VUCA is an acronym coined by students at the U.S. Army War College to describe the state of the world after the Cold War: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. It has become a very popular leadership term as a shorthand way of describing an environment that is crazy and turbulent.
If we scramble VUCA, we get another acronym: CAVU—Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited. This is an aviation meteorology term describing conditions in which clouds are absent or are high enough (10,000 feet or more) that the pilot can use visual flight rules rather than instruments, and visibility is 10 miles or more. Pilots sometimes use this term as slang to describe anything that is desirable or sought after.
One critical capability can help you make the shift from seeing the world as a VUCA place to one where the situation is CAVU: resilience—the ability to maintain your effectiveness and well-being in the midst of high levels of disruption and turbulence. Some people think of resilience as a personality trait. I believe resilience is a process and an outcome that describes how people apply a set of “muscles” to achieve positive results when they face challenges.
I believe that you can practice and develop a set of mindsets and skills that enable you to respond more effectively to all kinds of challenges—not just those that are influenced by technology, but also life challenges of many kinds. You may have an aging parent or a child with special needs. You may start a graduate program, get married, move, or become ill.
There’s no doubt that we are living in a VUCA world, driven by forces such as globalization, interconnectivity, and the pace of innovation and change. Technology plays a huge role, of course: of SIOP’s top 10 workplace trends in 2019, almost all are directly or indirectly related to advances in technology and implications of technological change. This digital world presents a wide range of challenges—your job may change or go away; you may need to learn new skills, respond and adapt more quickly to innovations, figure out how to balance life and work when you are expected to be available 24/7, or learn to work with people from other cultures.
I also believe that you can use small challenges—a crabby customer service representative, a flat tire, a traffic jam—as a place to practice and build your muscles to deal with larger ones. As you learn to calm yourself, identify the best ways to approach challenges, solve a range of problems, and build a strong supply of energy you can draw on when you need it, you will prepare to take on and master larger challenges. You will increase your confidence and capability, and begin to recognize that even in the midst of a VUCA world, the possibilities ahead of you are truly CAVU.