Leadership in the VUCA World

The new world moves from the ‘Information Age’ to the ‘Imagination Age’ and individuals and organizations that are creative, nimble and quick to adapt, courageous, and forgiving, ready to move fast are the ones who will be the new icons

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The world is changing at lightening speed and survival depends on our ability to understand, be-jan-march-2017-fadapt and adjust to the needs of this world. The new environment now popularly known as VUCA was not how the civilian world was a few years back. The American military on the other hand has been exposed to this kind of an environment since the time they landed in Afghanistan and Iraq. That part of the world was so different, so volatile, and so unpredictable as compared to any situation the military had been exposed to in the past that the only way they could describe the situation was VUCA- and that’s how the acronym originated.

Today a lot of business heads and owners are finding the business world as challenging and complex as the American soldiers found Afghanistan and Iraq and the word seems to be resonating with corporates across the globe. New businesses are sprouting up everyday, old and stable businesses are getting wiped out. The models, the rules, the systems working fabulously today can be disrupted almost overnight with a new invention. It’s crazy and leaders are working overtime to figure out what the future holds for them and their businesses. It’s not easy always.

Take this CEO for example. His company was the leader of instant photography. It also had great R&D and from as early as the 1960’s they were doing research on the prospects of digital photography. Then in 1985 Gary DiCamillo sent a letter to his shareholders stating that “As electronic imaging becomes more prevalent there remains a basic human need for a permanent visual record”. So his company Polaroid decided to keep the focus on instant photography and not digital photography. By 1990’s the market was flooded with digital cameras and in 2001 Polaroid filed for bankruptcy. A pioneer in its field is today reduced to just a filter of one of your photo-editing apps.

Nokia the king of mobile phones does not exist any more. The company was not smart enough to realize that the need of the hour was smartphones. While Blackberry was the quintessential smartphone for a very long time it too was not smart enough to realize that the market was moving towards large touchscreen displays. The company lost out to Apple and today a company that dominated the smartphone market is just an app.

We all have read a Reader’s Digest at some point in our lives. The company could not digest the fact that print is on a decline. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Many big brands of olden days have succumbed to technology. HMV the British entertainment retailer at one point had 400 outlets but then came Amazon and music streaming services like Spotify and people stopped going to HMV forcing it to shut down. When it came to photo films Kodak ruled the world. Two-thirds of the global market share was owned by Kodak but even this giant could not survive in the new world of Instagram, Snapchat, and smartphones, and it is struggling to survive.

If technology caused a lot of old brands to die and be replaced by tech companies then its technology again that killed some of these tech giants.

This company once defined the Internet, yet unfortunately today Yahoo has been sold to Verizon. Today Google rules. Interestingly it is the same company that came to Yahoo in 1998 with an offer to sell it’s PageRank system (now known as Google) for as little as $1 million as the founders Larry and Sergey wanted to pursue their studies. The company was not interested. It was not interested when Mark Zuckerberg wanted to sell Facebook to Yahoo. So clueless was the company that in 2008 when Microsoft offered to buy the company for $44 billion it refused and finally in 2016 was sold for a meager $5 billion. The company failed to keep up with the emerging trends and the giant was demolished.

AOL introduced millions to the dial-up internet but was not fast enough to adapt. A company worth $226 billion was sold to Verizon for $4 billion approximately.

Zynga the company that released the game Texas Hold’Em Poker, Farmville, was Facebook’s most successful app developer but could not innovate enough and today is a fraction of it’s original glory. Another gaming company Nintendo was losing its edge but it tried to understand the need of the market and launched the game Pokemon Go. The game was a craze and Nintendo’s share prices skyrocketed. It did not stop here. It’s latest offering Super Mario, which can also be played on the iPhones and iPads, is keeping the company in good stead.

Hummer a brand synonymous with the rugged American image is no longer admired by the young, for it is now seen as a gas-guzzler bad for the planet. Hummer should have adapted but failed and collapsed. The big and the mighty are collapsing as the new order rules. New consumers, new technology, new ways of living, loving, buying and selling have made things very complicated for modern day businesses.

Survival in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world will depend on some critical factors.

COURAGE: Every business is undergoing a drastic transformation. Many old established businesses are dying. A leader is required who shall have the courage to take strong and sometimes even harsh decisions for long-term sustainability and profitability. He should have the courage to face failure. When nothing is certain you have to have the courage to very often trust your instincts more than the analytical reports. Lets admit it there is too much data both helping and confusing the decision makers. Believe in you.

CREATIVITY: If you have to lead with all the uncertainty around then you will need a lot of creativity to make that happen. Creative leaders have the ability to re-think, re-invent and re-model their plans in accordance with the volatile environment. In the landmark study done by IBM in 2010 almost all the CEO’s surveyed agreed that creativity was THE most important quality a leader should possess to be able to lead his organization successfully in today’s VUCA world.

CHARACTER: Character is not just about ethics but also about self-discipline. The future shall require very focused , very self motivated and very disciplined leaders who will not waver.

COMMUNICATION: The ability to talk fluently and express one’s ideas lucidly. With everything around them uncertain your team is depending heavily on your clear directions, which will be the key factor in the success of the whole group. So speak to them often and speak to them from various platforms. Today there are numerous ways you can communicate with your people-on social media networks, via personal messages, via the traditional email, but nothing can beat the charm and the impact of a phone call. Use all combinations to get the best out of your people and keep them motivated and charged up.

CLARITY: Clarity of speech comes with clarity of vision. A clear vision starts with defining the clear purpose of your business. For a car company the purpose is not making cars rather it is personal mobility. A clear purpose helps in giving a clear direction and helps everybody align in one direction. Leaders with a clearly defined purpose are more passionate and courageous to tread the unbeaten path when required if it’s in alignment with their purpose. Purpose helps you to never lose focus of the final goal. Give your people the freedom to innovate but never let them deviate or digress too far away and ensure that you are always there to provide them with strategic direction.

COMMITMENT –to the people, to the environment. Make sure the business is sustainable. Don’t just be committed to the balance sheet or the Wall Street. You need to be committed to the next generation and help make the world a better place. You need to be enthusiastic and find new ways to incorporate sustainable development.

The new world moves from the ‘Information Age’ to the ‘Imagination Age’ and individuals and organizations that are creative, nimble and quick to adapt, courageous, and forgiving, ready to move fast are the ones who will be the new icons. In this world of tomorrow almost anyone can be a leader, anyone can create a brand and topple an established brand and at the same time anyone can overthrow your brand. That is what makes the new era not just volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous but also exciting, extraordinary, enthralling and exhilarating! This new year fasten your seat belts for the ride ahead is going to be nothing like you have ever experienced before.

In the new VUCA world may you have the Vision ,Understanding, Courage and Ambition to overcome all obstacles!