Corporate Diary: Unpacking the Value of a VUCA Upbringing

For much of my teenage years, I believed that growing up in India was a disadvantage. This perspective shifted after spending several years working in the USA, where I noticed distinct skills exhibited by immigrants, particularly those from challenging environments like India. While hard work and ambition are key, I also observed a unique pattern in the behavioural traits of these individuals compared to those raised in more stable, non-VUCA environments. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, a term gaining traction in corporate circles. Many people from such backgrounds are well-equipped for the ever-changing corporate landscape, and in this article, I aim to unpack why that is the case.

Many fresh graduates and mid-level managers often ask me how I quickly advanced in my career and what they can do to succeed. While luck certainly plays a role, there are also specific skills and competencies that can make a difference. I had some of these skills when I began my career and learned others through hard knocks. This article is geared toward anyone—students, young professionals, or even hiring managers—looking to understand the advantages of a VUCA upbringing and how to leverage them.

1. Adaptability in the Face of Volatility

People raised in volatile settings—whether due to economic upheaval, technological change, or family dynamics—develop resilience invaluable in the corporate world. For example, consider taking on projects that have a degree of risk and unpredictability to them. You’ll likely find that your VUCA background has prepared you well for such challenges.

2. Decision Making Amid Uncertainty

Uncertainty is common in business. Leaders frequently must decide with incomplete data. Being decisive enables quicker response times, a key competitive advantage. Here, cultivating the habit of scenario planning can be incredibly helpful.

3. Analytical Skills for Complex Problems

Complex situations require holistic thinking. Those from VUCA backgrounds often must solve interconnected problems that defy straightforward solutions. This quality allows them to dissect intricate issues into manageable parts, leveraging their analytical skills to solve corporate challenges that appear daunting to others.

4. Comfort in Ambiguity

A clear-cut solution is rare in a VUCA world. Those raised in such conditions can operate effectively even when the way forward is unclear, relying on their past experiences and adaptability to navigate uncharted territories.

5. Enhanced Empathy and Team Collaboration

Individuals from VUCA backgrounds often possess heightened empathy, enabling them to connect deeply with teammates facing challenges. In a professional setting, consider exercises like role-playing different job roles in your team to deepen this empathy and facilitate more effective team collaboration.

6. Future-focused Mindset

VUCA conditions often foster a forward-thinking mentality. Stay abreast of industry trends and potential disruptions; this foresight is invaluable in strategic corporate roles.

7. Growth Mindset

Constant challenges and evolving situations teach people to view failures as learning opportunities. This growth mindset is essential in promoting a culture of continuous improvement and innovation in corporate settings.

So, what can you do to capitalize on these traits? View adverse situations, even in daily life, as character-building experiences that prepare you for professional success. If you’re a hiring manager, remember to give due consideration to a candidate’s VUCA background alongside their skills, as it often provides invaluable life competencies that cannot be easily taught.

Strategies to Thrive in a VUCA World

Continuously seek feedback and enrol in courses to diversify your knowledge.

Engage in scenario planning exercises when faced with uncertainties.

Attend team-building workshops to improve empathy and collaboration.

Always stay updated with industry news and engage in periodic upskilling.

The unique set of skills that come from a VUCA upbringing often turn out to be secret weapons in the corporate world. From adaptability in volatile conditions to a strong sense of empathy, these traits can set you apart from the competition. Whether you’re a student, a young professional, or a hiring manager, recognizing and harnessing these qualities can offer a unique competitive edge. As Michelle Obama aptly put it, “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”