Vademecum – from VUCA to BANI
We have been living in the world of VUCA - volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – for nearly 30 years. In 1987, when the United States Army’s military academy first used the term, it was a response to the anxiety surrounding the post-Cold War period. The events of the following years, bringing political and economic crises, cemented the world of VUCA in the consciousness of the wider public, especially in the business industry.(1)
In 2020, Jamais Cascio, in response to the uncertainties and unrest caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, updated the concept, creating a new acronym – BANI. The model he proposed is intended to facilitate an understanding of the impact of the pandemic, the context of the events we are experiencing, and perhaps most significantly, to help prepare for what the unpredictable future will bring.
B – Brittle
A – Anxious
N – Non-linear
I – Incomprehensible
Each letter of this acronym hides a meaning underneath.
“B” for brittle
The concept of the fragility of the world compares modern reality to a kind of house of cards. This sometimes-impressive construct is made of many smaller parts – energy, ecological, economic, or political systems. These parts are dependent on each other but lack adequate mechanisms to prevent failures. Thus, quite like a house of cards, the fall of one of them can cause the entire monumental structure to collapse. In this sense, a malfunction in one area of the economy triggers a chain reaction, the effects of which can be felt across the globe.
„A” for anxious
Every day we are inundated by a sea of stimuli and information, the amount of which far exceeds our cognitive capacity.
This feeling is compounded by mass media. Most of us own a smartphone, which offers access to hundreds of news stories from around the world. And as a common belief in the media goes: “bad news is good news.” The mass media is full of information-saturated with negative images, as these can cause a strong emotional response and guarantee audience involvement. Unfortunately, this audience does not remain unmoved as a result of this information – bad news generates stress and a sense of anxiety. And since news channels can offer information 24 hours 7 days a week, there seems to be no end to bad news. What’s more, this information breeds in us a sense of powerlessness – this is because as individuals we have little influence on, for example, the migrant crisis or Russia’s war policy, which can create in us a passive attitude towards seemingly inevitable events.
"N" for non-linear
A non-linear world is a reality in which the logical cause-and-effect relationship between events has been broken. Thus, the ramifications of occurrences cannot be predicted in any way, and may therefore entail completely incommensurable consequences. Moreover, the effects of some decisions can be long-term and reveal themselves long after the event itself.
A good example of this is artificial intelligence, the development of which is determining the transformation in other industries. However, we are not yet able to assess what shape this revolution will take or what its ultimate consequences will be. We will only know their full extent in a few, a dozen, or perhaps even a few decades.
"I" for incomprehensible
The incomprehensibility of the world is largely due to all the previously discussed aspects. After all, if the existing patterns are intractable and the logic linking events is questionable, it is impossible for us to understand, much less predict, the laws governing reality. In a world full of uncertainty and incomprehension, a sense of danger has become our unavoidable companion.
Panacea for BANI
In such a fragile, turbulent, non-linear, and incomprehensible world, traditional skill sets are no longer sufficient. As the technological revolution and its impact on industries active in the labor market continues, the competencies required of workers are undergoing an analogous transformation.
In an ever-changing world, the factor that determines the success or failure of working people becomes their willingness to adapt.
Alvin Toffler, a well-known American writer, businessman and futurist, claimed:
„The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (2)
Competencies of the future
Currently, there is a noticeable shift in the ever-present trends. While hard competencies, such as theoretical knowledge, digital skills, or language skills, are still highly desirable on the job market, many companies are placing more and more emphasis on soft competencies. These are no longer as easy to prove with a college degree or language certificate, as they are largely dictated by an individual's characteristics. (3)
According to a report by the Polish Economic Institute, the key soft competencies sought among working people will be cognitive and critical thinking skills, but also creativity. No less important are also expected to be social aptitudes, such as the ability to cooperate with others or negotiating talent, as well as effective team management.(4)
Upskilling and reskilling
Technology and the accompanying development of artificial intelligence are changing both the modern work environment and the very scope it covers. It would be naive to believe that said (r)evolution will be exclusively positive. Undoubtedly, some industries and professions will be affected by these changes more, others less, and others perhaps will cease to exist at all. What's more, new fields of activity will probably emerge, and thus new roles will be available for professional work, which may not receive as much attention today.
While the shape of the future cannot be fully predicted, it is still possible to prepare for it. Upskilling and reskilling, i.e. constantly improving one's competencies, but also acquiring completely new ones, make it possible to adapt to the fluid demands of the labor market.
Paradoxically, with help comes a factor that is significantly responsible for this instability of our everyday life today - technological progress. In the era of the interconnecting internet, information and knowledge have become common goods, available at the touch of a smartphone. What follows: there is no shortage of training courses, training, and even entire educational platforms on the web, which allow us to explore the secrets of almost any topic of interest in an attractive way. Moreover, thanks to their asynchronous form, even time constraints have become a secondary concern.
Nor does technology in the workplace always mean displacing the role of humans. Yes, it relieves employees of simple and monotonous tasks, such as duplicating, organizing, or synthesizing data. However, it is still up to the human to interpret the information acquired by the systems, as well as to make the final decision on the next steps to be taken based on it. Freed from repetitive tasks, working people have more time for activities that engage their intellect and creativity more.
Technological advances have allowed for new and unprecedented forms of work. More and more companies are offering flexible forms of employment in their repertoire, such as workation, remote work or hybrid work, which can have a positive impact on both the so-called "work-life balance" and the employee's productivity, but also his mental well-being. (5)
Employers also offer numerous benefits beyond monetary compensation.
Initiatives such as education and qualification subsidies, access to educational platforms, mentoring, and the buddy system are becoming more common to help an employee grow professionally. In addition to professional fulfillment, employers are more aware of the role mental health plays at work. Hence, they are increasingly offering psychological care or stress management training during working hours in their health packages as well.
Internet access has also expanded our networking opportunities. Building and maintaining relationships with those in the workforce is easier than ever. The network of contacts woven in this way opens up new opportunities. In moments of professional crisis, it can also be a kind of lifeline for us.
Perspective for the future
"The only constant is change."
These words were allegedly said by Heraclitus of Ephesus in the fifth century BC.
Today's reality, with ubiquitous technology and artificial intelligence in many ways smarter than humans, is arguably one of those Shakespearean "things in heaven and earth that are dreamt in your philosophy”. And yet, even twenty-five centuries later, Heraclitus' assertion remains relevant. The world is changing because it has always changed and will always change. This does not mean, however, that the new reality must be hostile to us.
The previously mentioned Alvin Toffler claimed:
"Change is the process by which the future enters our lives." (2)
In the face of a constantly transforming reality, the element that may determine our success or failure may be our openness to innovation and willingness to transform ourselves. And the technology driving the world's constant metamorphosis is at the same time a tool that can help us navigate these uncharted waters.
So, instead of fearing being swept along by the rushing river of change, with a proactive attitude we can learn how to swim with its current.
- „Świat BANI, czyli świat oparty na niepewności”, EY, 2023.
- “Future Shock”, Random House, 1970.
- „Resklling i upskilling. Czy to konieczność?”, Kariera w Finansach, 2023.
- Report „Kompetencje pracowników dziś i jutro”, Polski Instytut Ekonomiczny, 2022.
- Report “Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World”, International Labour Organization, 2023.
This article is a translation of a piece published in:
“Kariera w Finansach i Księgowości 2023/24” guide