A VUCA Plus Environment
We propose that collective Angst is not just some ephemeral and diffuse fear that comes automatically with living (though this might also be the case). Rather Angst in mid-21st Century life is linked specifically to six conditions that we have labeled VUCA-Plus. These six conditions not only create Angst, they also make the amelioration of the conditions of Angst that much more difficult—and as a result tend to pull us toward simplistic, reality-denying and polarizing solutions. There is an important ramification here for those who seek to lead 21st Century organizations and social systems. These leaders often must deal with the major VUCA-Plus-related challenges that escalate the collective Angst.
The Angst can be induced in many ways—there are multiple sources of societal anxiety. We often seem to be stranded on a boat that is caught up in the “perfect storm” of societal Angst. We are proposing that the multiple sources of Angst and the forces that produce the perfect storm can be summarized as VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). The challenges in a VUCA environment involve both determining what is “real” and how one predicts and makes decisions based on an assessment of this elusive reality. We propose that leadership and decision-making in our 21st Century societies has become even more challenging given the big VUCA waves that are hitting us right now—ranging from COVID to Political Instability, and from Internet-mediated misinformation to foreign invasions.
We will dwell briefly on the meaning to be assigned to each of the VUCA terms and then suggest how we might expand on VUCA. Complexity (C) concerns the many elements and dynamic interaction among elements that have to be considered, while Volatility (V) refers to the rate and shifting rate of change among the elements. The other two terms have to do with epistemology (the way in which knowledge is acquired and reality is defined). Ambiguity (A) concerns the assessment of both the evidence available regarding reality and the meaning assigned to this reality. The fourth term, Uncertainty (U), is about the stability of any assessment being made regarding reality. Does reality change over a short period of time? Why do an extensive assessment if our world is constantly shifting?
VUCA is deservedly becoming the coin-of-the-realm among contemporary organizational analysts and is certainly relevant in a world of pandemic invasions. These four terms (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) clearly capture much of the dynamics swirling around in the perfect storm of COVID-19. We offered a similar description of our current environment. However, our categories expand upon VUCA. We and contradiction. Two of these challenges align directly with VUCA, while the other two add (turbulence and contradiction in describing the VUCA environment.
In seeking to make sense of Turbulence, we turned to a metaphor offered by Peter Vaill (2008), who suggests that we are living in a “white water” world. We suggest that this whitewater world represents a turbulent system Furthermore, we propose that this whitewater system incorporates four subsystems that are exemplified by the properties of a turbulent stream: (1) rapid change (flowing segment of the stream), (2) cyclical change (the stream’s whirlpools), (3) stability/non-change (the “stagnant” segment of the stream), and (4) chaos (the segment of a stream existing between the other three segments). All four of these subsystems are operating in our current time.Download Article 1K Club