Navigating Disruption With RUPT: An Alternative to VUCA

We offer an alternative to the overused “VUCA” acronym to help leaders rethink, reframe, and lead through the turbulence they’re experiencing.

Navigating Disruption With RUPT: An Alternative to VUCA

Why an Alternative Acronym for VUCA? 

Tired of hearing the acronym “VUCA” at work?

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity: You may be sick of the concepts that VUCA represents — or simply tired of the often-overused acronym itself.

In recent years, many organizations have started liberally using “VUCA” as a way to articulate or find a metaphor for describing the changing world in which we live, work, lead, and play. But this is often done without digging into its meaning.

For several years, we’ve been approached by clients not only to design and deliver programs that help their managers lead through the turbulence that characterizes the modern world, but also asked to specifically avoid using the term VUCA.

We think this is partly because of its U.S. military origins, and partly because VUCA seems to capture neither what they’re experiencing, nor how to lead through it.

RUPT (Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled)

Our Proposed Alternative to the VUCA Acronym

In response, we tapped our own knowledge and research at CCL about leading in complexity and developed an acronym that more readily connects the experience of disruption with the leadership necessary to navigate it.

We suggest RUPT as a VUCA alternative. It’s a word in its own right, but not typically used alone. As an acronym, RUPT stands for Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled.

  • Rapid: The changes we experience come at us quickly. They overlap with each other like waves emerging from different sources crashing in mid-ocean.
  • Unpredictable: We can analyze, strategize, and predict the future, but then something totally unexpected emerges (rapidly), challenging our assumptions and causing us to reframe our thinking.
  • Paradoxical: As leaders, we’re so easily lured into believing complex challenges are problems with one right solution, rather than seeing them as polarities that must be leveraged if our teams and organizations are to be effective in both the short and long term. For example, we must innovate for the long term, yet we have current businesses that must be managed both in the short and long term. We might be tempted to choose one or the other, but even for the short term, we really need to do both.
  • Tangled: Everything is connected to everything else. We hear terms that imply the connectedness of everything, like “the global village.” We live in multiple ecosystems, all of them having internal and external connections that we might overlook in our attempts to strategize and implement strategy effectively.

The RUPT Acronym, Explained

Rumpere, in Latin, means “to break, to burst.” With the prefix ab-, or “off,” the Latin forms abrumpere, “to break off.” And abruptus is the origin of the English word abrupt.

Rupture is an English word that still retains the literal meaning of “bursting,” as do disrupt and interrupt: all are derived from the same rumpere.

DisRUPTion happens when RUPT is in play and leadership fumbles.  For example, here are 3 possible scenarios:

  • When an organization isn’t agile, or it over-relies on prediction, to the detriment of adapting;
  • When the paradoxical tension between rapid adaptation and stable prediction (to name just one of many paradoxical tensions) freezes leadership; or
  • When rapid, unpredictable paradoxes are embedded in “tangled” causes and effect chaotic systems, triggering reactions that are more subjective than linear or logical.

If these challenging situations sound all too familiar, the good news is that RUPT™ also offers competencies for navigating complex challenges:

Use RUPT to Navigate Turbulence (When Leading in VUCA Conditions) 

3 Specific Approaches for Leaders

The mindset, skillset, and toolset emerging from this work enable leaders to move from experiencing disruption, to new ways of thinking, reframing, and navigating the turbulence they are experiencing.

Here are 3 specific approaches we recommend.

1. Nurturing & Practicing Learning Agility.

Since the turbulence is relentless and nothing can be taken for granted, developing learning agility is essential throughout your career.

At CCL, we define learning agility as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new and challenging conditions.” It’s an essential skill for leaders during times of change when both problems and their solutions lack clarity.

In a RUPT environment, we don’t have the luxury of relying entirely on sending our leaders through leadership development experiences. Instead, we need to see real-life challenges and mentoring as part of the 70-20-10 model of leadership development.

The developmental experiences must be designed around leaders’ actual complex challenges so that they’re equipped with the mindset, skillset, and toolset to handle these and further challenges.

2. Developing Leadership Across Divides.

We’ve researched and developed tools and processes that enable leaders to collaborate effectively across various forms of divides found within, and external to, their organizations. This enables leaders to create shared direction, alignment, and commitment so that they collaboratively develop innovative solutions to their RUPT™ challenges through a process of:

  • Creating safety within their own groups.
  • Genuinely respecting differences with others.
  • Developing personal trust with others and collaborating across boundaries.
  • Building community and true lasting interdependence.

3. Leveraging Polarities Inherent in Complex Challenges.

When leaders are confronted with complex challenges amidst disRUPTion, they tend to tap their well-developed problem-solving skills.

Such an approach can add even more complexity. Leaders need to take their thinking to a new level by recognizing seemingly unresolvable challenges not as problems to be solved, but as polarities to be leveraged — shifting their mindset, thinking, and decision-making from either/or to both/and.

When faced with the complex challenges riddled with competing priorities, a problem-solving approach applied independently of polarity thinking can lead to the worst of both worlds: a move towards the greatest fear associated with each dimension of the challenge, rather than the desired and greatest purpose of thinking and acting in terms of managing the paradox.

These are just some of the ways that organizations can approach navigating disRUPTion and turbulence in an inherently VUCA world.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Build your team’s capacity for navigating turbulence and disRUPTion with a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Boundary Spanning Leadership, Collaboration & Teamwork, Innovation Leadership, Leading Through Change & Disruption, Learning Agility, Managing Paradox & Polarity, and more.

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July 17, 2019
Leading Effectively Staff
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Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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