When Complex Turns to Chaos – from VUCA to BANI

The speed of change we are all experiencing is too high to be explained by complex and ambiguous, writes Dr. Riitta Lumme-Tuomala.

24.03.2022

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We all know the infamous phrase from the philosopher Heróclito de Efeso; “The only constant is change”. If it ever made perfect sense, it is now.

For quite a long time, a concept coined decades ago, “VUCA”, has been used to guide organizations in the nowadays interconnected and digital world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

In view of the drastic changes and events in the world during the past two years, “VUCA” seems a little obsolete and has been thus replaced, or completed, by “BANI” – brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible.

The speed of change we are all experiencing is too high to be explained by complex and ambiguous. Chaos has replaced “complex” and “volatile”, anxiety is caused by the world being non-linear, not allowing us to get away with proven methods and tested ways of working. Incomprehensible, the “I” in BANI, requires us to use intuition: When something is incomprehensible, we most probably have no time to fully explore it before making a decision but we are forced to rely on intuition.

Training employees in soft skills is essential not only to avoid the feelings of anxiety but to face the times to come, and the changes that are inevitable."

Brittle is fought with resilience. Resilience is built in a culture of collaboration, and requires, among other things, investing in training, especially in soft skills that can contribute to empathy both at the company level and individually. Empathy together with mindfulness is crucial in dealing with anxiety. All in all, training employees in soft skills is essential not only to avoid the feelings of anxiety but to face the times to come, and the changes that are inevitable.

Research shows (McKinsey & Co., 2021) that the skill building efforts after COVID-19 pandemic have focused particularly on two areas: social and emotional skills, and advanced cognitive skills. These two areas show the biggest growth compared with 2019. The message is very clear: BANI cannot be dealt with technical skills only. Technical competence, especially dealing with data, digital, and AI are needed more than ever. But we need people skills to cope. And we need to balance them in organizations and in individuals.

Make sure your organization is ready for the future, whatever comes. According to another research (Bain & Company, 2021) there are some practices for organizations to prepare their teams to face the future. One of them is

"Don’t cut back on management development." The researchers also emphasize that social and emotional skills need to be included in the development efforts. Another practice is making sure you understand what tomorrow’s stars want from you. The expectations are high, and diversity and inclusion are crucial when looking at them.  

Let us help your organization to be ready for the future. And to work in the most effective way already today.

Dr. Riitta Lumme-Tuomala is Head of Growth at Aalto EE, responsible for strategic marketing, communication and alumni relations. She is also responsible for developing Talent Management and High Potential concepts and programs.

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