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Flipping the VUCA

The term VUCA, which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous, is being bandied around a lot these days. It is an apt descriptor when referring to our current reality.

When I find my self-drawn into the fear of what the future may hold, I remember the words of  Victor Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Therefore, we can choose to be “victims of circumstance”, floundering within the VUCA world, or we can choose to rise above circumstance and Flip this VUCA.

What I mean by “Flip the VUCA” is that we need to reframe our thinking about how we approach this new age. We must move into this new world with Velocity, approach it with Unorthodoxy, seek Collaboration, and of course function with Agility.

This is how I would like to define the flipped VUCA:

  • Moving into this new world with Velocity, means that we are able to adapt and change quickly in response to our environments;
  • To approach it with Unorthodoxy, speaks to driving innovation. Remaining curious in the way we approach and appraise situations and challenges;
  • Survival in this information age where almost everything is networked depends on our ability to Collaborate and share knowledge. This is only fearful if we still have a scarcity mind-set, in an abundance based world collaboration is the only way to get things done; and
  • Functioning with Agility is key and speaks to more than just being flexible or fast. For me it refers to aligning to the Agile Manifesto, especially the valuing people and conversations over process and documentation, as well as agile principles of practice.

Flipping the VUCA can’t be achieved with our current way of thinking. We tend to think linearly, from a scarcity mind-set, with high value on beating the competition. Our current level of thinking is still so inspired by Military strategy and views, including the term VUCA, which “is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq…” (

This is in stark contrast to the views and thinking held by “Exponential Organisations” that function from an “Abundance based reality” (Salim Ismail – Exponential Organisations.) Exponential Organizations have the capability to adapt to this new world of deep and ubiquitous information and convert it to competitive advantage. They have evolved to manage scarcity, and are structured to address the accelerated, non-linear, web-driven pace of modern life.

As Salim Ismail states, “our physical world still exists but our relationship to it has changed.”  Some paradigm shifts are required for us to embrace this New World and to successfully navigate our way through this 4th Industrial Revolution.

As Einstein said “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” We need to understand that knowledge no longer only resides with in us but also exists external to us with life of its own. We rapidly need to change the filter through which we deal with the world, from a physical, materially-based perspective to an information- and knowledge-based one. We need to adopt a more exponential, a more “Agile”philosophy if we want to succeed in this.

For me personally, there are two key aspects that we need to develop if we want to foster an Agile philosophy. The first of these is a Growth Mindset and the second is becoming increasingly Values and Value add  based. When I speak of Values I am referring to those values that guide our behaviour as well as evaluating everything through a “what value do we intend to create through this” lense.

For an Agile philosophy to flourish, each individual has to truly believe they can change, learn and adapt. Individuals that have a Growth Mindset are not afraid to fail. They understand that this is an important step in the learning cycyle.

The Agile philosophy and practice needs to be underpinned by team defined values and “rules of engagement.”it also needs us to shift out perspective from task generators – as per your traditional waterfall approach. To a process wherein the team is invoved in defining what work is to be done along with questioning the value of each tasks outcome.

Adopting an Agile Philosophy allows us to shift from our linear approach and scarcity mind set, into a New World full of possibilities that we can still only imagine. However it relies heavily on cultivating the capability and capacity for change within each individual within the organsiation.

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