Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How VUCA Expands Learning Horizons - Tip #187

Can you imagine how a young fruit vendor in Tunisia, hopeless about his situation, could lead to Brexit six years later? Neither did anyone else.

Such is the world we are living in. Unpredictable things happening and rapid changes taking place have become the norm.

Harnessing VUCA for Better Learning

VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It was originally used by the U.S. Army War College students to describe the world after the Cold War. It has now come to describe the environment under which organizations operate today.

But, rather than focus on the negative side of VUCA, think of this instead. We can use the current VUCA conditions to help learners learn better and reap the benefits. According to The Conference Board and Development Dimensions International’s Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015, organizations with leaders that operate effectively in a VUCA environment are three times more likely to be in the top 20% of financial performance, compared to an organization that lacks effective leadership in a VUCA setting.

For workers, in particular, VUCA could spell the end of a job or career—or jumpstart a new role.

VUCA Requires Learning Agility

Dr. David Smith, PhD, organizational psychologist and CEO and President of EASI Consult LLC, shared in a Psychology Today interview that only the “learning agile” will succeed in a VUCA environment.

The learning agile are characterized by nine behavior patterns or dimensions, according to Dr. Warner Burke and colleagues at Columbia University.

  • The learning agile are willing to try new things. (Flexibility)
  • They quickly understand new ideas. (Speed)
  • They test out these new ideas. (Experimenting)
  • They take on challenges. (Performance risk taking)
  • They ask for help. (Interpersonal risk taking)
  • They leverage other people’s skills. (Collaborating)
  • They increase their knowledge. (Information gathering)
  • They ask for feedback. (Feedback seeking)
  • They reflect on their effectiveness. (Reflecting)

In short, learners who are flexible, open to change, and thrive on new experiences will succeed in a VUCA environment. Fortunately, these are not personality traits that are hard to develop but a “combination of baseline cognitive skills” and “motivation to think outside the box, try new things and learn from them.”

Next on the blog will be more tips on how to be learning agile. For now, let me know your thoughts. In what ways can VUCA stimulate learning?


Sunnie Giles. How VUCA Is Reshaping The Business Environment, And What It Means For Innovation. Forbes, May 9, 2018
The Conference Board and Development Dimensions International. Ready-Now Leaders: 25 Findings to Meet Tomorrow’s Business Challenges—Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015
Rawn Shah. Corporate Learning In A Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous World. Forbes, Sept. 22, 2015
Michael Woodward, Ph.D. How to Thrive in a VUCA World: The Psychology of Navigating Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, & Ambiguous Times. Psychology Today, July 31, 2017
Tip #68 - Why Reflect? The Role of Reflection in the Learning Process
Tip #75 - Insight Sharing - How They "Meet and Mate"

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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