1970s we were worried about nuclear war (The West vs Soviet Russia), energy prices and suchlike, but to my recollection the issues landscape was nothing like it is now.
As examples, we now understand the implications for us all about burning fossil fuels or the Amazonian rain forests, but probably feel constrained about what to do about it. We’ve been told enough times by scientists that the planet is heading for irreversible climate damage in just a few years, but sitting here writing this article I don’t really know how I can personally fix it. I can support, but I do know that everyone on the planet is not pulling in the same direction, and indeed it isn’t a simple tension of pulling in opposing directions like a tug of war – different interests always pull in their own direction. There are so many more examples that touch our daily lives. So VUCA doesn’t really encapsulate the extent and nature of the problems anymore.
To help develop the thinking of what it is in our world that VUCA would have been adequate to describe in the past, I have started to refer to VUCA+. Every issue we face as a species and planet has so many facets and vested interests, that there is much more to this than can be described as simple(!) VUCA. VUCA+ is my shorthand that encapsulates the inter-relatedness of everything, the humans on our planet pulling in varied directions, none of which are necessarily aligned. The scale and complexity of the challenge is too big for us to reasonably contemplate.
VUCA+ - does it need defining? Actually, I would argue no. Think of it in terms of perception as well as practice. Massive global change affects us all, and relying on the Change Makers will be insufficient because of the massive VUCA+ nature of the issues. All we can do is be Change Makers ourselves, as well as support those who endeavour on our behalf. There are huge political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors that need to be managed, but the chances of this management being consistent and coordinated is unlikely, and even if we can get any one of these factors consistently managed, the interrelatedness of everything means that it is impossible to tame every issue, and they don’t stand still. This is VUCA+ in action.
There are Change Makers working all around the world in this VUCA+ environment. History suggests that eventually the Change Makers will prevail.
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