Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Massive VUCA Ahead:

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA). Lots and lots of moving parts in our economy. That we are living in an ambiguous environment is definitely an understatement.

I am reminded of a recent car trip where a colleague was driving. We were going to an unfamiliar destination, so of course we were using our GPS to navigate. The first thing that happened was that there were accidents (yes, several apparently) ahead of us. So the GPS suggested we get off the freeway. But it was a bit too slow making the suggestion. So we missed the proposed exit. No worries, it recovered nicely and took us off the freeway at a different exit, still in time to avoid 


the accidents. But the surface streets were another story. The turns were ambiguous. Streets were not well marked and the GPS was sometimes too slow with directions. We missed several turns. Frustrating. But, we got to our destination and saw lots of new things along the way!


I’m old enough to remember when “things” weren’t quite so fast paced. Speed limits were lower on the freeways. And we had to plan our trips ahead of time because we used paper maps! We were more careful not to miss an exit — especially in Upstate New York — because we could be many, many miles away from the next exit.

But then, the roads and vehicles improved, speed limits were raised and the pace picked up considerably. The same thing has happened in business.

Internet Speed:

Today, we do business at internet speeds. Our world is much more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than it was just a few decades ago. Miss a signal from our customers, and we are miles away from recovering. If we miss a signal from a competitor, our business is likely to be disrupted — perhaps permanently. If we aren’t using forward looking KPIs to assess the health of our business, we cannot hope to map out an efficient route to our goals.

So the speed of our world today adds significantly to the VUCA surrounding our business. It’s not particularly new to be dealing with uncertainty. Business has always had to deal with that in our markets and economy. It’s just that today, the pace is much faster and it continues to accelerate.


Thanks to technology, we have been able to connect the globe into one large market place. This requires us to learn many different customs, laws, market dynamics and customer requirements. We have to employ advanced technology just to enter the game. Even if we’re a small business, we have an international presence as soon as we launch our website. We all have to deal with massive amounts of data. Data security is definitely a growing concern that cannot be ignored.

We need expertise in many areas and so to keep costs reasonable, we outsource some specialized tasks. Our employees have to be specialized to the point where very few, if any, managers can actually do their employees’ work. I became a manager because I had mastered the work and so was rewarded with a promotion. Today, even the technology firms I work with, seek managers and leaders who are trained in project management, people skills and communications. Generally, leaders and managers are not expected to actually “do” the work of their employees. It’s too complex and specialized.

VUCA is Here to Stay:

Things are likely to get more challenging before they get better. As a technologist, I like to think that the technology that is creating these challenges will also mitigate these challenges. We’ll see. As a business person, I like to remind myself that we have always dealt with VUCA. It’s really nothing new. One thing seems sure — the pace of change is accelerating and we will need to build organizations and devise systems to respond more quickly to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.