The Experience of Strategic Thinking in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) Environment Open Access
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This qualitative, phenomenological research study addressed the research question: What is the experience of leaders when they think strategically in a VUCA environment? The study explored what happens when leaders think strategically in a VUCA environment and how such thinking occurs. Of specific interest were the triggers of strategic thinking, the strategic questions being asked, and the methods used to develop insight. The term VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and is used interchangeably in this study with the term "complex" to represent the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition program management environment (Army, 1998).Ten acquisition program managers and deputy program managers for major DoD acquisition programs were selected as referred by naval aviation acquisition program executive officers. Data were collected through in-depth interviews and transcribed to capture the program managers' lived experience and the meaning they made (Seidman, 2006). Data were analyzed and themes developed using Moustakas's (1994) modification of the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method as a guide.The study had four findings: (1) strategic thinking utilizes an extensive range of knowledge, abilities, and conditions that enable clarity of thought; (2) strategic thinking occurs deliberately as both a high-level creative and a tactically grounded process; (3) strategic thinking is fueled by iterative individual and group analytical and dialogical activities to address the knowledge needed to create strategic-to-tactical linkages and frameworks; and (4) strategic thinking is a deeply personal experience that evokes a wide range of positive and negative emotions. The study concluded that strategic thinking is a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenomenon that is both high-level and tactically grounded and is fueled by individual and group analytical and dialogical activities to address needed knowledge, enable clarity of thought, and create strategic-to-tactical linkages and mental models to develop enabling strategies. Further, the characterization of the VUCA environment needs to include the structural elements that may impede the ability to adapt and respond, and the triggers for strategic thinking need to include having the explicit responsibility to think strategically. Implications for theory, practice, and future research are offered.