The acronym VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – was first coined by the military in 1987. It speaks to the four global forces that threaten our sense of psychological safety, and has recently been adopted by neuro leadership practitioners because feeling safe within your space and within the context of your world has been shown to be the strongest indicator of a person’s performance, both professionally and personally.
Technology, and its rapid deployment, is one of the biggest causes of VUCA today.
Consider the typewriter. It was the only technology delivering typed text between 1860 and the early 1980s. In the 30-odd years since, we have moved, first onto PCs, then to laptops, then to tablets and mobile phones and we are now entering the era of voice recognition and artificial intelligence.
One technology rules for 80 years and then six shatter the next 30 (currently, it takes five to seven years for a technology to go from being an invention to being ubiquitous). No wonder the majority of us are always behind and always confused!
Other key drivers are the media: social and news.
Social media has created a world of comparison, one where our best life never looks quite as good as somebody else’s, regardless of the reality. We find ourselves trapped in a cycle of craving validation and attention. This puts the power of self-esteem and self-fulfilment into the hands of others within a network that celebrates the extremes and the mores of the world.
The news media, desperate for our attention, feed our negative emotions and hook us in like addicts for more. Fear, hate, envy – the deadly sins have become an indicator for highly rated news content. And, back we go to social media, where the algorithms reward extreme and polarising content pieces as these generate the most engagement. Yes, those that reflect our negative emotions.
Democracy is under threat and so is global peace. Nationalism and populism are on the rise; Trump is not the reason – merely a symptom and there are millions just like him, albeit not as high profile as he, out there. Globalisation is bringing everyone closer together and, combined with immigration flows, means that strangers now live next to each other. The unease or tension of the unknown – place or person – often manifests into hate through zero-tolerance or self-protection.
Economically, the world is under immense pressure. A global market place means we are not competing with the hundreds of local candidates we once were, but now we are competing with millions across the globe. Trade wars, disrupted industries, displaced workers (strangers) which are all part of why there is an increasing global shrinking middle class.
People have to work harder and longer just to stay apace, and are spending more on what they don’t actually need and on what doesn’t make them any happier. The consumer culture is now a norm and spending is expected, so that we can keep up, maintain and stand out.
In a nutshell, the world seems unfair, unpredictable and uncertain. We don’t know how to win. Our VUCA score is high.
From a consumer insights perspective, we know VUCA alters our state of mind and subconsciously impacts the kind of brand we are looking out for. When our world is volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous, we are looking for – no, not chocolate – stability. Stability. Certainty. Calm and Clarity.
These are the characteristics brands must cultivate and amplify to establish trust within their audience. Whether directly or indirectly, people will be drawn to and seek out brands that offer a safe alternative to this chaotic world.
And, as agencies and brand custodians, we have to develop new social skills to adapt and to handle the impact of VUCA. Resilience, action and creativity. We need to close the anxiety gap with imagination and innovation, rather than scare tactics and simplistic solutions that just won’t work.
V = Volatility, speaks to the nature, dynamics and speed of change.
U = Uncertainty speaks to the lack of predictability, the prospect for surprise and the comprehension of issues and events impacting the world.
C = Complexity, speaks to the confounding of issues, the cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds the world
A = Ambiguity, speaks to the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions that cause confusion.