Welcome To The VUCA World

“In the age of VUCA World, the number one job of leaders must be to help organizations and society resolve adaptive challenges.” -Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon via Moments of Impact

Our world has shifted…

The problem is that too many people, too many leaders, and too many organizations are waiting for it to shift back. Unfortunately for those waiting, that world is not coming back.


Welcome to the VUCA World. Meaning that we now live in a time of much more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. A shifted world where today’s leaders must learn to recognize that all four of these elements have become a very natural part of the modern organizational landscape.

Realizing this shift is going to be imperative to the future of our organizations and the people who help lead them. We have to come to terms with the understanding that the knowledge, processes, and skill-sets that led us effectively in the past will not effectively lead us forward into the VUCA World.

Or as Gary Klein shares in Streetlights and Shadows, “Our decision making takes on different forms when we are facing ambiguous, complex, and unpredictable situations.” Meaning that what has worked for leading our organizations previously and has been effective for a more traditional, well-ordered world, will not be as effective or even work in a VUCA World.

Recognizing this shift, initiates the realization that we’re going to need to prepare our leaders for a very different future. Today’s leaders will have to alter traditional approaches that concentrate on creating sustaining processes towards learning how to be adaptable in the face of situations and challenges that are much more volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous. Meaning that many of the rules, procedures and checklists that have served us well previously, may have begun to show their limitations and ability to be effective in this new world. Or as Klein persists, “We can’t rely on procedures to make decisions in complex situations.”

It is this idea of adaptability that will be important for the future of leadership and leading our modern day organizations effectively into the future.

To further understand the forces we face in this VUCA World, Ertel and Solomon purport in Moments of Impact, that we have two types of challenges that lay before us, those that are technical and those that are adaptive. Realizing the difference between the two will be a vital leadership ability.

Retell and Solomon help us define the distinctions as, “Technical challenges involve applying well-honed skills to well-defined problems” where “more traditional, hierarchical approaches to leadership work well.” Whereas, “adaptive challenges are messy, open-ended, and ill-defined” and “in many cases, it’s hard to say what the right question is – let alone the answer.”

What a VUCA World informs us of is that we are no longer working in the world of technical challenges, as we are facing the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that comes with adaptive challenges. The problem is that many of today’s leaders are still utilizing the tools that worked effectively in dealing with technical challenges to help us solve and deal with what is now more adaptable challenges and we are finding that we are becoming less and less effective.

The first step in moving forward is understanding that most of our organizations now exist in this VUCA World. And from there, we can begin to determine the skill-sets and knowledge necessary to approach challenges from an adaptive, as opposed to a technical perspective.

“In our VUCA World, organizations need to find new ways of responding to adaptive challenges. They need to get comfortable with ambiguity and seek insight from a broader range of places. They need to continuously frame and reframe not only their answers but also the questions they pose. They need, in short, to approach strategy much less like mechanics and more like designers.” -Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon Moments of Impact

References and quotes from…

Ertel, Chris and Solomon, Lisa Kay. Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change. 2014. New York. Simon and Schuster.

Klein, Gary. Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making. Massachusetts. The MIT Press.


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