Our new VUCA world

Image credit: USGS (Unsplash)

Back in November last year – this was a normal time, do you remember? – while I was preparing my keynote lecture on Diversity & Inclusion for the SIETAR-UK congress, I came across the new VUCA. I’d known the traditional VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity for quite some years, and got inspired by this new one.

VUCA was originally used in the US Army War College to describe the multilateral world perceived at the end of the Cold War. Before that, there was a clear-cut situation with just two blocks facing each other and allowing only for local conflicts.

No doubt we are in a VUCA world at the moment, aren’t we? So we all need to move from this abnormal situation to the new normal, as they say and create our new VUCA world. What does it mean? It stands for Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility (I’m not so sure who coined this new definition, so if you know that, please let me know to credit the author). The traditional acronym is fragile, whereas the new one is agile. Let me explain.

Vision, a state of mind required in order to come out of a crisis by creating new perspectives, opportunities with alternatives based on a framework with a mix of a sense of reality and imagination. Like painting a picture, a future-oriented process with a strategy.

Most people agree at the moment that the new normal will need to be different from the old one, and we need to create new systems and new realities. At various levels, scientists, experts from a range of disciplines and politicians suggest new ideas and rationales.

The European Green Deal launched by Frans Timmermans, the Dutch vice-president of the EU-Commission, is one example of many. It aims at reviewing each existing law on its climate merits, and also introducing new legislation on the circular economy. Furthermore, building renovation, biodiversity, farming and innovation to create a greener environment. Let’s all give it a chance!

Understanding is a mental process we all want and need to carry out to grasp all aspects and interconnections of the recent past and current situation, to be able to move forward. It implies having knowledge about the many facets of this current abnormal situation as well as some acceptance of the crisis, and the urge to create a new world, with a vision.

It’s clearly an on-going process which requests some individual reflection on the context, macro data analysis, and allocation of some time to absorb its complexity and map out all medical, economic and social consequences. Concretely, we need insight and good judgment about the right attitudes, not only from the powers that be (at TU/e our Executive Board), but also from the people at large (including our whole TU/e community) to achieve this mental process. It will ultimately transform fear, anxiety and resistance into innovative energy and new optimism.

And finally, as we are all naturally biased, it is also very important to be able to select real news and real data based on facts from the fake news and fake data, as there is a lot of noise these days, including many conspiracy theories.

Clarity about the situation, probably the real challenge these days, but needed to indeed produce understanding and create a vision. It implies coherence among the many measures taken and actions implemented to tackle the Covid-19 virus and its further spreading. It implies intelligibility of the various decisions taken and processes developed to master the situation in sanitary, economic and social areas.

And finally, transparency of information, in modelling and data analyses and use of smart devices and digital applications that are necessary to anticipate new developments, create trust and reassure the public. Considering the current cacophonic flow of information spread by the various (social) media there’s clearly quite some work to do, in order to efficiently coordinate (inter)national responses and actions against the spreading or the resurgence of the Covid-19 virus.

Agility, oh… that buzz word! Generally speaking, it’s the ability to think and understand quickly, to develop a mindset and mental attitude that includes insight, good judgement, empathy, alertness, adaptiveness, but also flexibility, balance, tolerance and inclusiveness. Just what you need to create a vision, and the loop is closed.

On a more operational level, agility means the ability of our systems to rapidly and adequately respond to major changes by facilitating innovation and adapting their initial stable configurations to eventually build up resilience. In other words: agility is key to shift the paradigm from old normal to new normal. By doing this, let’s make sure agility rhymes with inclusivity (the human-AI), at TU/e it is our responsibility.

Guest writer: Vincent Merk, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Management &Community advisor at Eindhoven University of Technology TU/e.

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