The Solution to VUCA in Business

Boss-EL2017-46By Lee Murray, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and Business Leader Postgraduate Scholarship recipient.

On the 15th of May, I had the opportunity to attend an event by the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Boss Magazine at the Ivy Ballroom. Hosted by AFR’s Tony Boyd, the event featured a panel of guest speakers to discuss strategies on finding the solution to VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) in today’s business world.

The keynote speakers were Dr Catherine Ball, known as the ‘The Dame of Drones’ for her work in environmental protection using drone technology, and Dr Lisa O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer of the Smith Family. Joining them for a panel discussion was Professor Kai Riemer, Professor of Information Technology and Organisation at the University of Sydney Business School.

Dr Catherine Ball opened the night with her speech focusing not so much on VUCA, but the speed of change in today’s business environment. Technology continues to progress rapidly and changes the way people live their lives, opening new opportunities for the agile entrepreneur. To stay ahead of the change, Dr Ball stressed the importance of being creative and acting fast. To be creative, a different point of view is required. By simply sitting somewhere different, one has a different point of view and can observe what they hadn’t before, opening the door to opportunity. This simple analogy can transform the way we see problems and lead to creative solutions.

Dr Lisa O’Brien provided three key strategies for individuals to succeed in a VUCA business world:

  1. Utilising personal experiences to make you stronger and more resilient allows an individual to advance through uncertainty.
  2. Reflect on yourself and experiences to develop your leadership, it is about knowing yourself better.
  3. Focus on building capability not just skills by taking on new opportunities as they come and to feel challenged.

A panel discussion rounded off the formalities for the night and several engaging topics were discussed. The challenges for young people and their future workforce characterised by VUCA was discussed at length, and the panel provided their advice on how to succeed. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills were identified as being highly desirable to secure a broad range of jobs in the future due to rapidly advancing technologies. An example is the advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence which potentially threatens future employment. The panel voiced differing views on the level of threat to employment by robotics and AI (artificial intelligence), however all agreed that AI ends when human creativity begins. This reaffirms the importance of creativity in a VUCA world.

The panel event was an excellent opportunity to hear from exceptional thought leaders on how future leaders can succeed in a VUCA business world. Strong leadership developed through reflection, creativity leveraging different points of view and agile positioning will allow a faster response to the fast-paced change that lies ahead.

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