From VUCA to BANI: how to expect the unexpected

November 6th, 2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “From VUCA to BANI: how to expect the unexpected”
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During these unprecedented times you might have come across the acronym VUCA. This is a simple way to describe a complex situation through four key elements:

V – Volatility: lack of stability and predictability

U – Uncertainty: lack of ability to foresee what major changes might be coming

C – Complexity: moving in ways experts have never seen before

A – Ambiguity: problems in understanding what is the best course of action

VUCA is not new: it was coined almost 30 years ago by military strategists, and finally spread in the world of business during the last 20 years. It has been useful to describe the times we have lived in so far and helped us to understand the first impact of the pandemic situation, but now it is starting to become increasingly obsolete due to the speed of change we are all experiencing.

A recent and up to date approach was presented by Jamais Cascio during an IFTF (Institute of The Future) event. In Cascio’s view, the tools of the VUCA framework don’t help us to understand what will happen because the model describes the present reality. Cascio proposes that a more helpful concept to understand the future is BANI.

B – Brittle: easy to shatter, subjected to a total and sudden failure. 

A – Anxious: fear that any choice we can make might be the wrong one

N – Nonlinear: disconnection between cause and effect in time, proportion, perception

I – Incomprehensible: extremely difficult, if not impossible, to understand.

Something brittle is apparently strong and solid, but it can fall apart quickly because it lacks resilience. It seems to keep working very well right up to the point of collapse, and with the illusion of stability, we haven’t prepared a cushion for failure and may find ourselves unable to cope with the disaster. Sometimes brittleness can be caused by a single, overlooked point of weakness inside the system. 

When we are anxious, any choice can be potentially disastrous. We are constantly tense when experiencing anxiety, and we wait and watch our screens for the next bad news. Anxiety leads us to a state of passivity, since we fear to make the wrong choice and make things worse. Therefore, we tend to delay decisions and actions, and this can in turn lead to a psychological state of depression.

In a nonlinear world we don’t see a clear and obvious connection between cause and effect. The effect can be disproportionate in comparison to the cause that generated it, and therefore much bigger or smaller than we expected. Similarly, the result of an action might come with a huge delay or not be visible at all. Moreover, the effect can reinforce the cause that generated it in a circular way, the connections inside this process might not be clear and it may be impossible to identify a clear start and a clear end.

We experience an incomprehensible situation when we struggle to find answers and/or the answers are not convincing and/or we can’t really use those answers to drive further actions. We usually try to overcome this problem by increasing the volume of data available, but this can be counter-productive; the more we try to understand an incomprehensible situation, the more we feel overwhelmed.

Both VUCA and BANI offer us lenses through which we can decodify what’s happening around us and prepare to cope with it. We can use the same acronyms to describe the ability needed to respond to each element. For example, in the case of VUCA, to deal with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, the abilities we need are Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Agility. In reality though, these abilities are not so easy to find and they sound a bit simplistic and maybe even tautological. 

Turning instead to the BANI model, here is my proposal for a complementary set of attitudes inspired by BANI, based on my experience. 

B – Something Brittle can be managed with a solid B-Plan. Always prepare an alternative, even for something that is apparently working well.

A – The best way to cope with Anxiety is raising Awareness. We can’t manage something if we can’t control it, and we can’t control what we are not aware of.

N – A Nonlinear phenomenon must be approached with No expectation. We should maintain fresh eyes and a candid, open approach to cope with events, people and technology.

I – When something is incomprehensible we can’t wait to fully explore what’s happening before making a decision, so we must develop our Intuition and rely on it.


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