BANI vs VUCA— a new acronym for a new world

Marian Temmen
5 min readFeb 7, 2021

Welcome to the era of continues disruption, a world in which we face bigger chaos than what the VUCA acronym represented for the last two decades. In short, this is how to describe the BANI world, the successor to the VUCA world. You’re probably familiar with the second one as its excessively been used, but what exactly does BANI stand for? How did the transition happen?

What is VUCA?

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The concept was created by the United States Army War College in the late 1980s to describe the scenario of the post-Cold War world. The term quickly got adopted by organizations in various sectors of activity in order to describe the problems they face.

To better understand:

Volatility (V — volatile): related to the unpredictability and extent of change, operating in a volatile environment means facing frequent challenges that will hinder the progress of daily activities. Because of this, it is often difficult to differentiate between urgency and importance.

Uncertainty (U — uncertainty): result of volatile environments, is related to the inability to predict and measure certain external events. In other words, no one can accurately anticipate and predict what tomorrow will bring.

Complexity (C — complexity): is characterized by an environment in which information is available or can be predicted, but its volume or nature can make it difficult to process.

Ambiguity (A — ambiguity): leads to the emission of different messages, misunderstandings, confusion between cause and effect, conflicts of interest (voluntary or not) or the impossibility of fully understanding a situation.

The Transition

As outlined, the concept of VUCA is clear. However, it’s obvious how obsolete it has become in this new world, after all, talking about a volatile and ambiguous world, for example, VUCA does not suffice anymore to make sense of things or to figure out future scenarios. The VUCA environment has moved on, which calls for a new terminology that explains the changed world we live in.

credit: Stephan Grabmeier

As VUCA describes a vision that is increasingly distant from our reality, Jamais Cascio, professor at the University of California, historian, researcher and member of the Institute for the Future, coined the acronym BANI.

What is BANI?

“Facing the Age of Chaos” is the title of an article published by Jamais Cascio himself on Medium. Translated to “Facing the era of chaos”, it is a good explanation of what the BANI world is about, an acronym for Brittleness (Fragility), Anxiety, Nonlinearity and Incomprehensibility.

credit: Stephan Grabmeier
credit: Stephan Grabmeier

B — Brittleness (Fragility): recent times have shown us that the world is highly fragile. A virus can suddenly appear, a competitor can change the logic of the market or a failure on the other side of the world can affect our continent. In this context, jobs are no longer guaranteed, positions are not synonymous with security and career changes are normal. There is an interconnectedness to things and if one part fails, the ripple effect might be disastrous to a wider system failing.

A — Anxiety: the certainty that systems are fragile makes us anxious. We need to make decisions quickly, as any minute lost seems to leave us behind. In a BANI context, the difference between success and failure may lie in the response time to the weaknesses we face.

N — Nonlinearity: in a nonlinear environment a small decision can have devastating consequences. A great effort may not bring great results. When losing linearity, the ups and downs are not proportional. We learned that consequences of any cause can emerge quickly, or it can take months for results to appear. Nothing else is certain, and this includes strategic planning, as it is clear that it must be adaptable to the circumstances.

I — Incomprehensibility: we try to find an answer for everything and we rely on data and on the countless information we have at hand. However, overload results in incomprehensibility. Asking “how did this happen?” it seems to be natural, but the answer is not that obvious. Our concepts and ideas change all the time. Everything happens so fast that it seems more and more that we understand less.

How should a business, a leader act in a BANI world?

There are no more fixed rules. In this chaotic world, we have great uncertainty about what is to come. We realize, on a personal and professional level, that long-term strategies no longer make sense. What will happen in 6 months? One year? No one knows.

Organizations want to guarantee survival. Businesses are testing new services, new business models, new languages. Some ideas would have seemed illogical months ago and were not part of any planning. But in a BANI environment we learn that nothing is right and nothing is forever. What matters is to get through the storm and do it fast.

Here is a few examples that show you how we can respond to current challenges by looking at each letter from BANI:

If something is Fragile, we need to show capacity and resilience.

If we feel Anxious, we need empathy and mindfulness.

If something is Non-linear, it requires context and adaptability.

If something is Incomprehensible, it requires transparency and intuition.

credit: Stephan Grabmeier
credit: Stephan Grabmeier

Conclusion

We all know the phrase by the philosopher Heróclito de Efeso, “the only constant is change”, a phrase that still makes perfect sense, especially today. If in a VUCA world we had ambiguity and instability, with BANI we have chaos and the misunderstanding of how all this chaos came about.

All this incomprehensibility generates anxiety, because we are no longer sure of anything and nothing seems to be in our control. The fragility of our lives and businesses is becoming increasingly evident. We need to respond and act quickly, but if everything is unstable, how do we know what to do?

The BANI concept for one gives a way better explanation for what is happening around us and could be a starting point to build on and come up with proactive solutions and roadmaps to this overwhelming new world.

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Marian Temmen

Strategic Sourcing and Procurement Leader | Business/Supply Chain Transformation | Change Advocate