There’s a phrase that emerged out of military strategy some 30 years ago that tried to encapsulate the fact-paced reality of operating in challenging environments.
It was VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and it was quickly seen as offering a guide not only to warfare, but also for how businesses needed to envisage the combative corporate battlefield.
Right now, it’s very VUCA out there.
When I talk to our clients — and we are fortunate to have some of the biggest and most complex organisations, government agencies, miners and corporates on our books — that feeling of uncertainty runs through every conversation.
Whether the challenges are economic, with inflation, poor supply chains, and the rising cost of capital, or social, with labour shortages and growing inequality, or geopolitical, with the Ukraine War and other tensions, business leaders feel under siege.
And those immediate shocks don’t even begin to address the enormous structural changes still to come with technological change and as we try to respond to the worsening climate crisis.
For some of our clients, this means operating on multiple planes.
They are spending more time scanning the horizon, trying to process the potential threats and detect opportunities. At the same time, though, they are trying to filter out that noise to conduct their operations.
Regardless of what might be happening in NATO or in the South China Sea, you have an obligation to make sure your people arrive and leave work safely.
It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump is doing in the US, or what the Reserve Bank did with rates this month, you need to be on top of your environmental compliance and meeting your responsibilities in protecting the planet.
Those crucial activities don’t change, even if the operating environment in which they need to be performed is in upheaval.
So how can you balance those responsibilities? How do you manage the VUCA assault? Well at the risk of introducing another four-letter term, there’s another approach born from military strategy that has also made its way into management, known as the OODA Loop.
At its simplest it speaks to four steps – Observing, Orientating, Deciding and Acting — to address challenges or threats.
And while leaders might lean towards the latter two steps, making a decisive judgement and acting on that decision, it is the first two that require the most effort.
What strategists have found is that investing time and resources in observing, capturing information and managing intelligence is absolutely critical for organisational success.
It allows companies to get full visibility into what is really taking place in their workplaces, on their properties, with their workforces, or as a result of their operations.
With the right observation, leaders can then orient their organisations to respond more effectively, based on a full and detailed picture of the context in which they work.
This means being able to analyse and synthesise the information they are capturing, building a long-term understanding of what is really taking place and continuing to validate and develop these insights over time.
In other words, having the right data informs the understanding that then allows good judgement and decisive action.
At INX, we are perhaps biased about the importance of capturing, collecting, analysing and synthesising good data, and we continue to break new ground in the way we provide intelligence in near real-time back to our clients to support their decisions and action.
But in a world that is only going to get more uncertain, knowing you can rely on data that is accurate, timely and real might be the only thing that can bring peace of mind.