The VUCA World: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

William Meller - The VUCA World: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It describes the situation of constant, unpredictable change in the world.

Data never sleeps! As of now, data shows no signs of slowing down. 

In the 9th edition of the Data Never Sleeps infographic, you have a glimpse of how much data is created every digital minute in our increasingly data-driven world.

In just 1 minute...

- Amazon customers spend $283,000
- 12 million people send an iMessage
- 6 million people shop online
- Instacart users spend $67,000
- Slack users send 148,000 messages
- Microsoft Teams connects 100,000 users
- YouTube users stream 694,000 videos
- Facebook Live receives 44 million views
- Instagram users share 65,000 photos
- TikTok users watch 167 million videos

But how this so connected world that changes every single minute affects our way of work, our leadership skills, our companies, our planning, etc.?

Well, it affects everything!

It has become a trendy managerial acronym: VUCA, short word for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

In 1987 the VUCA acronym was used for the first time in the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, reflecting general conditions and their volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 

But the term VUCA took place and started to be used in military education, first introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the complex world created as a result of the Cold War. 

According to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, it was in 1991, during the conference "Developing Strategic Leadership: The U.S. Army War College Experience", Herbert F. Barber defined strategic leadership within a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global environment. 

However, it was just an Army War College Study Project published in 1992 that attributes the use of the terminology to General Thurman who characterized the strategic leadership environment in terms of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Scott Berinato at Harvard Business Review, says that executives have taken to using the military acronym VUCA–Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity–to describe the world in which they operate and to ask that question: In a VUCA world, what’s the point of strategy?

The acronym first coined in the army is now widely applied to business and society.

V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change agents.

"... We live in a world that’s constantly changing, becoming more unstable each day, where changes big and small are becoming more unpredictable – and they’re getting more and more dramatic and happening faster and faster. As events unfold in completely unexpected ways, it’s becoming impossible to determine cause and effect..."

U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the expectation for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.

"... It’s becoming more difficult to anticipate events or predict how they’ll unfold; historical forecasts and past experiences are losing their relevance and are rarely applicable as a basis for predicting the shape of things to come. It’s becoming nearly impossible to plan for investment, development, and growth as it becomes increasingly uncertain where the route is heading...."

C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces so many sources of issues, no cause-and-effect chain, and confusion that surrounds the organization.

"... Our modern world is more complex than ever. What are the reasons? What are the effects? – Problems and their repercussions are more multi-layered, harder to understand. The different layers intermingle, making it impossible to get an overview of how things are related. Decisions are reduced to a tangled mesh of reaction and counter-reaction – and choosing the single correct path is almost impossible...."

A = Ambiguity: the nebulous around what is reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions that bring cause-and-effect confusion.

"... Not everything is black and white – grey is also an option. The demands on modern organisations and management are more contradictory and paradoxical than ever, challenging our personal value systems to the core. In a world where the “what” takes a back seat to the “why?” and the “how?”, making decisions requires courage, awareness, and a willingness to make mistakes...." -

The Living Core website made a description with fascinating graphics for each one of the 4 elements of VUCA that I recommend you check out here.

Image: CQ Net (

A VUCA world should resemble a code of awareness and readiness. This is because the world we are living in does not require just best practices anymore, but innovative thinking and adaptability. Our approach to problems in a digital and dynamic world should always consider that even a tweet or a picture published on Instagram could affect our strategy or our plan, and it is no longer a case of finding the one (unique) way of working or the single management tool that could solve all the problems like a silver bullet.

"... The willingness to engage in genuine cooperation and take on clear responsibilities is a basic prerequisite for innovation. This requires freedom, creativity, speed, flexibility and a corporate culture that connects people with the organization. This connection becomes more significant and can be brought into the focus of leadership even more decisively. In a VUCA world, the most important thing is to anticipate the future and to strengthen cooperation in companies with modern solutions. Decisions and connections are success factors for shaping the common cause..." - The Vuca World Org

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by information and not be able to make smart decisions. This is because there are so many things to do and be concerned about and more coming to our plates every second. It's ironic, if you think about it, that in this decade when humans have access to more data than ever, we're not being good enough at curating data and organizing our thoughts. 

Overload refers to a challenge when it comes to comprehending and utilizing information effectively. It is usually associated with the excessive amount of information we are bombarded with every day. It typically leads to burnout when the situation persists.

The Vuca World - William Meller

In order to cope with volatility, ambiguity, complexity, and ambiguity, organizations, along with all stakeholders within, must think strategically during times of uncertainty. 

In a VUCA world, we and our companies worry about the risk of being disconnected. We are also concerned about the possibility of being too connected and not using the information we gather to make strategic decisions from a broader perspective.

How can we utilize information better and use the knowledge we gain to improve ourselves and our companies?

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