The COA and VUCA


The concept of VUCA – which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – comes from the leadership and strategy work of the military after the Cold War. Military scholars have been studying the fundamental concept of leadership since the Cold War, through the September 11 attacks, and into this current period of global shifting. We are in a very dynamic and volatile period in history, and the nature and the speed of change is much more severe, and the recovery time much shorter, than in past periods. This impacts the hierarchical, command-and-control leadership style of not only the military, but also many types of global organizations.

The rapid changes and ambiguities present in a VUCA world have a major impact on the human nervous system and thus on human behavior. To have to constantly deal with novelty and adjust to new and changing circumstances changes the way our brains work and hinders our ability to perform well and provide answers.

The tools included in the Cultural Orientations Approach (COA) help individuals and organizations learn how to work around VUCA. The COA’s tools help individuals formulate what their vision is, which is an answer to volatility. The COA helps us understand ourselves and others, which is an answer to uncertainty. It helps us gain clarity on our own and others’ behaviors, which is an answer to complexity, and gives us the cultural agility to work through ambiguity.

The COA is, in essence, an antidote to VUCA.

Karen Walch