The VUCA generation: It is an acronym for the words Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It can be used as a summative label for the landscape of the world we live in today; an adjective to describe the fragile nature of the status quo. And in Sri Lanka, the events that took place on Easter [...]

Business Times

The Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity Times


The VUCA generation: It is an acronym for the words Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It can be used as a summative label for the landscape of the world we live in today; an adjective to describe the fragile nature of the status quo. And in Sri Lanka, the events that took place on Easter Sunday exemplified VUCA to its very core.

VUCA was originally coined by the US Army War College, but more recently used to describe the dynamism and the speedy change due to the big forces of globalisation and technology, the rapid business and economical changes, climate change, geo-political power shifts, war and terrorism etc.

Organisations play the critical role of equipping individuals to handle VUCA, and also to create a semblance of order to the wake of chaos. Here are some ways organisations can support the overcoming of VUCA. Our preparedness to face VUCA will be decided largely by our mental, emotional and social readiness for uncertainty and risk.

Vision to combat Volatility

The more volatile it is, the faster things change. While we can’t control the volatile nature of the world around us, we can bring stability to chaos by shifting focus to a larger vision. Focus on a vision/mission provides purpose and gives context that helps to manage the volatility towards greater strides. The temporary chaos, in the face of a larger purpose, is seen as hurdles to be overcome in a larger race. Community driven visions such as recovering the economy, improving the lives of the stakeholders, assisting our clients who may be affected, carry the bandwidth to cushion and combat the effects of VUCA.

  •     Reiterate your organisational mission and vision.
  •     Redefine and emphasise a short/medium term vision in the larger vision.
  •     Highlight how recovery, growth and resilience are related to where you want to go as one organisation.
  •     Clearly iterate your organisation’s strategy for post-conflict support activities.
  •     Be ready to change the short term objectives in line with the changing (or disrupted) landscape.
  •     Instill confidence that any unforeseen disruption will not have permanent effects and a resilient community and the market will adjust, given the time.
  •     Instill positive attitudes that look for positive opportunities within negative sentiments.
  •     Involve staff in envisioning and planning for any CSR-type activities delivered in line with the crisis.

Understanding during Uncertainty

The more uncertain it is, the harder it is to predict. As a community, a shift towards being more cautious in accepting and believing information, and more logically interpreting information will be needed hereon, to combat uncertainty. By opposing the ‘He said, she said’ effects, and the ‘Sent as received’ message chains, collective learning on how to question credibility, verify facts, and disseminate responsibly are needed. There is no room for fear mongering in the battle against uncertainty.

This learning must begin at the level of education systems. A shift is needed from blindly learning and accepting the facts and stories, to becoming critiques of information and to ask the ‘how, what, when, why, and who’ questions.

  •     Establish clear and prompt communication during a crisis, by sharing verified information with staff.
  •     Appoint a team responsible for post-crisis communication the staff can rely on.
  •     Be transparent about what the organisation is currently doing with regards to the events of the crisis.
  •     Encourage impulse control, emotional awareness and overall emotional and social intelligence.
  •     Check on who you may know to be vulnerable, people who are grieving and/or prone to anxiety and depression, minority groups, pregnant mothers, etc.
  •     Educate on identifying credible versus non-credible information.
  •     Instill a culture that remains unfazed by unverified messages and takes time and effort to unearth the truth, before sharing messages.

Clarity during Complexity

The more complex it is, the more difficult it is to analyse. In times of complexity, our organisations and communities can be equipped to peel the layers of a multifaceted situation to understand it more clearly. This boils down to basic problem solving skills. Once more looking at the training we receive in schools, at home, and in the organisations, do we learn how to evaluate problems in fragments? To break down complex issues into smaller chunks? Or, are we as communities more prone to get disillusioned by complexity and adopt a mindset of helplessness?

  •     Ensure that problem solving skills is modeled at the level of the higher management in crisis response.
  •     Provide space moderated by a counsellor to support employees to find clarity in the events that transpired.
  •     Provide emotional support; mobilise people within the teams who can step in as counselors and befrienders to people who are affected.
  •     Be cautious about whether you are adding more complexity to the problems in your communication; be proactive in what topics to discuss and how you discuss it as we can spread negativity and fear without us knowing.
  •     Identify which problems can be solved at each level, without wasting time on attempting to solve problems which are not within the scope, ability or control.
  •     Prioritise the problems that need to be solved. (Eg. Safety of team before analysing business impacts)

Agility during Ambiguity

The more ambiguous it is, the harder it is to interpret. To combat and handle the ambiguity of VUCA, which translates to a low sense of control and preparedness for the future, a sense of agility and resilience is needed. The ecosystem of today has forced a need for us to be more adaptable in the face of change – whether it be changes to society, or threats to our internal belief systems. We need to take efforts to grow in our resilience or hardiness in the face of chaos, and to be quick to bounce back and move towards our shared vision.

  •     Adaptability, flexibility and agility are not qualities that you can inculcate overnight. But one can choose to make this a part of the organisational DNA.
  •     Train, retrain, encourage and reward persons of skills of agility such as perspective taking, different learning styles, crisis response skills.
  •     Encourage during ‘space spaces’ to find their own path of making sense, connecting the dots and seeing the bigger picture.
  •     Encourage risk taking when people use intuition and gut feeling in decision making when things are unclear and have no logical solution.

What if our employees become catalysts of VUCA in their communities, people who take these skills to their families and neighbourhoods? Wouldn’t that be a great service to the society to build collective resilience and crisis management? While building our internal capacities to withstand the constant ebb and flow of change, we as a nation need to take efforts to strengthen our children, youth, employees to stand strong amidst the chaos. Who knows, perhaps the world is moving towards a constant state of emergency.

(Cooray is a Business Psychologist and can be contacted on Booso is a Psychologist and can be contacted on


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