To treat our own time period as though it is somehow exceptional feels intellectually and morally wrong.

Do we need a new lexicon or do we already have the right words that we are misapplying?

For a quarter century, a popular term to describe the modern strategic environment has been “VUCA,” an acronym meaning “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.” Coined at the U.S. Army War College in the immediate post-Cold War time, VUCA has been used (and overused) to describe anything not simple at the strategic level. But as Paul Kan, Jacqueline E. Whitt, and Andrew A. Hill discuss, the term is not only devoid of real meaning, it does not even accurately describe the U.S. in the 1990s. So, when one invokes VUCA, what is one intending to say, and how can one say it better or differently?

 

 

Paul Kan, Jacqueline E. Whitt, and Andrew A. Hill are members of the U.S. Army War College faculty. The views expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Image: The Black Death in London, circa 1665, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

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  • Bob

    VUCA came about because FUBAR was the one word that everyone understood, but what wasn’t politically correct to verbalize.

  • Michael Junge

    Fabulous podcast…gave me a lot to think about and actually moved me away from hating VUCA and instead to hating how most people use it and talk about it. Tomorrow is, and always has been VUCA. Yesterday is, and always has been stable, certain, simple, and clear (SCSC). Why? Because we don’t have time machines, but we do have memories and history books. The danger is in thinking that Joe SixPack in 1950 was living in a SCSC world – he wasn’t. Just like we look (and you looked) back at the 1990s as a pretty good time…but for the people living in the moment it was as VUCA as anything. And…to be honest, as a junior officer in that time I didn’t think so. Losing the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation was a pretty good feeling. Anyway -thanks for making me think.

  • Jim

    Good discussion. But if anything, this conversation strengthen my view of VUCA. I agree with many of the points expressed, however I feel the panelist fail to expand on the contextual nature of VUCA. External forces shape and influence environments and ecosystems that are highly VUCA or not. The comment by Micheal is spot on. Every period of time is both VUCA and modern at the moment. It is only in reflection that you can qualify the conditions relative to other periods. However, that does not dismiss that while perhaps unable to qualify at that moment, there are periods where you can “feel” or sense that something’s afoot and changing. VUCA is legitimate. It’s a matter of intensity and relativity. Right now there are many industries that are more vuca’d than others. And this due to the external disruptions shaping it. Thanks for the discussion. I always enjoy hearing counterpoints.

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