How to thrive 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 places 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 years of research on the dynamics of biological and social systems, provide organisations with powerful self-assessment tools for 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.
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 capacity to easily change direction to suit different conditions is the essence of adaptability. In adaptive organisations, leaders create the right conditions for exploring new approaches, ideas and innovations as the environment evolves. Too often, traditional management sees experimentation as inefficient. Examples of adaptive organisations include Nokia’s evolution from paper manufacturer and tire factory to mobile phones.
No organisation can predict the future. However, 'sensing' organisations are attuned to early signals and patterns that are harbingers of bigger social and economic shifts. They are disciplined about gathering diverse information as input into scenario planning to explore alternative futures and pre-empt potential threats. Shell is a well-known example of an organisation that is highly disciplined in taking the pulse of what’s happening in the world and adapting scenarios and operations accordingly.
Resilience is the ability to absorb shocks and recover quickly to original form. Buffers like surplus resources and 'rainy day' funds are especially important in VUCA conditions where surprises and shocks are frequent. Many large firms overpay dividends to shareholders, leaving them with less to ability to build cash buffers, support workers and reinvest in the business. Reserve Bank of Australia reports that over the past three decades dividend payouts have trended up to more than 80 cents of every dollar of corporate profits. In some companies, dividends payouts have exceeded 100% of profits.
Connective is an important capacity to interlink within the existing eco-system. Preserving relations with a variety of trusted partners. Carefully thinking about which partners can add to the value creation. Another important element is co-creating collective knowledge within the eco- system. For example, the choice of multiple suppliers in different regions initially seems inefficient but is far more effective for continuity in a crisis. Many countries have suffered the effects of being too reliant on China, for example for PPE equipment.
Diversity in an organisation stimulates adaptability in a rapidly changing environment by enabling the organisation to tap a broader range of partners, perspectives, ideas and innovations. Diversity is also about the mix of people in an organisation. You need different perspectives when it comes to dealing with complex challenges. Philips NAT lab is a wonderful illustration of how a business consciously cultivates a diversity of ideas and innovations.
An organisation flourishes when people trust and work together on the basis of a clear intention. A group must be able to quickly change direction to determine alternative pathways. When the 'intention' is clear and there’s mutual trust, teams can respond quickly and autonomously yet remain in sync. This is especially vital in a VUCA environment. Buurtzorg is a good example of an organisation that has developed this capacity flawlessly. Before the Corona crisis reached the Netherlands, health care workers mobilized quickly to source masks and other PPE care material.
Our practitioners assist change leaders and teams throughout the world in VUCA-proofing their organisations by providing high-impact workshops (on-location and on-line). 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
Practitioners and training
Meet the VucaCanvas practice community. A group of international practitioners who use the framework and canvases in their work and practice. They participated in an engaging training program. Learning how to facilitate their own workshops in order to help
others in developing future-proof and vibrant organisations and
places. The program includes lifetime certification as a VucaCanvas practitioner.
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.
- Robert Luke PH.D
Vice President, research and innovation, OCAD university Inc. Toronto, Canada
Origin of the VucaCanvas
ChangeLabs introduced the VucaCanvas framework in 2015. Rik Berbé began to incorporate evolutionary biology and social system studies into his work as an organisational development practitioner. The canvases, tools, and workshop formats were designed by a community of practitioners (CoP). Development is ongoing in partnership with partners, practitioners, and academics.
Are you thinking of arranging a workshop or training for your team?
Please contact me if you require any other information.