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December 05, 2018 Digital brand management | Digital communications

Navigating the VUCA world

By  Staffan Lindgren

Change is all around us and it is not just adapting, but learning how to navigate in such an environment, that will make you successful. The VUCA world - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - requires a new set of skills and a new way of looking at the world.

The acronym VUCA was first used after the Cold War by the United States Intelligence Community to describe the realities of this new world. The wall had fallen and the old truths about who was a friend and who was an enemy no longer applied. The world had moved from a predictable black and white to a fast-shifting, colourful web constantly twisting and changing. Friend became foe and then, perhaps, a friend once more.

They called it a VUCA world.

Change is the new normal

In the VUCA world, change is the new normal. Things happen fast and are difficult to predict. They oscillate between extremes and the nature and speed of change is in itself a catalyst for even more change. If you used to be able to predict the effect of your communication, this is becoming increasingly harder. The V in VUCA stands for Volatile.

The U stands for Uncertainty. We used to be able to trust news sources, relying on the fact that "what you see is what you get". Today, we deal with fake news, rumours and viral information that is not checked or verified, which is sometimes treated as true by the most trusted newspapers and TV channels.

Contradicting information about a company's affairs is becoming more common, creating a strong sense of uncertainty regarding who to trust. The lack of predictability, the high probability of surprising developments, and the missing sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events is affecting us.

The logic behind cause and effect isn't clear anymore and it is hard to deduct more than a few obvious steps. With more information, options, and solutions, as well as an increasing sense of interconnectedness, the world is becoming more Complex - the C in VUCA.

Finally, the A in VUCA stands for Ambiguous. Everything we see has also changed from a black and white, good or bad narrative to a situation where something can be both good and bad. The ambiguity of the world feeds into volatility, uncertainty, and complexity and negatively impacts our ability to read and predict the future.

Staffan Lindgren speaking about navigating in a VUCA world at Comprend's "Sustainable Digital Transformation" event.

How do you chart your course in a VUCA world?

The idea that "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" is now truer than ever. Creating long-term plans and trying to navigate according to them will fail. No matter if they are strategic plans or a simple, year-long development plan using a waterfall approach, we have all felt pain and hopelessness when, in spite of our best efforts, things didn’t turn out as we thought they would.

Testing and observing results

In a VUCA world, testing and observing results is the key to making the right decision. We do this by using fast ways of working, such as agile principles and design sprints, where we test, verify and implement ideas as quickly as possible. This requires a mindset, skills, capacity and ways of working that are radically different from how most companies work today.

  • Build new skills and organise using agile principles
  • Radically increase speed by taking smaller steps

Define a true north

Working fast without a standard you can hold the result against is not going to help. We might end up somewhere quickly, but likely not where we wanted to be. Defining a true north and the effect that we are aiming for is equally important for success.

Watching what happens when you throw a stone in the water is interesting, but it only becomes valuable if observed, measured, and compared to the effect you wanted. Is this getting us what we want now? And is it taking us closer to our true north?

  •  Create a hypothesis, execute and observe the effect. If it is positive - repeat!

Use the collective intelligence

Large companies have something small companies don't: a massive collective intelligence. However, this is under-used and under-stimulated. Move the decision-making to those who are knowledgeable and are the closest to where the action is. They are the only ones that truly can observe the effect and are also best equipped to quickly make decisions. One man is never more intelligent than all of us.

  • Decentralise execution and operational decisions using agile principles to activate the collective intelligence.
  • Make sure everyone knows and agrees to the effect you seek; they have to see the true north you are aiming for. 
  • Trust people to make the right decision, given the chance. 

Doing this will give your organisation a radical increase in speed and a new ability to adapt to the changing environment. Imagine what you could do if you could:

  • Go from idea to realised solution in one day
  • Tweak your brand identity today and make it visible on all your touch-points tomorrow
  • Observe and measure the effect of your communication activities

So, how can you make use of this opportunity? Why not set up a meeting with us and see how we can help you navigate this world?


Are you ready? We are. 

Staffan Lindgren

Staffan Lindgren



+46 70 971 12 12