Is the term ‘VUCA’ helpful, or does it hinder our capacity to adapt?

How swapping ‘VUCA’ for Wonder, Care, Courage and Experiment can shift our view from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’, and birth mind-sets for adaptive capability.

This post builds on an important idea introduced by Fleming in his recent HBR article titled The Key to Adaptable Companies Is Relentlessly Developing People (Andy Fleming October 12, 2016)

The article contrasts relentless improvement of processes (great for addressing known technical challenges) with relentless improvement of people. It suggests there’s a tendency for business to focus on process, and apply that ‘hammer’ to future challenges even though many increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) challenges really need responses driven by new human-capability, not technical capability.

“…relentless focus on people, on developing everyone in the organization, leads to an organizational culture designed for adaptive change.”

“…the most common mistake organizations and their leaders make is to try to meet adaptive challenges with technical means.”
Fleming 2016

On building that human capability let’s reflect on the role/influence of language like VUCA.

VUCA refers to our perception of the situation out there. In his article, Fleming emphasises the opportunity for shifting our focus to in here, to connect with our capability to change the way we see — “adaptive challenges require changes not only in skill sets but also in mind-sets” (Fleming 2016).

This raises the question — how might we shift, re-design, mind-sets?

Language is a Powerful Tool

From an anthropological perspective language is a powerful tool for cultural change.

“It is in words and language that things first come into being and are”
Ehrenfeld 2008, p.26

So, coming back to VUCA. It’s a useful piece of language, or word, to bring attention to the nature of business environments today. There’s no doubt about VUCA. However continuing to use the VUCA acronym will only strengthen our focus on out there.

Ultimately, if our intention is relentless improvement of people, VUCA is disabling language.

WoCCE — wonder, care, courage and experiment

What if we introduced a human-centred acronym that we started to use instead of VUCA? One that enabled us to be more predisposed to taking advantage of the important idea of relentless development of people. One that positioned us to be adaptable, rather than reactive, to VUCA.

For example we could start talking about WoCCE (pronounced ‘Wok-ee’, or Wookie if you prefer 🙂 )

  • Wonder — to be curious about ourselves, our observations of the world and our interpretations
  • Care — to connect with what’s really important to us (security, safety, family, health, self expression, friends, love…)
  • Courage — to discuss what’s really important, to learn and be open to personal change
  • Experiment — to apply our new perspectives, to iterate and continually adapt

A positive, enabling, acronym like WoCCE is, I feel, an example of “presencing by design” (Ehrenfeld 2008, p.157). WoCCE interrupts our typical focus on out there (as well as our attention on technology to fix the problems ‘out there’) and prompts us to reflect more deeply. Over time our use of this new language will shape our mindset. A word like WoCCE is a critical tool for connecting with our adaptive capability.

This post is one of those experiments.

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