Have you heard people talking about VUCA?
Perhaps you’ve read that we should be ignoring VUCA in favour of VUCA PRIME?
And then maybe you have seen others say, throw VUCA and VUCA PRIME out the window and focus on BANI?
It can get a tad confusing right?
Here at the Agile Change Leadership Institute, we’re on team “take them all”. Let us explain.
In working through which concept to align to or be influenced by its important to consider them in context of how they originated.
VUCA is a concept initially discussed by economists and professors Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in their book “Leaders. The Strategies For Taking Charge” published in 1985. Yes, over thirty years ago!! Bennis was one of the founding fathers of contemporary leadership theory who made arguments for how democratic and more participatory forms of leadership benefit time of volatility. VUCA stands for:
VOLATILITY – An accelerated rate of change in unexpected or unstable circumstances
UNCERTAINTY – A lack of clarity about the present situation and future outcomes
COMPLEXITY – A range of multiple parts and variables, means making decisions and ‘joining the dots’ difficult
AMBIGUITY – No precedents for what’s happening. A place of the ‘unknown unknowns’
As a result, VUCA as a way of thinking and responding was adopted by the US Army in their response to the collapse of the “Eastern Bloc and USSR”. War had become increasing complex and ambiguous in strategy and tactics.
Many will know that corporate life loves a war metaphor. How many of us have worked in “War rooms” or operated on “Strike Teams” or a “Tiger Team?”. Heck, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is still one of the most repeated strategy books! And so VUCA made its way into MBA curriculums, popular management writing, and the world of transformation consultancy.
Enter VUCA PRIME
In 2007, acclaimed futurist with the Institute for the Future Robert (Bob) Johansen proposed a leadership behavioural model called VUCA Prime. This model took the elements of VUCA and proposed leadership behaviours that could be enacted to counter the challenge of VUCA. Conveniently these also took the acronym of VUCA.
VISION rises above VOLATILITY – Provide a compelling vision and purpose for change
UNDERSTANDING reduces UNCERTAINTY – Explore and experiment to drive understanding
CLARITY counters COMPLEXITY – Simplify where possible
AGILITY over AMBIGUITY – Adapt your approach
These are often positioned now as ‘better than VUCA’ but we see that as missing the point. You need to acknowledge what conditions represent VUCA (original) for you to work out how the behavioural prompts can work for you.
But what of BANI?
In our work with leadership development programs like Leadership Disrupted since March 2020, we have often noted perhaps we didn’t really fully understand what VUCA truly meant until the pandemic hit in tandem with climate crisis, and significant shifts in power with respect to social justice demands.
So perhaps not surprisingly, one of the futurists from the Institute for the Future, James Cascio emerged in 2020 with a new acronym to describe the environment: BANI
BRITTLE – we need to build capacity and resilience
ANXIOUS – we need to respond with empathy and mindfulness
NON LINEAR – we need to use fresh eyes and no expectations
INCOMPREHENSIBLE – deploy transparency and intuition
OK what do we do with these?
So do we now jettison, VUCA and VUCA Prime in favour of BANI?
We say not. In fact if you look at the five mindset shifts we teach in our Agile Mindset and Leadership Disrupted modules AND the approach we take in our assessment in the Agile Change Leadership Certificate program, there is well and truly room to embrace all the models put forward.
The challenge for all of us when being exposed to models of agility, change and leadership is to understand the context and think critically about how it might advance us in our new ways of leading, thinking and delivering change.
Want to see how VUCA, VUCA Prime and BANI can be applied? Head to our Agile Mindset Quiz!