Where do the terms "VUCA" and "BANI" come from?
And who knows RUPT?
VUCA is an acronym
first used in 1987 and based on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. In the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the socialist system, the American War College adopted the term. Suddenly there was no longer one enemy, the world had lost the order it had found since World War II in two blocs, and the military used the artificial word to capture the new reality. In the jargon of the American military, VUCA describes the conditions of modern war – key words: asymmetric warfare, suicide bombers, jungle or street fighting. The conditions can no longer be compared with the clear front lines of past battles in which two large armies clashed.
The acronym VUCA is composed of the four terms volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
- Volatility describes the intensity of fluctuation over time. It is easy to understand using the example of share prices: share prices that fluctuate strongly within a short period of time show up as “sharp spikes” in the performance chart. The higher the volatility, the stronger and more “jagged” the swings.
- In this model, uncertainty describes the unpredictability of events. The more “surprises” the context holds, the more uncertain it is.
- Complexity is influenced by the number of influencing factors and their mutual dependence or interaction. The more interdependencies a system contains, the more complex it is. The term “complex” must be differentiated from the term “complicated” – even if both are often wrongly used equivalently. A complicated system can be simplified without destroying the internal structure of the system. Example: a complicated mathematical fraction is simplified by shortening it. A complex system, on the other hand, is destroyed if you try to simplify it – e.g. by decomposing it.
- Ambiguity describes the ambiguity of a situation or information. Even if a lot of information is available (i.e. certain and predictable), the evaluation of it can still be ambiguous. “And what does that mean now?” is a typical question in such situations, even when actually “all the facts are on the table”. Communication situations often involve a high degree of ambiguity. To make matters worse, however, the people involved are often not even aware of this.
VUCA describes the changing environment
In this VUCA world, especially in the age of digitalisation, leaders have to act differently – officers as well as managers. Because the environment has also changed radically for companies and conventional leadership methods are reaching their limits. Companies can and must adapt to this new world. These necessities have been immutable realities and a much-cited turn of the times at the latest since the Corona pandemic, the Ukraine war caused by Vladimir Putin and all the resulting consequences. The term VUCA aims to make the ever less comprehensible comprehensible. It includes the description of the changed framework conditions under which decisions have to be made today. It is an environment in which information no longer has any predictive significance, because framework conditions change very quickly, coalitions of interests are becoming more and more complex and motivations are constantly changing.
In the meantime, there are discussions about the term VUCA being replaced by
,which stands for Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible and goes back to Jamais Caisco from the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto. Under the title “Facing the Age of Chaos” ( facing-the-age-of-chaos ), he presented it in 2020 as a “meaningful logic” that replaces VUCA, which he sees as outdated. According to his argumentation, VUCA describes the present and thus has an insistent effect. BANI names the future, whose chaotic character must be accepted, and thus makes it easier to walk into.
My assessment: It needs both!
It would be wrong and unwise to send both terms and the ideas behind them into competition with each other. Rather, it is value-creating to think of the respective statements and positions together and to understand them as further support for a world that is moving forward and no longer means “exception to a rule” at any point. That would be very naive and more wishful thinking than realism.
If VUCA helps to grasp the phenomena of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and relate them to one’s own context, BANI helps to better understand and locate their effects and what they do to individuals and organisations. And that’s what it’s all about – grasping the degree to which you are affected and addressing the needs that come with it. This is the basis for solutions that are ultimately what it is really all about. What is needed is to use existing skills, to train contextual competence and to develop relevant competences that meet the demands of self-responsibility, self-efficacy and sustainability.
Therefore: VUCA Positive Prime
Bob Johansen found his translation for VUCA in 2007: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Adaptability. So what could be more obvious than to opt for the positive connotation of the four letters? In the concept of the VUKA Facilitator® we do so and enjoy a growing community that surfs the VUKA waves with us and sets its sails to the wind of VUCA and BANI (info at www.vukafacilitator.de).
And while we are on the subject of the multitude of such popular words of art as VUCA and BANI. Do you already know RUPT?
The Center for Creative Leadership (www. ccl.org) in the USA uses
to stand for Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, Tangled. If you look up how the term VUCA came to be another acronym that is so popular, especially in the USA, you will find that it is partly because of the military origins of the term and partly because VUCA does not seem to capture either what organisations and their leaders experience or how they get through it. Considering that the term VUCA, as mentioned at the beginning, goes back to two economists (Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus) and that the American military only brought it into use, it is really relevant to better understand the actual use of the original thought model.
At least there is also a positive translation for RUPT, which contains attitudes and approaches: Reality, Understanding (synonymous as in Bob Johansen), Possibilities, Transparency.
Contribution by Waltraud Glaeser