Cultivate Learning Agility to Thrive in the VUCA World

Cultivate Learning Agility to Thrive in the VUCA World

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VUCA – a term used to describe the turbulence of the world at the end of Cold War, illustrates precisely today’s business landscape. In brief, it means:

  •       Volatility: The nature and dynamics of change, the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  •       Uncertainty: The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprises, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  •       Complexity: The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organisation.
  •       Ambiguity: The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

Source: Wikipedia.


Just take a look at how innovative companies like Amazon, Tesla, or Apple transformed the course of the industry; it’s only a matter of time until the world completely shifts to the Industry 4.0 (and beyond).

Given the challenges brought by the VUCA world, the value of formal education pales in comparison to one’s ability to learn and learn fast. Similarly, had Nokia realised the rising popularity of smartphone devices back in the early 2000s, it could have been where Apple is today. It’s an expensive cost for not wanting to change.

The decline and fall of giant corporations like Nokia and Yahoo made a strong case for businesses that are unable to adapt to the VUCA environment. Learning from those mistakes, business owners are searching high and low for groundbreaking ideas to reinvent themselves for the emerging digital era.

However, the majority of employees only focus (conservatively) on their territory for a chance to climb up the career ladder. As a result, those who are not equipped for the arrival of new software and technological applications in the workplace will be put under high pressure and eventually get replaced.  

Learning agility is the key to survive and thrive in changing times

Conventional corporations teach people that success is linear, which means the only way to move forward is to move in a straight line. Learning agility, in contrary, illuminates one’s flexibility and the ability to innovate in times of change and disruption (think digitalisation trends). In other words, learning-agile individuals are capable of picking up new skills that will help them stay competitive as the industry evolves. It’s not just a behavioural attribute but also a mindset.At the same time, employers must facilitate an open feedback culture as a fundamental enabler of a learning culture.


Learning agility is defined (to some extent) through the following three characteristics:

  • Proactiveness: People who approach their jobs with high enthusiasm are less affected by the VUCA conditions as they always seek to challenge the status quo. They see challenges as the key to unlock new opportunities, especially when it comes to polishing their skills for the digital age. 
  • Resilience: Benjamin Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes”, we couldn’t agree more. Globalisation was once the shared vision among leaders but now, we start to have “walls” and the racism issues are still going on. In the business world, it’s all the more important to stay calm and react quickly to the nature of change, especially with countless disruptive startups threatening the existence of brick-and-mortar businesses.
  • Innovation: A part of being agile is being open to new experiences. With that said, it’s imperative to immerse oneself in different roles and different environments to gain new perspectives and boost the learning potential. It also helps to switch the lens through which they assess a certain problem and allow for innovative solutions to stay ahead.

One of the most widely recognised assessments to measure learning agility (developed by researchers from Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership), named the Learning Agility Assessment Inventory, proves that learning-agile employees are indeed higher performers, regardless of their background.

How to Become an Agile Learner?

“The question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”

– Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, Harvard Business Review.

  • Learning: Every individual has dormant potential that can only be triggered through developmental experiences. You can get involved in various ‘stretch assignments’, step outside your comfort zone and embrace failure as a part of the learning experience. At the same time, process criticism with an open mind.
  • Adapting: For every challenge that comes your way, take a moment to reflect on the past experiences to determine an appropriate approach. Adaptability to the VUCA world does not simply mean accepting the fact, it means actively driving towards it.
  • Innovating: In whatever you do, always approach your job with an intention to learn. In the words of Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, “You’re only as good as the last thing you did”, so don’t restrict yourself to what works, seek out new solutions in any way possible. Also, there shouldn’t be any boundary of work to which one is accountable for.

To cultivate learning agility is to commit to a life-long learning and constant self-exploration; as they say, disrupt or be disrupted.

A white paper on Learning About Learning Agility*, published by Centre for Creative Leadership, further assesses the key enablers of learning agility as below:

(*) Authors: Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris, PhD Contributors: W. Warner Burke, PhD & Doctoral Research Group, Phillip Braddy, Ph.D., Michael Campbell, William Pasmore, PhD

Seek out new ideas and experiments to find the best (and innovative) solutions. Leverage on the existing resources and opt for the conventional method to get things done.
Thoroughly evaluate the situation or problem to ensure the optimum result and able to remain calm when problems arise. Rely on emotional intelligence to figure out a solution and being affected by stress.
Capture valuable lessons from past experiences, including failure, through regular reflection. Take failure lightly in order to move on as quickly as possible.
Take risk
Always be prepared for challenging tasks and willing to volunteer for a new role or responsibility. Avoid ambiguous tasks that don’t warrant success.
Embrace feedback and criticism to grow and acknowledge failure with a positive outlook. Only take credit for accomplishments while rejecting mistakes.





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