New Word: VUCA, what it is, what it does and how to handle it

Smiling can imply a sense of humour and a stat...

Smiling can imply a sense of humour and a state of amusement, as in this painting of Falstaff by Eduard von Grützner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So proper, isn’t it. A new word to describe what we’re all feeling, the situations we face, and what others around us are dealing with too, and on so many levels, all at once.

VUCA = Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. What a whirlwind, no? (Check out VUCA’s description in Wikipedia and its platform for leadership.)*

One big opportunity exists to comfort the VUCA-afflicted, to create a cradle of sorts. I’ve learned that people feel poorly, unwanted, abandoned, angry, confused, frustrated, worthless when their needs are not met, and with the VUCA storm, plenty who may be feeling that way. Do what you can, eh? Keep your knees bent, keep your sense of humour and keep it simple.

Creativity and innovation practices in VUCA are departures from the days when we could predict cycles in industry, for example. In the past as is now, efforts we put forward to create new ideas, make new decisions and take new actions guarantee us a foot away from what we used to do and a step forward to whatever’s next.

In VUCA times, however whatever’s next will lead to whatever’s next after that, and so on and not always in an incremental line. And not necessarily one change at a time. The changes could be as ‘wow-producing’ as entering a whole new dimension of reality we never knew existed.

Today’s entrepreneurs are living the myth that it takes one person at a computer with an idea to change the world, and some of them succeed, changing everything forever on many levels simultaneously and in unforeseen ways with unforeseen consequences.

How VUCA influences Innovation

Because you can assume each landing stage of planned innovation is impermanent, the innovation gates for go-no go decisions that you create will need to scrutinize ideas for adaptability and flexibility in addition to other relevant qualities.

No wonder prototyping and agility are words is everyone’s language; they help manage people’s expectations of innovation execution. Put something out there, find the flaws, fix them or improve the execution to eliminate what’s not working and keep what is, and what will scale to future needs. Keep an eye, ear, mind to trends and events and adapt as best you can. This pro-gility (prototype + agility) understanding of the world could be one of the cradles we use to soften the blows of living through and leading in VUCA times.

How to handle VUCA. A simple (instead of a complex) remedy: Do your homework, think big, get things right (as best you can) and get the job done. Oh, and you’ll need to broaden your scope a little, keep your knees bent and your sense of humour. Working well with others would probably help too. Collaboration and new partnerships too.

* Not sure if you know this, some of the skills associated with creative problem solving include affective attitudes (from Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change by Puccio, Murdock and Mance, 2007). Perfect for VUCA times, wouldn’t you say? Creative problem solving.

  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Tolerance of complexity
  • Openness to novelty
  • Sensitivity to the environment
  • Tolerance for risk
  • Avoiding premature closure
  • Playfulness
  • Sensing gaps
  • Dreaming
  • Curiosity

We’re here to help you, feel free to get in touch.

BTW – this is part of a conference talk I’m preparing. If you want me to deliver it at your place, let me know. It’s a great conversation starter. Maybe for World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21?


Marci Segal, MS, Creativity and Change Leadership: Freeing leaders’ thinking so they can create new futures.


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