“The only constant is change.”
If someone still harbored ideas about stability or immutability, by now they will have abandoned them or at least allowed them to rest.
We have gotten used to using the expression “VUCA” as a common description of the world, but in applying the volatility and uncertainty that are part of its definition, another term comes to mind that makes me rethink the world: “BANI”. Let’s take a look at what each term means, how they can affect us, and when to opt for one of these definitions over the other.
First, what do we mean by VUCA? It is a narrative or metaphor to help simplify our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous reality that we all live in today.
VUCA was created at the end of the 80s, when the end of the Cold War was already in sight and an unprecedented horizon was opening up without the confrontation of the two great powers. The United States Department of Defense developed a vision to describe the new world around four dimensions: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
Interestingly, this narrative has spread outside the strategic planning circles where it was born and has become commonplace in the business world. It has also taken shape as the upper hand in decision to adopt an agile philosophy and methods, which are by nature adaptive, and therefore better able to move in the rough waters that VUCA describes.
BANI: A Look to the Future
Foresight or futurism is a very broad and not well-known field of study that is dedicated to identifying trends, defining models and scenarios, and, in general, trying to glimpse where the world is heading. The IFTF (Institute for the Future) is an organization, born from the mythical RAND, dedicated to the study of the future. Jamais Cascio is one of the collaborators who coined the term BANI in 2016 and who is featured it in a recent article (“Facing the Age of Chaos”).
What does BANI mean?
- Brittle: the kind of illusive fortress that seemingly solid systems have but which can easily crumble. Examples of this are countries who are rich due to the exploitation of a natural resource that collapse with price fluctuations, or the monocultures of our modern agriculture which are very vulnerable to pests due to their low variability.
- Anxious: the anxiety caused by continuous changes. This anxiety can lead to passivity when you feel that changes are an avalanche and that there is no way to influence them. The flood of news from the media and “misinformation” also contributes to this.
- Nonlinear: the disconnection and disproportion between cause and effect. We may now be seeing the impact on the climate as a result of actions taken 40 years ago; could these consequences have been predicted then? What is the relationship between the minor act of hunting or eating an animal and the trigger for a pandemic that is changing the world? There is a great difference between the scale at which things occur and the scale at which we perceive them.
- Incomprehensible: the consequence of excess information and its often counterintuitive nature (like what occurs when AI or Big Data intervenes). Fortunately, what is incomprehensible today does not have to be tomorrow.
For Cascio, VUCA is becoming obsolete and does not fulfill its mission; when we are told that a system is volatile or ambiguous, we’re not learning anything new. A paradigm shift requires a language change. “BANI” encompasses instability and chaotic, surprising, and disorienting situations. “Ambiguous” falls short as a descriptor of how we experience the world; a better explanation is that our experiences are incomprehensible and generate anxiety.
Additionally, BANI goes beyond merely describing the current world to include ways to deal with those four challenges:
- Brittleness can be addressed with resilience and flexibility.
- Anxiety can be addressed with empathy and mindfulness.
- Non-linearity can be addressed with context and flexibility.
- Incomprehensibility can be addressed with transparency and intuition.
So, BANI or VUCA?
What will determine whether VUCA or BANI (or some alternative) prevails as a narrative of the world is not their objective ability to describe reality.
Both appeal to perceptions and the need to find meaning in the world, and the version that gains acceptance will be the one that best connects with our particular vision of reality at each moment.
There has always been uncertainty, misunderstandings about changes and their scale, and ignorance and anxiety about their consequences. Ideologies, religions, and on a smaller scale, methods and processes, provide us with solutions in the form of stable references that generate certainties and stability to cling to. I doubt that the perception of our life is less uncertain and stressful than that of anyone in the past: surely all of them perceived volatility, anxiety, or chaos in their world.
Another thing is that the real problems of the past and the present are comparable: from access to basic resources, to expectations for the future. Personally, either of the two visions can provide valid elements to reflect our world, but I think both are missing two fundamentals: variability and acceleration.
Although our world is much more homogeneous than ever, with a dramatic reduction in languages, beliefs, biodiversity, landscapes, and social organizations, each person’s personal experience is infinitely more varied than in the past.
If we transfer it to our work environment, we see the amount of knowledge, techniques, tools, methods, etc. that we use is enormous… and it has not stopped growing. In fact, it’s growing at increasing speed. That is the other distinctive sign of our time: “running faster and faster to stay in the same place.” It is a commonplace to speak of “dizzying changes,” and we know that there are times when they accelerate dramatically (such as the one that saw the birth of the term VUCA). But one differential thing about our time is that change is accelerated even when there are no special moments that support it.
Our challenge is to deal with variability (uncertain, non-linear, ambiguous, incomprehensible) and acceleration (volatile, anxious, complex, fragile). Variability brings new visions like BANI, and acceleration contributes to making VUCA feel obsolete.
My particular formula is simplicity and adaptability. In the end, these two aspects are at the foundations of agility, and they promote the anti-fragility that characterizes the systems (and companies) that “navigate the waves of change,” another metaphor as worn as it is effective.
Is your world BANI or VUCA?
Either way, we can help you manage that change with our Change Management courses.