“VUCA world” is a trendy acronym that has been thrown around a lot in recent business-related conversations. But what does it actually mean? Is it something the applies to you? Do you need to be worried? Teneo’s latest tertiary offering, LaunchPad, addresses how to thrive in a VUCA environment head-on, in a 7-week online course designed to equip and inspire entrepreneurs.

LaunchPad was created because we saw a gap in the skillsets of 18 – 25-year-old South Africans. These recent graduates were leaving school without the necessary skills or know-how to start their own businesses, and heading into a job market that had no jobs for them. What do you do when there are no jobs?… Create your own!

LaunchPad will give young South Africans the tools they need to create their own opportunities and be able to not only cope in the VUCA environment but thrive.

VUCAs Origins

The term VUCA is an acronym for the words Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. These four concepts are used to describe the current context of the world (and more specifically the business world) that we live in. It came from the military, and described the process of going into battle with a plan, but then facing the reality of things rarely going according to it. You can have a plan, but what about when things go pear-shaped (as they eventually do), and your plan no longer applies, how do you react?

What does it actually mean?

The idea behind the four different terms is that they all describe 4 different and distinct problems or challenges one might encounter within our current modern context, that all require different and distinct solutions.

  1. Volatility: This refers to unexpected or unstable challenges, that last for an unknown amount of time.

Example: You own a petrol station, and one of the local petrol refineries explodes. This makes it difficult and much more expensive for you to source petrol. It is unexpected, and there is no clear answer as to how long it will impact you and your business. What do you do now?

  1. Uncertainty: This doesn’t necessarily mean you know nothing about a given situation, often times the cause of some uncertainty is known, but the long terms effects are not.

Example: You own a business making e-bikes. You are the only manufacturer and demand is high. Things are great. Then a competitor opens up making similar products, and perhaps better prices. This results in uncertainty in relation to how this will affect the market, and the future of your business. You know the cause, you just don’t necessarily know the effects.

  1. Complexity: Any given situation has multiple different moving parts and variables affecting it. Often these variables are known about, but the number of different variables involved makes it difficult to process.

Example: You export motorcycle helmets to multiple different countries. All of the different countries you export your helmets to have different rules, regulations, and classifications regarding imports. Some countries label your helmet as ‘protective wear’ because it is a legal requirement to wear one, whereas another country might label it as ‘clothing’ because they don’t believe in the use of them. This results in many different regulatory environments, tariffs, and different cultural values you need to consider. How do you cope with all of this?

  1. Ambiguity: This occurs when causal relationships are unknown. Things happen, and you don’t necessarily know why.

Example: You enter the tech industry and develop a social media app. Your app gets huge traction and is very popular among its users. Until it isn’t. All of a sudden the number of users declines, and overnight its popularity seems to disappear (RIP Vine). People are complex social beings, and there could be a number of reasons your app failed, however, there doesn’t seem to be one single reason. The causal relationship between its success and failure is fairly unknown.

How do you respond to a VUCA world?

The goal of Launchpad is to create flexible entrepreneurs capable of seeing multiple different futures, and understanding how to navigate them. The old saying ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ expresses it nicely. In thinking about the future, don’t put all of your resources and potential into one possible future scenario. Rather you need to be dynamic. Think in terms of what is possible, what is plausible, and what is probable? LaunchPad aims to give entrepreneurs the skills to transfer their VUCA environment from one of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, to one of Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.


Launchpad is a 7-week practical, skills-based programme, aimed at 18 – 25-year-olds, that shares techniques and tools needed for starting a business. At the heart of the programme is a business simulation that gives students real, first-hand, experience of running a business in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.