VUCA: An introduction and understanding Volatility

The term VUCA have been heard in many places. There are numerous books on the topic. The question is; how does this acronym affect my life? Better yet, what does this mean to me in my daily life? These are good questions to ask. With the current reality of COVID-19 the world has recognized once more that VUCA is a true reality for us all.

VUCA is an acronym, each letter explaining one element of the world we live in.

V – Volatility signifies the high levels of fragility in some elements of life.

U – Uncertainty conveys the unpredictable elements of life.

C – Complexity explains the entanglement of different elements. Many of these elements are often unknown to each other and yet it influences each other.

A – Ambiguity is often referred to the fake news around us. It is often protected by vagueness and obscurity.

The dialogue around VUCA should not make us fearful, it should awaken us to the reality of life and inspire us to cross over to live resiliently within it. The combination of meaning of VUKA in Zulu and Swahili explains this brilliantly. When a Zulu would use this word, the meaning that they convey is one of intense awakening. He/she is figuratively telling the listener to wake up from sleep and see what is actually going on. It also means to rise to the occasion. One thing we are definitely forced to do in the COVID-19 scenario. When a Swahili person says VUKA he/she is encouraging the listener to cross-over. It invites us not to stay where we are but to move on to the new.

VUCA is an acronym which should not only be studied in its separate parts. The connection between the different elements needs careful consideration. For example, the Volatile scenario of COVID-19 influences and increases the elements of uncertainty and complexity. It even has an element of ambiguity within it.

During this blog series we will have an in-depth look at each element of the VUCA acronym. This week we look at Volatility.


Fragility is the quality of things that are vulnerable to volatility – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Volatility is the tendency of an element to change for the worst. There are more than 30 volatile elements or projects in the world. For something to be a world volatile project, it has to affect the life of more than 1 Billion people. This influence is mainly unhealthy. Some volatilities in this world is volatile on local scale but not global scale. The 30 + projects are things that contributes to world volatility. Let me share 4 of these projects with you:

  1. COVID-19

Until 3 months ago, COVID-19 was not on our list of volatile projects. The corona virus has not infected so many individuals currently, if compared with other viruses during the ages. It is however growing exponentially and has influenced many industries unrelated to the virus. For now, the long-term effect of the influence cannot be calculated but we are already seeing signs of it.

  1. Food

The rate of children dying in Africa is increasing because of malnutrition. Food security has been a debatable issue for years. For example, South Africa produced food for many countries in Africa and beyond. This has declined dramatically in the last decades.

  1. Water

The saying goes; “water is the new oil”. The one who controls the water controls all else. Infected and poor quality of water for household usage influences all our lives. 12 of the most populated cities in the world are currently experiencing a water crisis. In some parts of the world, water is being taken from locals and sold to them at a substantial price.

  1. War of Data and the Hacker attack

Elections in various countries has been influenced by data and the manipulation thereof. Countries create closed circuit data-control systems. Hackers are closer to our data than ever before, getting control of our lives at the touch of a button. This war on the control of data, many times revealed through media has an effect on nations, the minds of its people and the economy. A police men in one of the most sophisticated stations in Germany said, “the criminals are always one step ahead of us when it comes technology.”

We cannot control or predict the VUCA elements. The one thing we can do is to take control of our own lives and build resilience. Resilient living will support us in thriving in the VUCA world. There are many elements of Resilience that helps us to handle volatility. Let me share 3 of them:

  1. Healthy Finances.

Without cashflow it is difficult to adjust when sudden change occurs. In the current situation we see many who just pile-up debt because there are no adequate cash resources. After the lockdown in various countries it would be good to take immediate steps to save 3-6 months expenses to be able to handle future volatility.

  1. Healthy body.

A fragile body is more vulnerable to volatility. During the COVID-19 situation, it is unfortunately the fragile that is more prone to get the virus. A healthy body can react to any change and handle stressful situations in healthy ways.  Too many addictive behaviors and unhealthy habits can postpone timely response to volatility. During the lockdown time in your country, build a healthy sleeping rhythm and get adequate movement at home.

  1. Healthy thinking.

Gratitude and thankfulness are great ways to build healthy thinking. Volatility has the ability to grip people instantly with unhealthy fears. We lose all sense of logic and perspective. Gratitude helps us to have a realistic view of life, when we experience peace and when we feel the pressure. Healthy and timely thinking is needed is times of pressure. During this time seek ways to grow healthy thinking. One of the best ways to do this is playing chess and other board games.

Not only do individuals need Resilience but organizations also need to build Resilience. There are many elements that helps organizations build resilience, let me share 2 that are foundational:

  1. Healthy Vision.

The vision of the company can bring peace when things are up and down. Vision connected to social responsibility will especially motivate millennials. A simplified vision in times of volatility will create passion. Vision will build a sense of purpose and bring renewed focus to the organization.

  1. Healthy Culture.

During volatile times people need to be comforted and cared for. Literature increasingly confirms the role that a healthy culture plays in creating psychological safety. People have fears within the unknown elements of volatility. People want to feel safe in these times. A healthy culture and rituals can go far in times of volatility. As leadership of an international organization we meet every morning for 30 minutes during this time. Not much can be said in 30 minutes but the 30 minutes builds connection and a sense of family. In the midst of COVID-19, it is not the physical elements of culture that creates safety. It is the shared DNA that keep people connected. In this time create small rituals as teams. Allow individuals and teams to choose one value of the company they want to work on. Then create small team and individual habits that can aid in building the value concretely.

Resilience is a life-long pursuit for both individuals and organizations. We trust this series assists you to further develop Resilience.

How can we support you to grow in Resilience during April?

Option 1: Resilience e-coaching.

  • In 3 individual sessions of 1 hour each, with a senior xpand coach, you work step by step through the process. And at your own pace.
  • The end result is a clear resilience training plan for the rest of 2020.

Your investment: The coaching sessions, book, workbook and scan – including VAT, excluding courier costs.
Normal: R 5 900 – Now in April: R 2 900.

Option 2: Self-guided process.

  • Resilience package: book, workbook and scan

Normal: R490 – April R350, – incl. VAT. Excluding courier costs.

Option 3: Online materials.

  • The Resilience Book is also available on Kindle.

We wish you all the best in developing your Resilience and adapting during these times.

This blog series is written by Cias Ferreira – Xpand Consultant, Coach & Trainer

Empowering individuals and organizations to thrive.