Tired of “VUCA”?

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

In recent years, many organizations have started liberally using the term 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.

Over the past 2 or 3 years, we have 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 specifically to avoid using the term VUCA.

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

cartoon: leadership in whitewater

A VUCA Alternative: RUPT

In response, CCL tapped its own knowledge and research into leading in complexity and developed and offered to our clients an acronym that more readily connects the experience of turbulence with the leadership necessary to navigate the turbulence.

The acronym is a word in its own right, but not typically used alone: RUPT. As an acronym, its stands for Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled:

  • Rapid: The changes we experience come at us fast and furiously. 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 are so easily lured into believing complex challenges are problems with one right solution, rather than seeing them as polarities that must be leveraged. Leadership is replete with polarities that must be leveraged if we and 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. If we can see these dilemmas as polarities and respond accordingly, we can have our cake and eat it too.
  • Tangled: Everything is connected to everything else. Here we can refer to a principle from chaos theory and the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world is the trigger for a storm far away in another part of the world. We hear terms that imply the connectedness of everything — the global village; the world is flat. We live in multiple ecosystems, all of them having connections within and with each other that we might overlook in our attempts to strategize and implement strategy effectively.

RUPT Explained

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

In Modern English, this meaning has been applied figuratively to the manner of a person who speaks or acts suddenly and curtly, or to things that change suddenly; such as “breaking off” unexpectedly.

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.

Dis-rupt-tion happens when RUPT is in play and leadership fumbles. For example:

  • when an organization is not agile, or it over-relies on prediction, to the detriment of adapting;
  • when the paradoxical tension between rapid adapting and stable predicting (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 rather than linear or logical.

And as one client put it, reframing VUCA helps us take a step closer to the leadership needed to navigate what we are experiencing.

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