L&D: Preparing Learners/Performers for a VUCA World

VUCA – Volatility/ Uncertainty/ Complexity/ Ambiguity

VUCA has been around for a while. I’ve had clients bring it up in past projects. “We can’t teach them exactly how to perform in an uncertain future,” some have said.

No, I thought, but we can prepare them.

The Military does. The Police do. Firemen do.

I’ve always wanted to say, “It’s a VUCA, VUCA, VUCA, VUCA World” – paraphrasing the title of one of the classic, nonsense movies of all time.

Maybe it’s not a perfect fit. Maybe it’s too VUCA for you.

Preparing learners/Performers for VUCA

When the Performance Requirements – Outputs and Tasks and Stakeholder Requirements regarding the measurements of both Outputs and Tasks – aren’t quite Black & White.

When they are fuzzy. And/or moving. As in … moving targets. Or … they are worse than fuzzy … and they are unknown.


From the US Military (the Army)

The people who also brought us SNAFU and FUBAR and Kilroy Was Here.


In VUCA Nothing Is Rote

But it is not that you are unsure of whether the context is Playing Tiddlywinks, Playing Football, or Cooking on an Outdoor Grill in the stadium parking lot.

It’s not that fuzzy or unknown.

You can start with a some semblance of a Goal and a Context and Performers and who are the Others in the VUCA sandbox. Fuzzy or Stable.

Because you have to start somewhere, or throw your hands up, give up, and go away.


I Would Use Master Performers in a FGP

I’d assemble a group of handpicked Master Performers who have been there and done that regarding Performed in a VUCA environment – plus other SMEs as appropriate – those who think they know something about that unknown future context. Handpicked by the client or better yet, a Project Steering Team. The client and key Stakeholders.

I’d use a FGP – a Facilitated Group Process – for speed and accuracy, completeness and appropriateness.

The traditional alternative is to conduct observations and review documents and then interview/talk to each person in series, rather than in parallel, and then review what the people before said, and get corrections, additions and subtractions – and then do that for another round, or several rounds, battling semantics and perspectives, etc. And battle one’s own ability to “get it” when it might be very nuanced.

And where experts can miss up to 70% of what’s needed because what they know is mostly (70%) nonconscious.

Not that they – the assembled – would be perfect in predicting and reacting to the VUCA future based on what they know (consciously and non-consciously).

But who else would you ask?

I’d ask them to battle it out live and synchronously – F2F or online – and frame the learning via my Lesson Mapping tools and techniques.

Start with a rough (fuzzy) Learning Objective that should look more like a Performance Objective (or KPI).

Then define the APPO (Application Exercises).

And continue the backwards-chaining to any DEMOs.

Determine which (if any) of the APPOs need to be preceded by a DEMO: “here’s an example of what were going to ask you to do next).

Because Being Forewarned is Forearmed.

Learners would appreciate that – except those who want to learn about dealing with VUCA in a totally VUCA manner.

Those with not only a great deal of Ambiguity Tolerance – but who thrive on it and strive for it in their daily lives. (I’m being facetious).


Then determine what INFO(s) are needed to prep the learner/Performer for the possible DEMO and the “for sure” APPO – rather than throw them into the deep end of the pool (so to speak) with an APPO all by itself.

Which is sometimes the exact strategy one should use. But not all of the time.


Chain-Chain-Chain. Chain of I-D-As.

As in INFOs-DEMOs-APPOs. Successive sets (Sub-Rounds) each leading to greater and greater VUCA.


For fans of Sivasailam Thiagarajan (you know him as Thiagi) – you may recall that back in the day he’d always say, “All learning happens in the debriefing.”

That’s where he’d plan for and execute some “structured reflection” – although the casual observer might not see the structure.

That Reflection might include additional “what if” extensions of the scenario of the APPO – or brand new scenarios for discussion and reflection.

The military calls these AARs – After Action Reviews. Call then whatever makes sense in your context – using the language of your business.

Once Is Often Not Enough

Not one chain of I-D-A within one Lesson. And not just One Lesson. And not all bunched up in one extended setting/one Lesson.

Rather, spaced-out, man. Rounds of Sub-Rounds.


And perhaps shorter Lessons of one chain of I-D-As, and of course appropriately spaced out … unlike what the above graphic might inadvertently imply.

Perhaps. Or – multiple chains of I-D-As exactly as the above graphic might inadvertently imply.

Because … as Buzz likes to remind me/us: “As always – it depends.”


I’d Let the Master Performers Make Those Design Decisions

Not that they’d be perfect. But who else would you ask?

And then I’d Pilot-Test and Evaluate. And Continuously Improve.

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