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Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity

By Steve Geary | 08/17/2013 | 10:34 AM

I just read a short piece on Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, and they condensed it into an acronym, VUCA.  It’s a pretty quick read and worth the time.  Military logisticians have to be prepared to live in a word characterized by VUCA:  that’s what happens in the fog of war.

Military thinkers have been playing with VUCA for at least 20 years, and VUCA is now creeping into the business world.  “Relying on the past works when change is gradual and innovation is incremental. But during disruptive times, required responses to change are not evolutionary but revolutionary.” 

Military thinkers – and that includes logisticians - have to be decisive; if you spend too much time watching, you lose.  With the paradigm of VUCA, you can’t afford to wait for things to evolve.

, and while I’m pretending to be productive, it seems that looking out the window occupies as much as my time as the computer screen.

As the VUCA article says, “leadership agility and adaptability are now required skills if organizations are to succeed.”  That’s a bland formulation.  If you want to really get a feeling for what VUCA means, take a train along the Northeast Corridor, and ponder.  The business disruption you’ll see out the window took a century.

Baltimore was once a thriving seaport, the closest major seaport to the Great Lakes, back when that conferred some sort of advantage; the chemical industry on the run past Wilmington up to Philadelphia is now best described as empty lots, some of them superfund sites; the abandoned factories of Newark are a sharp contrast to Liberty Airport; in Bridgeport, acre after acre of emptiness where there once were blocks upon blocks of factories pumping out machine tools for the world. 

With today’s clockspeed it feels like the next century of disruption is being packed into this decade.

Here’s a tip for you, if you are a logistician.  You know we live in a land of VUCA these days, and the tempo is speeding up.  If you’re like me, you’re not quite sure how do adapt.  Go hire some of these young officers who are hanging up their uniforms, after a decade of war. 

You’re just learning what it is, and it’s all they have ever known.



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About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.


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