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VUCA: what does it mean and what can you do with it?

The term VUCA is becoming increasingly common. Carried over from America, it is an abbreviation (or acronym) for four terms that characterise the world we live in today. Time to take a closer look at the term and interpret what we should and can do with it.

What does VUCA mean?

VUCA is an English abbreviation that stands for:

  • Volatile (rapidly changing)
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

VUCA is mostly used in combination with the word world: we live in a VUCA world. We are living in an era where the world is subject to rapid change. As a result, there is a high degree of uncertainty and complexity and, above all, it is unclear what the future will look like.

What does the VUCA world require from organisations?

With the rapid change, uncertainty and complexity that comes with the VUCA world, it is difficult to plan ahead. A vision of the future you make for 5 or 10 years from now may be outdated in a year or two.

Secondly, entrepreneurship (in the broadest sense of the word) requires you to be able to deal with the rapidly changing world. We have seen many big brands fall over that could not deal with the changing world.

Think of V&D, for example, partly because they did not act fast enough on digitalisation. Nokia was once the biggest in mobile telephony, but now no longer exists.

Almost the same thing happened with Blackberry, but they managed on the brink of bankruptcy to keep themselves afloat by only continuing with a small part of their business: developing software for third parties.

Everyone can think of examples of organisations and brands that were once big and now either no longer exist or exist only on the margins or a niche. This does indicate that the term VUCA is not a trend and has been ‘around’ for some time. The term VUCA first surfaced (in the US) in 1989.

Dealing with (rapid) change, how do you do it?

So above all, we should not plan too far ahead but we should not stand still neither. What can you do to survive in the VUCA world? Let’s start with planning, because an organisation cannot survive without (future) plans.

To kill them now because the world is changing so fast is not the solution either. So the golden mean is to draw up a vision and frameworks in which you can move. This gives guidance for the future without being too rigid. It provides the agility needed to move with you on the volatile waves.

Defined plans are also difficult to make because the future is unclear. You can predict some things in the short term, but what will it look like in 5 or 10 years? Unfortunately, nobody knows that. You only find out the ways that work for your organisation through trial and error. In other words, by experimenting with new things and daring to take risks.

VUCA – Building blocks for success

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the VUCA world we live in. However, there are ways of dealing with it. The danger lies in the fact that what works for one characteristic may work the opposite way for another. So for example, what works for volatile, can just as easily encourage complexity. So finding and keeping the balance is definitely a key to success in this case.

We mentioned some brands earlier that have lagged behind in the VUCA world. One brand that has shown that success with a matter of experimentation, trial and error is LEGO. The brand, now nearly 90 years old, is and remains popular. Is everything they do, in all these years, successful? Certainly not. Have they stopped innovating? Absolutely not. And that is why LEGO, has been future-proof for 90 years.

betekenis vuca wereld

We already saw that structure is important in several areas. Think of establishing processes and protocols. However, it is important that this is not a once-off exercise, but that it is constantly checked whether everything still matches the current wishes, requirements and activities. If necessary, adjustments should be possible. It is also a good idea to identify the risks that we do know or see emerging and take measures to deal with them.

By using smart software, such as a document management system for creating structure in your processes or risk management software for identifying and managing risks, you can make it a lot easier for yourself to survive in the VUCA world. Now if you want to know more about that, get in touch with our experts. They will be happy to bring you some clarity.

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