If you think the world has gone upside down, rest assured you are not alone. The world has indeed changed in many ways since a short decade ago. It is a lot more uncertain and much more complex. The world’s leading consultants, who are masters in coming with acronyms, have one for this new phenomenon. They call it VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. And many of you would certainly agree.

In the past, if you are a leader in any category of business, you will have little to worry. Today, not only is the definition of category leadership in itself evolving, keeping oneself at the top is not something that one can plan for with any amount of certainty.

A mere 20 years ago, when I was a teenager, HMV was the leader in music retailing, and Borders, a huge chain of bookstores. Today, both have ceased to exist. Fifteen years ago, the thought of getting on a plane, buying your food on board, and paying to check-in your luggage is unthinkable. Nothing is certain anymore. Indeed, uncertainty is the New Normal.

Beyond business, almost every aspects of our lives are affected by VUCA. Consider politics, for example. A decade ago, it’s almost unthinkable that you can lose an election on a BN ticket in Malaysia or a PAP ticket in Singapore. Political analysts could routinely predict election results on numerous barometers, but that too has changed. It’s certainly not the best of times to be a politician.

How then do you plan your business in a VUCA world?

Every entrepreneur knows that failing to plan is planning to fail. But, if you can’t forecast your business activity, how do you plan for your manpower? If you can’t predict demands, how do you plan for supplies? If you can’t foresee changes in technology, how do you invest millions in current ones? These are precisely the questions that many SMEs ask themselves each day – and with great uncertainty.

However, the smarter entrepreneurs know there are things more important than predictability in businss. Vision is one of them. Being able to spot trends is another.

If you possess a vision and sense of direction of where you want to be, and ruthlessly implement on the basis of such a direction, no amount of volatiliy matters anymore. You will suddenly realise that the big picture is the same regardless of the transient small pictures. And to prepare for that big picture, you must also acquire the two ultimate skills to kick VUCA in the ass: the ability to inspire talents, and agility in the face of challenges.

I am an ultimate believer that labour might be infinite, but talents are finite. The businesses with the best pool of talents, win – all the time. That, and speed: in roll out, in fighting back, in shifting goal posts, and in cutting losses. Good luck with the VUCA.


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