The ultimate VUCA learning experience Part 1
Recently, a group of Windesheim GPCM students approached me with a query on how to effectively utilise the VucaCanvas framework. The students expressed a preference for an outdoor learning experience, specifically a mountain hike in the stunning Dolomites (Italy). This idea is a brilliant and stimulating approach to mastering the art of dealing with challenges and surprises in the midst of an adventure-filled mountain hike. In this post, I will explain why outdoor activities such as this one represent the quintessential learning opportunity for navigating VUCA environments.

Ultimate learning experience

The VucaCanvas framework is the result of extensive research into the workings of biological and social systems over many years. It provides teams, organisations, and communities with a set of tools for cultivating their innate abilities to navigate volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environments. The tools focus on developing capacities such as adaptability, sensitivity, resilience, connectivity, diversity, and cooperation, which are essential for thriving in dynamic and challenging contexts. By leveraging the power of the VucaCanvas, teams can effectively enhance their capacity to respond to the ever-changing demands of the world around them.

Embarking on a hiking expedition presents a unique opportunity to put into practice the capacities cultivated through the VucaCanvas framework in real-life scenarios. By traversing diverse terrain and navigating ever-changing weather conditions, teams are challenged to quickly adapt to unexpected situations, honing their capacities to respond to VUCA environments. The success and safety of a mountain hike depend heavily on embracing and enhancing these capacities. This endeavor is crucial not only for the well-being of individual team members but also for the benefit of the team as a whole.

“There are two kinds of hikers, those who hike because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.”

- Alex Lowe

A hiking guide

In preparation for our hiking adventure, we made a deliberate decision to adjust the communication style from business jargon to a language that would be more practical and effective for our team's outdoor expedition. Through this adjustment, we have transformed the framework into a tool that facilitates shared learning experiences during our trek through the mountains. Our primary focus is on developing our capacities to navigate the challenges of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) while embracing new opportunities for growth. It is worth noting that our updated approach is still rooted in the foundational principles of the VucaCanvas framework.

The acronym 'VUCA' – shorthand for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – captures hiking in the mountains with uncanny precision.

  • Volatility: Be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather or the terrain. Check the weather forecast before your hike and pack appropriate gear, including warm layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy hiking boots.

  • Uncertainty: Hiking in the mountains can be unpredictable, so be prepared for potential hazards and changes in the trail. Bring a map, compass, and GPS device, and stay on designated trails to avoid getting lost.

  • Complexity: Hiking in the mountains requires careful planning and preparation. Consider the difficulty level of the trail, the distance, and the time it will take to complete the hike. Make sure everyone in your team is physically fit enough to complete the hike.

  • Ambiguity: Be prepared to make quick decisions and adapt to changes on the trail. Establish clear communication and emergency plans with your team, and make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an unexpected event.

Six capacities

Keeping in mind the four states of VUCA environments, there are six key capacities that are essential for success when traversing a mountain trail. These capacities include adaptability, sensitivity, resilience, connectivity, diversity, and cooperation, and they play a critical role in ensuring a successful hike.

By intentionally developing these skills, teams can more effectively navigate the challenging and constantly evolving terrain and weather conditions that are characteristic of mountain environments. Furthermore, these capacities allow teams to quickly and adeptly respond to unexpected situations, further enhancing their ability to thrive in a VUCA world.

Short descriptions and examples for each capacity, already built-in your DNA.


Adaptability is crucial when hiking in the mountains, as conditions can change rapidly. The ability to change direction quickly to suit different terrains and weather is essential. In an adaptive team, leaders create the right conditions for exploring new approaches, ideas, and innovations as the environment evolves. Too often, traditional hiking plans can become rigid, and the team may resist adapting to changing conditions. However, adaptive teams are open to experimentation and willing to try new approaches to ensure a successful hike.

Examples of adaptive hiking teams include experienced hikers who have learned to adapt to changing trail conditions, weather, and wildlife. These hikers are willing to change their plans and adapt their strategies to ensure a safe and successful hike. By being flexible and open to new ideas, the team can overcome any obstacle and achieve their goals.


Sensitive: When hiking in the mountains, it's impossible to predict what lies ahead. However, being a 'sensing' team means being attuned to early signals and patterns that could indicate bigger changes in the environment or terrain. By gathering diverse information about the trail, weather, and potential hazards, the team can plan for different scenarios and pre-empt potential threats.

For example, experienced hikers are highly disciplined in taking the pulse of the environment and adapting their plans accordingly. They pay close attention to the weather forecast, trail conditions, and wildlife patterns to ensure they are prepared for any situation. By being proactive and planning for different scenarios, the team can ensure a safe and successful hike.


