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How To Survive In A VUCA World: 3 Actionable Tips

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How do some individuals thrive in a climate of constant change, make decisions with incomplete information, and quickly shift to take advantage of new opportunities? In essence, these people have figured out how to survive in a VUCA world.


What Does VUCA Stand For?

VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It is the rapidly evolving business environment individuals find themselves operating in today.

Leadership gurus Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus first used the term VUCA in their 1985 book, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. The acronym was then adopted a few years later by the US Army War College to describe the perceived conditions resulting from the end of the Cold War. And today, the term VUCA world is used to describe the business environment that individuals, teams, and organizations currently face.

A VUCA business environment can derail individuals, teams, and organizations as everything around them is unpredictable and constantly changing. That’s why it is vital to prepare to cope with the chaos that is often associated with a VUCA world.


What makes middle management so hard? What's changing about the role? Find  out. in this guide.


3 Actionable Tips for Surviving In A VUCA World

The time to prepare for change and uncertainty is now. However, no matter if you’re preparing today to rise to the challenges of tomorrow or playing catch-up as you're already experiencing VUCA, here are three ways to survive and hopefully thrive in a VUCA world.

  1. Develop Resilience
  2. Reframe Thinking
  3. Hone Learning Agility

How To Survive in a VUCA World - Niagara Institute (1)


Develop Resilience

Resilience is how individuals respond, adapt, and overcome a situation like adversity, change, loss, and risk. It’s how people use the resources, skills, and strengths to overcome challenges, bounce back from failures and setbacks, and deal with crises as they arise.

When we’re resilient, we can avoid many of the typical responses and pitfalls of VUCA by maintaining composure by counteracting an emotional response, staying calm, and evaluating the situation rationally.

Not surprisingly, given the VUCA world we find ourselves in, 99% of respondents agreed that being resilient was essential to their career success. In the same survey, 56% agreed it was an important skill needed for rising to the top level in an organization. The good news is resilience is a skill and a mindset, and like any skill, resilience can be learned, honed, and strengthened with resilience training.

Reframe Thinking

What if we changed our thinking from how to survive in a VUCA world to how to thrive in a VUCA world?

Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, believes we should be reframing our thinking about VUCA and how we prepare for it. So he developed an alternative view, which he coined “VUCA 2.0.” Using the same acronym, he’s assigned new meaning to each letter, identifying four foundational qualities needed to respond favorably to a VUCA world.

  1. Vision
    To counteract the influences of a VUCA world, organizations should have a clear mission, vision, values, and strategy so that outside forces do not sidetrack what they intend to accomplish. Organizations, leaders, and individuals must use these foundational pieces to guide their decisions in a VUCA world to see through the chaos.

  2. Understanding
    In a VUCA world, an organization must understand its strengths and capabilities to capitalize on the rapidly changing environment by playing to its strengths. In addition, tapping into feedback from various sources such as customers and employees ensures leaders can leverage alternative perspectives. Doing so reduces the likelihood of decisions reinforcing leadership’s options and biases regarding their situation by not seeking out alternative viewpoints.

  3. Courage
    VUCA requires quick and often bold decisions, and leaders need to step up to the challenge. They need the confidence in their skills and abilities to have the courage to make bold decisions when time is of the essence. Attending training focused on change management, leadership development, and business acumen is ideal for preparing for VUCA.

  4. Adaptability
    Flexibility, adaptability, and agility are the name of the game for those who can thrive in a VUCA world. Individuals within an organization need to be flexible, adapt, and drive the tactics to respond to changing circumstances while staying focused on the organization’s mission and strategy.

If any of these foundational pillars are rocky, now is the time to prepare for VUCA. Start by ensuring the mission, vision, values, and strategy is clear and understood by every individual, organizational strengths are defined, leaders are equipped with the skills to step up to challenges, and leaders and direct reports alike embrace change. Hence, they are ready and adaptable to the VUCA environment they face.



Hone Learning Agility

Learning agility is the ability to figure out what to do when you find yourself in a new situation and are unsure how to proceed. Dr. W. Warner Burke, Columbia University, describes learning agility as possessing the internal motivation and willingness to go outside of the comfort zone by taking action in uncharted territory. In addition to motivation, learning agility requires the skills to see the consequences of your actions to create a plan of what to do next to continue the learning process.

Therefore, learning agility is essential to surviving in a VUCA world. To hone your learning agility abilities, try the following activities:

  1. Ask your leader for a stretch assignment that exposes you to a new department or a project that is different from your day-to-day at work

  2. Gain new perspectives and try new approaches by listening to peers, thought leaders, and others in your industry. Experiment with newly discovered techniques and stay curious about new ways of working

  3. Seeking constructive feedback from your leader, peers, and direct reports is essential to highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and new learning opportunities

  4. Conduct post-mortem meetings when something goes wrong so that you learn from it

  5. Continually test and apply what you’ve learned from your experiences, feedback, and conversations



As 2020 has proven, it is not if, but when you will face a VUCA world. That’s why it is imperative to prepare now to meet the challenges head-on as they appear. Doing such things as solidifying your organization or team mission and strategy and attending training on change management, resilience, and leadership will ensure you will be ready to survive in a VUCA world.

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