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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

Is your world Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA)? Or is it full of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility (VUCA)! By Liz Guthridge

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 @ 05:59 AM

Guest blog article by Liz Guthridge

How’s your world—your VUCA world, that is?

People Offise Stress SmallVUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, a term coined by the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the weeks before September 11, 2001. It’s a popular phrase with Bob Johansen, a distinguished fellow and former president of the Institute for the Future.

According to Dr. Johansen, who shared his 2011-2021 forecast at theAssociation of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) Global Conference in early April, our VUCA world is not going away. In fact it’s just going to spin faster during the next decade.

In his talk “External Future Forces That Will Disrupt the Practice of Change Management,” Dr. Johansen noted that VUCA is not necessarily doom and gloom. While VUCA can provide threats, it also can offer opportunities, especially if you translate VUCA as “vision, understanding, clarity and agility.”

As for his two big predictions for 2022 for organizational change agents, they are:  

1. “The digital natives (now 16 years or younger) will create new practices to make change through gaming.” (The other key phrase besides gaming in this sentence is “make.” Dr. Johansen predicts that a culture of makers will drive the next generation of change. And as a result, leaders need to show the “maker instinct” trait.)  

2. “Reciprocity-based innovation will focus on the economic, social and psychological value of reciprocity.” (Two important traits for leaders are smart-mob organizing and commons creating. Think Creative Commons.)

Dr. Johansen challenged the 825 of us in attendance to figure out how to help people and organizations adapt to these changes and others. To do this, we should watch our terms and our questions.

For example, one of the questions we should be asking is not, “What’s new?” but “What’s ready to take off?” Quoting author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,” Johansen said Gibson was absolutely right when he said “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Both gaming and reciprocity-based innovation are here already. If you use or are familiar with DropboxEvernote, Doodle or any of the other cloud-based tools that offer free basic levels, you know about reciprocity-based innovation. The companies and others like them are giving away free services and products in the faith that they will get back even more in return. (And yes, they also are collecting our data….)

As for games, their value is that “they present obstacles we volunteer to overcome” Dr. Johansen explained. Gaming experiences are a powerful way to learn. 

In thinking about terms, Dr. Johansen observed that change management is an outdated term. Nobody wants to be managed anymore. And change is everywhere all the time. 

Yes! But what is that new term?

Tree Of Happiness SmallAs I continue to mull that over, I will commit to these three actions to help myself and others better adapt to our ever evolving VUCA world:

  • Get fit. According to Dr. Johansen, this is the age of the corporate athlete. We need to be organizationally, mentally and physically fit. This supports what Tony Schwartz has been advising with The Energy Project. The mental fitness also reinforces what Dr. David Rock of theNeuroLeadership Group teaches about the importance of keeping people in a “toward” state. Otherwise, it’s too easy to hijack people’s brains, which makes them want to fight or flee.  

  • Do peripheral learning to enhance peripheral vision. To look for people, insights and resources that will help us fine-tune and invigorate our ways of working, we need exposure to things outside our regular stomping grounds. This means hanging out with different people from a variety of different disciplines than our own and becoming aware of what they’re doing and thinking. Exposure to cross-cultural experiences is also helpful. Breaking out of our echo chamber is more important than ever.

  • Refresh language frequently. This involves more than updating our obsolete language, as I recently wrote about. It’s also tracking signals to see what people are thinking and talking about, and making sure you’re using words, symbols and visuals that resonate with them. 

For example, the phrase “executive presentation skills” is so last century. Instead, people want leaders with conversation skills who can build rapport, not just share reports. These leaders—and others too—need to convey complex ideas simply, not simplistically, and listen to what we say.     

What other actions do we need to take? And can you help me find a more up-to-date, accurate phrase for “change management”?   

Note: Please join us next week to get more of Liz's insights at her lunch & learn webinar: Communicate in a more brain-friendly way

Topics: productivity, managing stress