What is VUCA and how can you find your way through it?

VUCA. This term is frequently thrown around in boardrooms and strategy sessions across the country. Coined by the US Army War College in the late 1990s, VUCA is an acronym that was originally used to describe the combat conditions facing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

While the term initially called for vigilance in military environments, it is commonly used today in professional settings to convey a sense of hand-wringing, shoulder-shrugging anxiety. Civilian boards, executives, and consultants tend to use the term VUCA when they feel as though they’re being held hostage by conditions over which they have zero control. Over the years, I’ve heard leaders offer it as an excuse for not setting sights higher, not stretching farther, not working harder to retain or regain market share, and not striving for excellence.

Unfortunately, VUCA has strayed far from its military origins and become a civilian excuse for settling for less. This “Eeyore oh-bother” victim mentality has a negative impact on the decision-making process—especially when it comes to annual business plans and strategy. So, what is the cure for the adverse effects of VUCA thinking? Perspective. With a proper fact-based perspective, leaders can exhibit more control than they realize over the four VUCA realities.

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