Mastering the VUCA world

| By David Smith


As Michelangelo, aged 87, once said, “I am still learning”. Fast forward to the workplace of 2015 and here’s a message that resonates perfectly.

The 21st century knowledge worker is faced with a business environment that is evolving at an unprecedented rate and ever-changing tools and technologies that often leave us overwhelmed and confused.

The frenetic workplace we operate in has a name – it’s a VUCA world.

What does this strange sounding acronym mean?

VUCA is a framework that helps describe our reality today– from battlefields to business environments. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

In a VUCA world, complex, as opposed to complicated challenges are commonplace, and no one has all the answers, information, or even the one true definition of the problem.

Complicated vs Complex

Complicated vs Complex

Korn Ferry Institute conducted a sizeable assessment of executives (c. 1 million) demonstrating that as we advance up the executive ladder, we become increasingly comfortable facing the uncertainty and sudden change that our VUCA world brings us.

Korn Ferry’s research has shown that those that are “learning agile” are more likely to succeed in our volatile, complex and ambiguous world.

How do we define Learning Agility and how can we become “learning agile” as we look to develop within our roles and organizations?

Simply put, Learning Agility is “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” – a kind of sixth sense if you like! It is the ability to deploy a complex set of skills that allows us to learn something in one situation and then to apply it in a completely different situation.

Three essential traits for becoming learning agile


  • Make sure that you do not get stuck in your bad habits – as Marshall Goldsmith said “What got you here will not get you there!”
  • Challenge yourself to come out of your comfort zone and seek to have the broadest perspective possible
  • Look out for opportunities for continuous improvement – whether it’s keeping abreast of the latest business books or connecting with your PLN (Personal Learning Network) on social media


  • Taking time to be reflective is vital as learning only happens when we pause to understand what went well and what did not – that way we can do things differently (and better!) next time around
  • In today’s business world so often we are consumed by the speed of business, we need to take time out so we can reflect


  • This is one of the key indicators of HiPo’s (High performing Individuals) – those who demonstrate high levels of being self-aware are more likely to react in the best possible way in any given situation
  • One of the number one derailers in doing business in the 21st century is lack of self-awareness and not understanding how what we do impacts on others

Focusing on these three areas will help you develop your own “Learning agility” and so be able to maximise the learning and what you can gain from those experiences.

More information on VUCA


About the Author: David Smith

David is Global Director of Virtual Learning Solutions at Virtual Gurus, he is passionate about virtual working whether communicating, meeting, presenting or training virtually. A regular speaker at international training conferences and Citrix webinars. 

In his spare time he enjoys many sports (unfortunately most as a spectator), has a family that keeps him young, loves Spanish Tapas and great red wines. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter


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