The downsizing of our world during the pandemic of this year 2020 is predicted as promising a “new normal” of VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – swift, unexpected change, surprising happenings, confusing issues, and multiple possible factors – seeming chaos.

This acronym came out of the war college in Carlisle, PA, attributed to General Thurman, who in 1992, characterized “strategic leadership environment in those terms” [1] VUCA was originally used in military education. However, it seems Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus first used it in 1987. [2]

An interesting note in Wikipedia on VUCA included a reference by Bill George [3] who gave it a different twist: Vision, Understanding, Courage, and Adaptability in a Forbes article on leadership today.

Finally, Adam Gordon [4] of the Oxford University (U. K.) suggests the acronym TUNA – turbulent-uncertain-novel-ambiguous – for his 5-day Oxford Scenarios Program as a method of direction-finding and strategy formation that is non-predictive of how the future may unfold in two or more sets. His OSP uses what he terms “Strategic Reframing” – Oxford’s Scenario Planning Approach – which contrasts alternative future scenarios with already managed systems. This is an interesting process.

Where does design thinking fit into our new challenge of VUCA/TUNA? Forbes to the rescue with its own definition of design thinking: “Design thinking combines creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained. It’s a mindset focused on solutions—not the problem.” This short article from the IT company TEKTONIKA presents design thinking as a “tool of innovation that turns abstract ideas into practical application for maximal business growth.”

In a world of confusion and turbulence, as appears to be upon us already, design thinking is the survival tool in a fast-changing climate in which old companies will need new direction and makeover to hang on to its existence and new companies will burgeon in a new environment of fresh growth. Flexibility and agility will be the two legs future companies will need to run through a new world of innovation.

It will be design thinking that will unlock the potential of creative, imaginative companies as key for survival with new growth or new startups to match the challenge of complexity and ambiguity. Design thinking will open doors to resources not previously considered and will give “Shark Tanks” opportunities to invest in young entrepreneurs with new visions.

Design thinking is the growth mindset touted by Carol Dweck. The take-away of this brief blog is: Design thinking is the soul of a dynamic company; innovation is its epiphany.

  1. Mackey, Richard H. Sr. Translating Vision into Reality: The Role of the Strategic Leader. (Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, 1992), 10. Footnote: 15
  2. Bennis, Warren; Nanus, Burt (1985). Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge.
  3. George, Bill, (2017) ; A Strategy for Steady Leadership in an Unsteady World, Forbes
  4. Gordon, Adam, (2016) ; You say VUCA, I say TUNA, Oxford University