Loss; impermanence; misalignment; atomization; system overload. Each is accelerating out of hand in its own special way. Resilience is in the gutters, metrics of fragility are worsening, long-enduring staples of stability are finding themselves on shakier ground: Our brains are in constant fight-or-flight mode.
Did you know there was an academic framework for that?
Resilience is in the gutters, metrics of fragility are worsening, long-enduring staples of stability are finding themselves on shakier ground: Our brains are in constant fight-or-flight mode.
BY DALL·E x RADAR
unstable, fragile, and often without threshold clarity.
BY DALL·E x RADAR
These realities are manifestations of a VUCA world — the predominant archetype describing our current paradigm, an acronym standing for Volatility(unstable, fragile, and often without threshold clarity); Uncertainty(unpredictable, random, and often without a decipherable pattern or adequate information); Complexity(unstructured, interdependent, and often without a clear start and end point); and Ambiguity(unclear, paradoxical, and often without a solution even despite adequate information).
Dating back to 1987 and attributed to the US Army College, VUCA was originally articulated as a navigational framework for the post-Cold War era. Since then, it has trickled down into political and military strategies, business studies, and management and leadership ecosystems. Today, all signs point to VUCA’s acceleration and intensification as its impacts become more pronounced in everyday societal dynamics — particularly since the pandemic. While 9/11 is considered an important catalyst, Niall Ferguson’s book The War of the World asserts that the roots of our VUCA paradigm can be traced further into 20th century violence, rippling outward into the disconcerting challenges we face today.
And the data suggests that there are more ripples yet to come.
According to the US Institute of Peace, the next 15-20 years are likely to be marked by more volatility. Among the 1,000 global experts and leaders surveyed in the WEF’s Global Risks Perception Survey, nearly 42% foresee the next three years being marked by increasing volatility with multiple surprises; a further 10% are looking ahead to progressive tippingpoints with increasingly catastrophic outcomes. BCA Research specified the risk of Armageddon has risen dramatically.
Meanwhile, the global decline in democracy and Russia-Ukraine War have accelerated fragility and fragmentation; the global rise in uncertainty has played a clear role in spiking anxiety and FOTU (move over FOMO); whereas low ‘fragility indexes’ for a majority of countries indicate potential futures of even more acute distress.
Coupled with the acceleration of change and densification of complexity, many believe VUCA is already an inadequate cartography for the state of our world today (and tomorrow).
There hung a chill in the air, though warmer than it used to be. She welcomes it; slowly, but eagerly, emerging from her home, bidding adieu to the long winter that lay behind, and welcoming the onset of summer. The snow was melting, but a little differently. The color, the texture, the strength: there was concerning variance. “This can wait,” she thought as she headed further out for a meal — stopping dead in her tracks. The snow ahead lay cracked and fractured — a blue-green waterworld was all that remained, stretching into the horizon with no end in sight.
If the polar bear’s experience — and its anxiety, anguish, and alienation — felt relatable, it’s because there are acute parallels to draw here. For now they’re metaphorical.
Like hers, our world is prone to change unexpectedly — sometimes even violently and abruptly. It can feel suddenly strange, unfamiliar, and anachronistic, provoking a sense of foreboding for the future.
Our world, like hers, feels like it’s ripping at the seams, fracturing like once-stable ice, calling out for urgent attention and repair.
While VUCA remains our most frequently referenced descriptor for the current paradigm, our rising unease — and emerging research — implore us to reconsider whether it reflects the above anecdote.
According to Jamais Cascio, we are now in an age of BANI — Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, and Incomprehensible. It may look and feel a lot like VUCA, but there are differences both subtle and stark.
While both brittle and volatile suggest a world that’s difficult to rely on, the latter indicates systems prone to episodic instability and disorder (think: the Russia-Ukraine War driving a global food & energy crisis). To be brittle, on the other hand, is to be in a state of constant hyper-fragility, waiting to shatter; so much volatility and so little time to return to equilibrium that we’re simply past it.
Brittleness fertilizes our ecosystem for anxiety, incentivizing shock-proofing and short-termism — making it that much harder to grasp incoherence.
Incomprehensibility is what you get when you try to make sense of a world in prolonged ambiguity: inundated by information overload, sensory overstimulation, and paradoxes of choice. BANI’s A and I mutually reinforce one another, as unabating anxiety reduces cognitive clarity, making messy complexities seem even murkier than they are.
At the root of this new paradigm is nonlinear ‘chaos’ — and not just the feeling of it, but the reality of it: non-deterministic, nonlinear systems thwarting any attempts to reconcile cause with effect, input to output. Consider climate change its magnum opus.