The new year is off to a crazy start. It took less than a week for us to reach the brink of yet another Mideast war, and now we’ve got impeachment hearings in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom and a potential pandemic brewing in China. On the business front, Boeing continues to self-destruct, Tesla has passed Volkswagen to become the world’s second most valuable automaker and Jeff Bezos is accusing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia of hacking his cell phone. And we’ve only made it through January.
One thing is certain: It looks like we’re all in for a wild ride in 2020.
I guess we should be used to it by now. Afterall, 2019 was no walk in the park either. But it does seem like every year now brings with it a new level of crazy.
Business thinkers are increasingly using the term VUCA to refer to this new normal, an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In other words: the environment we all operate in today.
VUCA was first coined by the U.S. Army War College – the school that trains American generals – back in the late 1980s. The Army used it to describe the sort of chaos they could expect to encounter on the battlefields of the future. But today, many of the most important geopolitical battles are being waged in the boardroom instead.
The problem is that most of the tools we learned in business school were not designed for this VUCA environment.
Ops reviews are still valuable, because we need to see what worked and what didn’t in order to learn from our mistakes, but focusing on the last quarter is not an effective way of planning for an uncertain future. Real-time dashboards offer useful insights into the current state of the business, but also foster reactive behavior and distract us from the sort of long-term thinking we need to make our enterprises truly successful.
Both of these approaches are necessary, but so are methodologies such as Red Team Thinking that offer tools designed to help us challenge our assumptions, stress-test our strategies, uncover hidden threats and identify missed opportunities. These techniques were developed for the battlefield then ported to the boardroom, so they are ideally suited for today’s VUCA world.
But whether you use Red Team Thinking or some other methodology, the important thing is to recognize that the problems we are grappling with in business today are complex. And complex problems require thoughtful solutions.
So, as crazy as things may become in 2020, resist knee-jerk reactions and spend the time necessary to consider different alternatives, think about the ways in which your plans could go awry and take the steps necessary to ensure that they don’t.
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