VUCA – It’s Been Around for Awhile

VUCA World's Fair

Recently, very challenging situations have been labeled VUCA challenges highlighting that the systems-level solutions must simultaneously deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

This level of challenge requires creating an adaptative solution that is “invented” to match the never-before encountered situation.

But problems of this magnitude have existed in the past. Consider the challenge of lighting the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Just as the scientific exploration of electricity was at the point where two organizations, Westinghouse and General Electric, were competing to distribute electricity to rural America, the opportunity to provide all the lighting for the Chicago World’s Fair emerged. The two companies were directly competing for the contract to provide the lighting but were offering two different solutions. General Electric advocated using direct current electricity (DC), and Westinghouse advocated alternating current electricity. (AC). After intense negotiations. Westinghouse won the contract. However, what was not known by the Chicago Fair Committee on Grounds was that George Westinghouse had made and won the bid without having invented the technology to fulfill the obligation.

George returned to his office in New York, visited with his chief engineers to describe the size and scope of the project ahead of them, including the extremely short development time, expressed great confidence in their ability to create a solution, and advised them he would be back the next day to see what they had come up with.

In 1893, the VUCA challenge to illuminate the Chicago World’s Fair was a spectacular success.
George Westinghouse used his leadership capability of having a vision and then staying on course with calm, clarity, and conviction. Westinghouse was a Resilient Leader.

Jim Moyer

Jim Moyer
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