Organisations and places thriving in a VUCA world
Our mettle is being radically stress-tested now. What used to be hypotheticals – 'What if our world was dramatically altered?' – have become today’s realities. The global pandemic is just one of a number of social, economic and technological shocks that are creating internal whiplash for organisations and institutions of every stripe and size.
The acronym 'VUCA' – shorthand for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – captures the zeitgeist of the times with uncanny precision. What organisations need now, more than ever, is shaping the capacities to lead in such a fast changing and hyper-connected world. Now is the best time to 'VUCA-proof' your organisation or place.
How do VUCA proof organisations absorb and thrive to the unexpected? Nurturing shock-resistant organisations and communities starts with understanding the capacities that can be actively cultivated to strengthen responsiveness in the face of unknowns.
Focusing on key capacities that have been proved to enable individuals, organisations, and urban spaces to thrive in VUCA environments, such as adaptability, sensitivity to small changes, resilience, interconnectedness, diversity, and cooperation.
The VucaCanvas, a framework that’s been distilled from research on the dynamics of biological and social systems, provide organisations with powerful self-assessment tools for understanding and calibrating these capacities.
For any organisation, community or institution, now is a unique opportunity to assess its strengths and weaknesses and shape the essential capacities to prepare for a VUCA world.
The VucaCanvas framework is the groundwork for easy-to-use canvases, e-tools and (online) workshop approaches. The primary canvas with six capacities is illustrated in the image below.
On secondary canvases, each capacity is covered in greater detail. The capacities are not chosen at random; rather, they are based on scientific disciplines such as evolutionary biology and systems thinking.
The VucaCanvas® materials are distributed under the
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.
Crossing the river by feeling the stones
Not knowing has heavy implications. When you really do not know what’s coming next, there’s no logical calculus you can bring to bear, so the rational decision-making process gets ruled out. That means that the whole rational decision-making doctrine you’re taught in business school no longer applies. When you really do not know what’s coming next, there’s no logical calculus you can bring to bear … What’s needed in this situation is not rational calculation but resilience.
The VucaCanvas® framework is designed to enable organisations, places and eco-systems to assess and calibrate six essential capacities that researchers have identified as hallmarks of those who weather complex uncertain times successfully: adaptive, sensitive, resilient, connective, diverse, and cooperative. These capacities are vital for ‘future proofing' organisations and places facing unpredictable circumstances.
The ability to readily adjust course to accommodate varying circumstances is the fundamental aspect of adaptability. Within adaptable organisations, leaders cultivate an environment that encourages the exploration of new strategies, concepts, and inventions in response to changing conditions. Unfortunately, conventional management often perceives experimentation as wasteful. Nokia's transformation from a paper, tire, mobile phone manufacturer to a digital network company is an illustration of an adaptive organisation.
It is impossible for any organisation to accurately predict the future. Nevertheless, 'sensing' organisations possess a heightened sensitivity to early signals and patterns that indicate significant social and economic changes. These organisations are diligent in collecting a variety of information to use in scenario planning, enabling them to anticipate potential threats and explore alternate futures. Shell is a prominent example of an organisation that is exceptionally skilled at monitoring global trends and adapting its strategies and operations accordingly.
Resilience refers to an organisation's capacity to withstand unexpected disruptions and rapidly restore itself to its original state. In conditions marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), creating buffers such as surplus resources and contingency funds becomes especially critical. However, many large organisations allocate an excessive amount of their profits towards dividend payments to shareholders, which reduces their ability to build up cash reserves, support their workforce, and invest in the growth of the organisation. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, over the past 30 years, the trend for dividend payouts has risen to more than 80 cents of every dollar of corporate profits. In some instances, the amount paid out in dividends has even exceeded the actual profits earned by the company.
The ability to establish connections and foster collaboration within an ecosystem is a critical capability. This involves maintaining positive relationships with various trusted partners and carefully considering which partners can contribute to value creation. Another essential component is the co-creation of collective knowledge within the ecosystem. For instance, while choosing multiple suppliers from different regions may appear inefficient at first, it can be more effective in ensuring continuity during times of crisis. Many countries have experienced the consequences of relying too heavily on a single source, such as China, for crucial supplies such as PPE equipment.
Having diversity within an organisation is essential for promoting adaptability in an ever-changing environment, as it allows the organisation to access a wider range of partners, perspectives, ideas, and innovations. Diversity also encompasses the variety of individuals within an organisation. When faced with complex challenges, it is crucial to have a diverse range of perspectives. The Philips NAT lab serves as an excellent example of an organisation that intentionally fosters diversity of ideas and innovations.
For an organisation to thrive, it requires people to trust one another and work towards a common intention. It is essential for a group to be able to pivot rapidly and identify alternative pathways. When the intention is clear and mutual trust exists, teams can react promptly and autonomously while still maintaining coherence. This is particularly critical in a VUCA environment. Buurtzorg provides an excellent example of an organisation that has successfully developed this capability. When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached the Netherlands, healthcare workers were able to mobilise quickly and source masks and other PPE materials thanks to their well-established trust and clear intention.
