It has become one of the trendiest acronyms to throw about. VUCA is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq! This terminology is resonating with an increasing number of CEOs as they try to make sense of the constantly changing challenges brought on by politics, economics, society and the environment. Even though VUCA represents 4 distinct challenges, combining all of them as an excuse for not being able to rise up seems lame. What is suggested, it seems, is to shift from an approach based around problem solving and planning aimed at reducing uncertainty, to a world where progress is made by actively engaging with uncertainty, requiring higher levels of leadership agility.
Such an agile leadership needs to be interconnected, interrelated and interdependent at a level we’ve not seen so far in current prevalent leadership structures.
Talking about structures, most of us are aware by now that structures come about due to underlying mental models driven by mindsets, beliefs and values. Remember this iceberg?
Thinking BIG Picture all the time, taking decisions based on intution as much as analysis is going to be staple for “VUCA” times (as though earlier times were any different?!). But what could such a Leadership Structure look like? Can the current compartmentalised CXO structure with its subordinate Managerial layers work?
Or will there be new roles and/or skills needed to specifically manage Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity? The first hints for an optimum solution may well have been revealed a century ago by one of the early champions of Atomic/Nuclear Physics, Neils Bohr.
The Holy Trinity
Niels Bohr was one of the foremost scientists of modern physics, best known for his substantial contributions to quantum theory and his Nobel Prize-winning research on the structure of atoms. The nucleus of an atom is composed of positively charged Protons and neutrally charged Neutrons (discovered by James Chadwick), both bound together by Nuclear Force.
Electrons are negatively charged and revolve rapidly round the nucleus on account of their attraction to Protons via a electromagnetic force. There is no change in energy of Electrons as long as they help revolving in the same energy level and the atoms remain stable. The Bohr model shows that the electrons in atoms are in orbits of differing energy around the nucleus. It is like planets orbiting the sun. Take a look at the picture again, do you see the Solar Planetary System? In ancient Hindu Mythology, sages interpreted this systemic relationship metaphorically through the trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh (Electron-Proton-Neutron), but that’s an ocean of a topic for another day. For now, it suffices for us that Bohr’s model of the atomic trinity and the relationship shared give us the Leadership mantra needed for our so-called VUCA world. Since we’re still fond of “CXO” titles, we’ll coin similar sounding ones for our proposed trinity, shall we?
Chief Generative Officer:
She’s the creative-generative one. She’s the electron with the boundless energy needed for creation and generation. Modern Physics shows us that it is electrons that are shared between atoms to create Molecules. She’s the one with the new ideas, the boldness to surf unchartered waters and the chutzpah to forge M&As. She is not just understanding the mind of the evolving customer but is always a few steps ahead, thinking like and on behalf of him.
She’s launching waves & ripples of products & services that not just cater to flippant & demanding customer needs, they leave competition confounded & gasping for breath. She’s creating new worlds, new territories, reshaping geographies, demographies, habits, cultures, beliefs, mindsets, structures et al. It’s almost as if she sits in the minds of consumers, critics & competition, making them think and act exactly the way she wants them to. As though she’s scripted their “karma” for them! Her creative & executive precision is legendary. It’s almost as if she was born as thought herself and was an active part of everything ceated and generated. But there’s something unique that seperates her from any other similar titled “officer” one may find around… she’s morally, dutifully & inextricably bound to another colleague in the Trinity that their actions are mutually complementing & neutralising to ensure the system sustains. His veto is the equanimity that controls her exhuberance and helps sustain her creative-flair…
lly, dutifully & inextricably bound to another colleague in the Trinity that their actions are mutually complementing & neutralising to ensure the system sustains. His veto is the equanimity that controls her exhuberance and helps sustain her creative-flair…
Chief Operating Officer:
Sorry for the cliched title, it just fit into the acronym. What we have here is the gentle Nurturer-Operator, the unbiased, caring yet dispassionate patron. He is the proton who is always positively charged yet neutral in action. He’s as bound to the “boundless” energies of the electron “CGO” as she is to his stable state of preservation. He’s the one that ensures the atom remains stable through all of the creative-generative upheavels it goes through. He nurtures talents, skills and leadership. He builds culture. At a deeper level, he nurtures self-effort and strengthens values, equanimity, dispassion & spirituality. He rewards those who give their best without expectations, gently punishes those who don’t. It’s a simple game of snakes and ladders, laws of “karma”. When the CGO’s creative-generative exhuberance causes an unmanageable imbalance within the enterprise, he steps in (only for that event) to restore calm. How often he can intervene to prolong her unbridled creative process is directly proportional to the equilibrium (the nuclear force) that binds him with his equal partner. This third entity has a mysterious yet real bond with the COO. IT is purposefully calm & meditative as long as the COO is himself purposefully yet dispassionately in action. The moment the COO becomes involved, trying hard to justify good vs bad or in an attempt to prolong the CGO’s creative tenure, or to maintain status quo, IT’s dance of disruption begins…
Chief Disruption Officer:
Yes, as tempting as it was to title it “destruction officer”, I avoided it because that would have been unfairly misleading. Destruction is “relatively” easy. (We humans do it well!) Disruption is NOT. It demands controlled ruthlessness in an almost celebratory dance form.
Neutral, calm and in a meditative state, completely aware of everything the COO & CGO are doing yet completely detached. Pure observation with pure consciousness. Deliberately and dramatically intervening ONLY when needed to completely change the course of this well-established systemic movement. Look at it one way, it may seem like destruction. In fact, look closely at images of subatomic particles and what you see is the same cosmic dance!
But in the context of interconnectedness, interrelatedness & interdependencies between the creative & nurturing forces, a disruptive force completes the triad to burn the page and start a new story, not to burn the book. (That job is best left to Energy HERSELF!). Why is this necessary in a VUCA world? More so than ever if you think about it. Remember the CDO along with the COO form the Nucleus. So, the CDO & COO are in absolute sync, taking accountability and responsibility for each other’s actions. Seamlessly giving and receiving the baton of change. That’s when the nurturing mechanism for a system will exist until the next impending self-disruption! NOT wait for external causes to inflict disruption (destruction?)!
Think about it. Creative force in full flow, mentored by a nurturing force that questions appreciatively, which in turn gets checked every now and then by a (finite number of) self-disruptive force. Each being “karmically” accountable & responsible to ensure that the system survives VUCAs and more. After that, Energy steps in to do what’s needed…