Why VUCA Is (Mostly) A Myth

Greg Satell
6 min readNov 4, 2023
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

“Imagine, if you will, a factory as clean, spacious and continuously operating as a hydroelectric plant. The production floor is barren of men,” Fortune magazine declared in its November 1946 issue. Soon the world entered a new world of mass production and mass retail. Then came a green revolution, a space race, genomics, computers, the Internet and now artificial intelligence.

Today it’s become an article of faith that everything moves faster. Business pundits tell us that we’re living in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). These are taken as basic truths that are beyond questioning or reproach. Yet are things actually moving any faster than in earlier eras? The evidence is surprisingly scarce.

The inescapable truth is that some things move faster today and others move slower. We don’t have — nor should we want — more change today than before. We need to be more thoughtful about change, more deliberate about the ones we undertake and more tenacious in our pursuit of them. We should aim to have less disruption and more progress.

An Era Of Industrial Stability

Since Jack Welch took over GE in the 1980s, the management ethos has been taken over by a cult of disruption. Pundits say we must “innovate or die.” Managers feel pressure to launch new initiatives, to pivot and then pivot again, because the competition has become so rabid that “only the paranoid survive.”

The data, however, tell a very different story. A report from the OECD found that markets, especially in the United States, have become more concentrated and less competitive, with less churn among industry leaders. The number of young firms have decreased markedly as well, falling from roughly half of the total number of companies in 1982 to one third in 2013.

A comprehensive 2019 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found two correlated, but countervailing trends: the rise of “superstar” firms and the fall of labor’s share of GDP. Essentially, the typical industry has fewer, but larger players. Their increased bargaining power leads to more profits, but lower wages.

With all of the hype around things like artificial intelligence, this may seem hard to believe. However, once you start to think about where you…

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com