Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

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VUCA is an acronym used to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War. The common usage of the term VUCA began in the 1990s and derives from military vocabulary.[1] It has been subsequently used in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that apply in a wide range of organizations, including everything from for-profit corporations[2] to education.[3]


The deeper meaning of each element of VUCA serves to enhance the strategic significance of VUCA foresight and insight as well as the behaviour of groups and individuals in organizations.[4] It discusses systemic failures[5] and behavioural failures,[5] which are characteristic of organisational failure.

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

These elements present the context in which organizations view their current and future state. They present boundaries for planning and policy management. They come together in ways that either confound decisions or sharpen the capacity to look ahead, plan ahead and move ahead. VUCA sets the stage for managing and leading.

The particular meaning and relevance of VUCA often relates to how people view the conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. In general, the premises of VUCA tend to shape an organization's capacity to:

  1. Anticipate the Issues that Shape Conditions
  2. Understand the Consequences of Issues and Actions
  3. Appreciate the Interdependence of Variables
  4. Prepare for Alternative Realities and Challenges
  5. Interpret and Address Relevant Opportunities

For most contemporary organizations – business, the military, education, government and others – VUCA is a practical code for awareness and readiness. Beyond the simple acronym is a body of knowledge that deals with learning models for VUCA preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention.[6]


Failure in itself is not a catastrophe, but failure to learn from failure definitely is. It is not enough to train leaders in core competencies, without identifying the key factors that inhibit their use the resilience and adaptability that are vital in order to distinguish potential leaders from mediocre managers. Anticipating change as a result of VUCA is an outcome to a resilient Leader.[5] The capacity of individuals and organizations to deal with VUCA can be measured with a number of engagement themes:

  1. Knowledge Management and Sense-Making
  2. Planning and Readiness Considerations
  3. Process Management and Resource Systems
  4. Functional Responsiveness and Impact Models
  5. Recovery Systems and Forward Practices
  6. Systemic failures[5]
  7. Behavioural failures[5]

At some level, the capacity for VUCA management and leadership hinges on enterprise value systems, assumptions and natural goals. A "prepared and resolved" enterprise[2] is engaged with a strategic agenda that is aware of and empowered by VUCA forces.

The capacity for VUCA leadership in strategic and operating terms depends on a well-developed mindset for gauging the technical, social, political, market and economic realities of the environment in which people work. Working with deeper smarts about the elements of VUCA may be a driver for survival and sustainability in an otherwise complicated world.[7]

Psychometrics which measure fluid intelligence by tracking information processing when faced with unfamiliar, dynamic and vague data can predict cognitive performance in VUCA environments.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stiehm, Judith Hicks and Nicholas W. Townsend (2002). The U.S. Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy. Temple University Press. p. 6. ISBN 1-56639-960-2. 
  2. ^ a b Wolf, Daniel (2007). Prepared and Resolved: The Strategic Agenda for Growth, Performance and Change. dsb Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 0-9791300-0-X. 
  3. ^ "Fingertip Knowledge" (PDF). Converge Magazine: 34. June 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  4. ^ Johansen, Bob (2007). Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-1-57675-440-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Suhayl Abidi, and Manoj Joshi (2015). The VUCA COMPANY. Mumbai, India: Jaico Publishing House. ISBN 978-81-8495-662-7. 
  6. ^ Satish, Usha and Siegfried Streufert (June 2006). "Strategic Management Simulations to Prepare for VUCAD Terrorism". Journal of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  7. ^ Johansen, Bob (2007). Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-57675-440-5.