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An image of two tiny men trying to navigate while standing on a giant compass.

How to navigate a VUCA world

Date Posted: December 8, 2017Reading time: 5 minutes

A personal perspective on navigating the evolving and technologically disruptive environment that is a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world.

Teachings of modern day society reveal to us that technology has transformed how we do things, share information and understand the world. Technology has now more than ever before, given consumers unprecedented power. For those of you still wondering “what the heck is this guy talking about” and “what the hell is VUCA?” Allow me to explain. cracks knuckles

Anyone born after 1980 has a different approach to the world than everyone else, creating both challenges and opportunities between the generations. The world is changing at an exponential rate and these changes are not just radical, they are transformative; transforming every aspect of our lives and the boundaries between and within markets. If you agree with me on this point, then you understand what a VUCA world is, because you’re currently living in one.

From my personal viewpoint, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MTEI) degree it is this: Innovation is no longer a differentiator for business, it is expected, anticipated and demanded. We must shift away from the notion that innovation is the domain of the likes of Steve Jobs and other “creative geniuses.” There is structure and order in innovation and it is something that we need to foster as a habit in all our people to manage in a VUCA environment. As the world changes, we must be receptive to change with it. The approach chosen and adopted from this will determine whether one will sink or swim in a VUCA world.

So this then begs the question, “how do I as a business leader, thrive in whatever VUCA environment I’m in?” Well for starters, we must first understand that, how we observe the world, the direction we take and the decisions we make to get there have immense implications. The sooner we realize that the lenses with which we use to perceive the world matters, the better. In this light, we as people should get curious, as VUCA is a condition that calls for questions – tons of them! You should be asking questions like, “how much do you know about the situation?” and “how well can you predict the results of your actions?” etc. So it is important for people to get out of their comfort zones and ask those piercing questions.

The following transformations are three glaring observations that research shows I’m not a crazy person living in an imaginary VUCA world by myself:

  1. Technological transformation

The word disruption in the twenty-first century has fast become a household word. Everyone and their mother uses this word in every other conversation. The reality is that technologies are disrupting sectors and even entire industries faster than ever. Visionary entrepreneurs are leading the way in creating innovations that change how we live and work, and how we interact with each other and the environment around us.

 In 2012 international patent filings grew by 9.2% – the fastest growth in 18 years

Industrial design counts grew by 17% – the fastest growth on record

Patent applications worldwide grew by 7.8% in 2015

More than 3 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2016 – a record number


As technology advances, the wants and needs of people evolve with it and the need for something new has never been stronger. Consumers are increasingly demanding innovations that make a real difference and enhance their lives – and innovation does not have to be about new products. People are looking for new experiences too, so innovation in how we market, engage with and connect with customers is as important.

  1. Urban concentrations

The majority of the globe’s population now lives in cities and this will continue to increase in the decades ahead. By mid-century, most of the top 10 mega-cities in the world will be in the developing world. With urbanization generally comes longer life expectancies and greater economic prospects.

  1. Demographic shifts – Millennials & the rise of Gen Z

Millennials now account for almost half of the employees in the world. They’re the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s. Millennials are committed to working as hard as other generations but they value work/life balance more than any other generation. They seek purpose, values, connection, community, feedback and environments that engage them.

More than any previous generation, Gen Z (born after 1996) are true digital natives who have never known life without the internet or smartphones and get their information from many sources. Gen Z is a generation that has higher expectations than millennials, are better multi-taskers, are more global and big on individuality. By 2020, Gen Z is expected to account for 40% of the purchasing consumers in Canada. Certainly worth paying attention to.

So, taking these observations into account, the only thing to do is embrace the chaos. There is no tried and tested blueprint for us to follow, or one-size-fits-all solution. The ultimate survivors in a VUCA world will be those who dispel assumptions and redefine the rules for themselves. Speaking of blueprints, in the wise words of Sean Carter, aka Jay-Z (during a studio session of the pre-album launch of Magna Carta Holy Grail), “We don’t have any rules. Everyone is trying to figure it out, that’s why the internet is like the Wild Wild West. We need to write the new rules!”


Brendan Nkala-Hill is an Insights & Strategy Coordinator at Trampoline. Want to get his help understanding and connecting with your target audience in this VUCA world we’re living in? Get in touch at [email protected].