Our practitioners assist change leaders and teams throughout the world in VUCA-proofing their organisations and communities by providing high-impact workshops. The outcomes of a workshop are:
For a successful workshop, there are three steps:
what, so what, and now what.
F2F and online
Workshop on-location (5-100 people)
An inspiring workshop in an inspiring setting. Six tables are set up with canvasses, Duplo bricks, and clearly defined tasks. Facilitators encourage participants to engage in dialogue, share observations, gain insights, and agree on next steps. This bonding experience fosters the ability to reshape an organisation or community. The basic setup is simple; it is the art of hosting that makes the difference.
Workshop on-line(*) (5-1.000 people and more)
During a virtual journey, participants use an interactive collaboration platform to apply the framework. They provide as many different perspectives and stories as possible. Sense-making and meaning-making software will assist in the categorisation of huge amounts of information. Online video meetings make it possible to analyse the outcomes. We help participants calibrate their organisation ensuring they are vibrant and future-ready. The basic setup is simple, virtual facilitation makes all the difference.
(*) software tools are European and GDPR-compliant
Meet the VucaCanvas practice community. A gathering of skilled practitioners from around the world who incorporate the VucaCanvas framework and canvases in their professional work. This group has completed an inspiring training program, equipping them with the necessary skills to facilitate their own workshops. Their aim is to assist others in creating flourishing organisations and environments.
The VucaCanvas training offers a learning experience designed to support teams, organisations and urban places to navigate the dynamic VUCA environment successfully. Through interactive sessions, practical exercises, and discussions, you will develop the skills required to apply the VucaCanvas with confidence in your own work or practice. As part of the training, participants receive lifetime certification as VucaCanvas practitioners.
Origin of the VucaCanvas
The VucaCanvas framework was introduced by ChangeLabs in 2015. Rik Berbé MSc, an organisational development practitioner and researcher, pioneered the integration of evolutionary biology and social system studies into his work, laying the foundation for the framework. A Community of Practitioners (CoP) collaborated to design the canvases, tools, and workshop formats. The ongoing development of the framework is a collaborative effort, involving partnerships with practitioners and academics to continuously enhance its effectiveness and applicability.
The VucaCanvas toolkit offers an excellent vehicle for participatory design and engagement of stakeholders grappling with complex issues and dependencies. The tactile learning inherent in the kit helps make visible the assumptions that underpin our perceptions of complex phenomena, and fosters dialogue as to prioritization and action. The session on the VucaCanvas model was an engaging exercise led by an experienced facilitator.
In these turbulent times, it is critically important for leaders and their organization to take stock of their capacity to respond to rapidly emerging challenges. The VucaCanvas® is a unique tool that supports leaders in their stocktaking efforts that enables them to generate ideas and strategies on how to strengthen their personal and organizational agility. It has now become a foundational tool in my practice that is both practical and insightful..
As a facilitator and strategist, I’ve found the VucaCanvas® provides a unique framework for addressing the assessing any organization’s capacities for adapting to VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environments and unexpected challenges. It’s a powerful assessment tool for various stages of projects – when you’re kicking off an initiative involving diverse stakeholders; during implementation planning; and as part of a performance evaluation 'dashboard'. Now, more than ever, developing VucaCanvas® capabilities is proving to be invaluable, for us and our clients.
VucaCanvas is an excellent framework for understanding how an organization can position itself for managing its business like an all-star while staying competitive in turbulent times. Through VucaCanvas, practitioners can develop a “Cultural Creative Mentality” for success both now and in the future and, pardon the paraphrase, 'boldly succeed as we journey together where no one has gone before'.
When you are navigating the unplanned and disruptive change space its so easy to get overwhelmed by too many moving parts, competing for space. I love that the VucaCanvas® gives you the tool and technique to deconstruct the current situation and recognize where development of potential is present for any organization, to be supported in moving ahead of the curve.
The VucaCanvas is a brilliant tool to analyse organisation's ability to be future-proof, but not only that, it is also really inspiring experience for the people involved. I heard later that the workshop really gave the participants a hefty load of food for thought, but also gave them peace of mind in certain respects, because after the dilemmas had been spread out on the table, they became manageable.
VucaCanvas® makes for a perfect complement to our ecosystem innovation toolbox. Not only does it give us the much needed, and often neglected, complexity perspective; it also does so in an hands-on and inviting manner. Taking the complexity out of complexity
The VucaCanvas emerged as a framework and tool based on a research paper authored by Rik Berbé MSc, which was published on April 4, 2015. This paper delves into the complexities of organisational and urban development, with the objective of tackling the difficulties brought about by the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) characteristics prevalent in today's world. Through extensive research and analysis, Rik Berbé MSc identified the need for a practical framework that could help organisations and communities navigate and thrive in VUCA conditions. As a result, the VucaCanvas was developed as a visual representation of key capacities to understand and respond to VUCA challenges effectively. The research paper played a crucial role in the development and application of the VucaCanvas, offering a valuable contribution to the field of organisational and urban development.
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The VucaCanvas materials are distributed under the:
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license
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