Resilient: When hiking in the mountains, resilience is essential to absorb surprises and quickly recover to the original plan. Buffers such as extra food, water, and first aid supplies are especially important in volatile conditions where surprises and setbacks are frequent. Many hikers overlook the importance of building reserves and instead rely solely on their initial supplies. However, in unpredictable conditions, it's crucial to have surplus resources and 'rainy day' funds to ensure the team's safety and success.

Examples of hiking teams that prioritise resilience include experienced hikers who always carry extra supplies and have contingency plans in case of unexpected setbacks. They understand that overreliance on initial supplies can lead to disaster, and they invest in building cash buffers, supporting fellow hikers, and adapting to changing conditions.


Connective: When hiking in the mountains, being connective is a critical capacity to interlink with the existing ecosystem. The team must preserve relations with a variety of trusted partners, including fellow hikers, park rangers, emergency responders and nature. Carefully thinking about which partners can add value to the hiking experience is essential. Another important element of being connective is co-creating collective knowledge within the eco-system. 

For example, the team can share information with other hikers and park rangers to create a network of knowledge about the trail's condition, weather, and potential hazards. For hiking teams, the choice of multiple suppliers in different regions initially seems inefficient but is far more effective for continuity in a crisis. Many hikers have suffered the effects of being too reliant on a single source of supplies, such as water or food, and have had to cut their hikes short.


Diverse: When hiking in the mountains, diversity is a vital factor that stimulates adaptability in a rapidly changing environment. The team must tap into a broader range of partners, perspectives, ideas, and innovations to overcome any challenges that may arise. Diversity is also about the mix of people in the hiking team. Each hiker brings their unique set of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table, enabling the team to approach complex challenges with a range of viewpoints.

For example, hiking teams can benefit greatly from diversity, enabling them to approach challenges with a fresh perspective and a range of ideas. By cultivating diversity and embracing different viewpoints, hiking teams can become more adaptable and successful in navigating the ever-changing terrain of the mountains.


Collaborative: When hiking in the mountains, trust and teamwork are essential for success. The team must work together towards a clear intention and be prepared to quickly change direction to find alternative pathways if necessary. When the team has a clear intention and trusts each other, they can respond quickly and autonomously, yet remain in sync. This is especially vital when navigating the unpredictable terrain of the mountains. In summary, trust and teamwork are crucial for success when hiking in the mountains. Teams that can quickly change direction and work together towards a clear intention can navigate the VUCA environment of the mountains with greater ease and success.

For example, when hiking, a team that has cultivated trust and a clear intention can quickly mobilise to overcome challenges, such as sourcing necessary gear and supplies during unexpected situations, like sudden weather changes or injuries on the trail.


Better prepared

Currently, the students are preparing themselves for their mountain adventure. There are three important stages:

  • Planning: Prepare the route thoroughly, including the terrain, distance, and any potential hazards. Choose team members who are physically fit enough and have the necessary hiking experience. Prepare gear and equipment, including sturdy hiking boots, appropriate clothing, a backpack with essentials such as water, snacks, and a first aid kit. Establish a communication plan and emergency plan in case of unexpected events.

  • Execution: Begin your hike early in the day to avoid hiking in the dark and to avoid any potential crowds. Stay on designated trails and follow any markers or signs. Stay hydrated and fueled by drinking plenty of water and consuming snacks and meals. Check in with your team frequently to ensure everyone is doing well and feeling okay.

  • Reflection: Take some time to reflect on your experience after completing your hike. Identify what worked well and acknowledge any successes. Consider what could have been done differently to improve the experience. Take note of any lessons learned and apply them to future hikes. Celebrate your achievements and the experience with your team.

By adhering to the guidance provided by the VucaCanvas framework, the students can be confident of a safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable hiking experience in the mountains. Through intentional cultivation of the six critical capacities outlined in the framework, the team can overcome the challenges inherent in VUCA environments, forging stronger connections with one another and the world around them.

Whether it's a group of friends, a management team, or any other collection of individuals seeking to learn and have fun amidst the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, the framework serves as an invaluable tool for learning to deal with a VUCA world.


Next steps

In May 2023, the Windesheim GPCM student group will embark on their journey, commencing with a challenging hike through the Dolomites mountains. Throughout their adventure, the students will have the opportunity to employ and strengthen their utilisation of the VucaCanvas framework, all while indulging in the warm hospitality of Italy; nature, culture, food and Italian coffee.

More about the VucaCanvas

Stay tuned for updates on their journey as they continue to develop their abilities and explore the beauty of the Dolomites.

venue dolomites

Our basecamp in Seiser Alm, Saltria (Italian Dolomites) 

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