Search for VUCA on Google and the first result is from the Harvard Business Review, stating that:
“It’s become a trendy managerial acronym: VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and a catchall for ‘Hey, it’s crazy out there!’”
That article is from way back in 2014, showing that the concept is nothing new. So why should businesses have VUCA front of mind when considering content?
Vacuous concoction or new reality?
VUCA originated from the US military in the late 1990s and was soon seized upon by business consultants to describe a disrupted commercial world.
The idea that such disruption was something new is initially dismissed in a recent Financial Times article that refers to VUCA as a “vacuous concoction” – but goes on to reconsider this view.
The author, Michael Skapinker, produces a list of world events that have shaken businesses across the decades, showing that the idea of ‘change is the only constant’ is really nothing new. He describes a basic world order, post-1945, that was relatively stable and formed of The West, The East and the Developing World. There was volatility, but it happened within this framework.
Skapinker then highlights how this established geopolitical landscape has largely disappeared. Consider Trump’s erratic foreign policy, China’s strange hybrid of capitalism and totalitarianism, the rise of the far right across Europe, Brexit, and shifting loyalties in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria all refusing to defer to the superpowers.
Business people are imprisoned in China and Canada, journalists are brutally murdered and assassination squads roam the world, their paymasters no longer fearful of reaction from Washington, Moscow or the UN Security Council.
The article concludes that, in the face of this new type of disruption, corporate leaders need advice on international relations like never before. But does Skapinker go far enough to describe the new elements of VUCA? Not even close…
In addition to geopolitical turmoil there needs to be a consideration of how digital technologies are transforming the world.
The speed of innovation, and the fact that agility is more important than scale, creates all kinds of volatility and uncertainty to what were established ways of working.
The exponential growth in processing power combines with the availability of big data to add unimaginable levels of complexity.
And there is a new kind of digitally-driven ambiguity too. Access to information was radically transformed by the rise of social media, and then came fake news. Global powers, big business and extremists are all using technology to push highly targeted content at individuals to influence their behaviour. Sometimes that information is totally false, sometimes it is biased and sometimes it is balanced and true. There’s often no way to judge its veracity.
This is the increasingly chaotic landscape in which businesses must communicate with their customers and stakeholders. The challenge is massive – but so too is the opportunity.
Each business will have, among its employees and within its systems, all sorts of trustworthy expertise, data and insight. By accessing, organising and communicating this content, organisations can establish themselves as beacons of excellence in a storm of uncertainty.
The greater the disruption, the greater the need for quality information. Digital marketing allows businesses to focus on core audiences and provide them with the in-depth information they will value. Quality content, with high editorial and production values, makes an organisation stand out from the mass of mediocrity and unreliable sources. There is also a strong case for using print as a medium to signify quality and trustworthiness.
KPMG’s recent campaign, 30 Voices on 2030: The Future of Financial Services, is a great example of a brand using acknowledged experts to create content of real worth to its target audience. A video-led campaign allowed a broad digital reach while an attractive print report served as an impressive leave-behind that reinforced the quality and value of the message.
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are set to intensify. The case for intelligent business-to-business communication has never been stronger.