Is your life ready for VUCA?

We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.  Are you poised to adjust nimbly to changing circumstances as they arise?  Because while we may not know quite how or when changes will crop up, it’s clear they’re coming—who foresaw oil prices dropping so precipitously, or US political polarization devolving so rapidly and dangerously?

A recent piece by Eric McNulty in Strategy+Business, Leading in an Increasingly VUCA World, offers the best concise overview of VUCA and how to respond that we’ve seen (well, other than in our book!).  McNulty stresses:

VUCA isn’t something to be solved; it simply is. Attempts to simplify complexity, or to break volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity down into smaller and smaller parts in hopes that each can be decoded and countered will not make them go away — there are too many elements beyond the control of traditional centers of power and authority. It is a network phenomenon and can’t be mastered through industrial age structures and practices.

We absolutely agree.  That’s why we formulated the integrated planning tools laid out in The Resilient Investor, centered on a “map” of our lives that provides a foundation for making clear and responsive choices within this VUCA landscape.  Personal and social resilience is enhanced when we cultivate all our assets (personal, tangible, financial), each of these engaging with our communities, the global financial system, and evolutionary initiatives that are making things better.

McNulty offers three tips for personal VUCA preparedness.  The first two will be familiar to our readers.

First, be willing to get out of your comfort zone, by asking questions and probing deeply into views you’re unfamiliar with or have discounted:

The only thing you know with certainty about your strategy is that it’s wrong. Persistent probing will help you discern if it’s off by 5 percent or 95 percent before events swiftly reveal the answer to you. Agility is critical because strategic adjustments must be made continually.

Second, he encourages us to “Create an island of certainty amid VUCA turbulence.”  This is, of course, exactly what the Resilient Investing Map is meant to do, providing a solid foundation for balance, adjustment, and forward progress. As McNulty suggests, “be clear about your decision-making criteria, and be consistent in applying them. Signal your tolerance for learning-based mistakes that are inevitable in a fast-changing environment, and be sure to capture what you learn as a way of certifying its value. Think about these failures as a resource you’ve already paid for. Finally, be rock solid about your values.”  We couldn’t agree more!

McNulty’s third takeaway is an interesting twist on VUCA thinking that we haven’t seen articulated quite so clearly before:

VUCA doesn’t mean that everything is unpredictable. If you step back to take a system-level view of the world, there are meta-phenomena with trend lines that are clear if not precisely delineated.

Indeed.  He notes in particular several key trends that we can count on, even if we don’t know quite how they’ll unfold: urban concentration, climate change, demographic shifts (aging societies in the west/north, youth booms in the south/east), and advancing technologies.  All of us need to stay current on these key trends, while also keeping abreast of other developments that will inform our personal choices (e.g., new approaches to habitat regeneration, community-building, or sustainable investing).  The blog here on provides coverage of many such topics, as does the Field Guide to Resilient Investing.  Check out McNulty’s overview, then poke around on our site to see how you might begin to take some initial practical steps to be “ready for anything” that our VUCA world may throw at you.

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