Revising VUCA: complicated not complex

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I’ve been uncomfortable with the usage of “Complex” – the whole of VUCA describes complexity.

In future, I will refer to VUCA as Volatile, Uncertain, COMPLICATED, and Ambiguous.


Complexity arises from a network of relationships between autonomous agents. I think, that’s my best understanding so far.
VUCA are emergent descriptive properties of the resulting system.

VUCA uses “Complex” to mean having too many moving parts to work out. The nearest it comes to what we think of as “complex” these days is in recognising lack of understanding of cause-and-effect.

Don’t confuse complexity (as in the sense of complex adaptive systems) with complicatedness. That’s why I changed it. Finding a vaccine is complicated. What the virus does is complex. As a result, the virus’s progress is VUCA.
It is volatile: the data changes unpredictably.
It is uncertain: will we find a safe vaccine and when? Will it mutate?
It is complicated: there is a global network of infection, lockdowns, treatment travel…
It is ambiguous: What is the IFR? How doen it transmit? Do masks work?

A bit of googling shows that Dave Snowden himself agrees “it doesn’t use complexity in the sense of complex adaptive systems”.

So Volatile, Uncertain, Complicated, and Ambiguous it is for me. Complexity gives rise to VUCA.

I’ve been reworking my picture of VUCA as a result.