What is ‘VUCA’? - a military strategy for business leaders

In order to better deal with the turbulent world around us and the challenges that we face within business and in life, we often rely on existing ideas and tools to better manage our lives. In business, these challenges range from uncertainty of market, fake news, global financial state of flux and more recently ethics, trust, rapid tech and big data.


It has been popular within the business world to look towards the military for answers and ideas around getting the best out of teams, dealing with crisis, leadership styles, daily rituals and even extracting the most out of your day by getting up at 4am (see vid below).

But are these ideas really workable for the everyday person? I want to focus on one strategic framework in particular, called VUCA.  

Perhaps you have heard of the term VUCA in relation to strategic leadership being passed around boardroom tables or on team building retreats. VUCA is an acronym.

It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.


Origins of VUCA:


Through my research I find this definition as the most clear frame up: “The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War (Kinsinger & Walch,2012). The acronym itself was not created until the late 1990s, and it was not until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that notion and acronym really took hold. VUCA was subsequently adopted by strategic business leaders to describe the chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that has become the “new normal.”


Being prepared in the traditionally defined VUCA world means asking 1) how much you know about the situation? and 2) how much you can predict the results of your actions?

As most business owners I am always looking at ways to best extract ideas, remove challenges for my team and generally approach my work with a clear understanding of my why - Yet I am constantly curious to research and extrapolate the ideas from those leaders before me, gathering ideas from all management approaches.


A senior fellow at Harvard Business School, Bill George former chair and CEO of Medtronic, and author of Discover Your True North published an article in Forbes in 2017 that brings a new light to the VUCA framework which I found more meaningful than its incumbent (and more relatable to today’s business environment) as summarised from the larger work below:


Vision – “Today’s business leaders need the ability to see through the chaos to have a clear vision for their organisations.” 


Understanding – “With their vision in hand, leaders need in-depth understanding of their organisation’s capabilities and strategies to take advantage of rapidly changing circumstances by playing to their strengths while minimising their weaknesses.” 


Courage – “Now more than ever, leaders need the courage to step up to these challenges and make audacious decisions that embody risks and often go against the grain.”


Adaptability – “If ever there were a need for leaders to be flexible in adapting to this rapidly changing environment, this is it.”

For me, I really respect the framework of VUCA and when used it has allowed me to think about problems differently. However I find that asking the client about their Fears, Frustrations and Desires also gives me a clear lens of the current situation - this is the approach I feel best gets my brain into a state of flow. From this place of vulnerability, strategic thinking can flourish. What gets your mind into the flow of strategic thinking?





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