Future of Work

Zooming from Cocoons: VUCA in Start-ups

The author of “Full Spectrum Thinking”, Bob Johansen, the Distinguished fellow with The Institute for the Future (IFTF) says, “In Silicon Valley, the innovation mantra is fail early, fail often, fail cheaply”. Currently, this is applicable to all new age entrepreneurs and their start-ups. These start-up founders are explorers in principle, creating newer kinds of assets and fountain of wealth. If we state correctly, these elated entrepreneurial mindsets are the contemporary equivalents of the European voyagers, engaged in deeper discovery and experiential learning. They explore unknown territories and unclutter new landscapes for others to follow. Have you challenged your comfort zone and the cocoon surrounding it?

The CEO’s imbroglio

As stated in the book “VUCA in Start-ups”, when one connects start-ups with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), it ends up in a highly disruptive order, with the start-up hoping to anticipate an agitated environment concurrently. The incumbent entrepreneurs in their entrepreneurial journey overcome the context of VUCA, disrupting the business models and practices, as we are currently witnessing. These start-ups have been constantly engaged and driven by questioning the fundamental enquiry on discovering unsolved problems. Have you spotted one problem and trying to search a solution amidst resistance? This is the CEO’s imbroglio in pandemic times!

Capturing weak signals

Nathan Rothschild, a British Banker of the 19th century observed that “great fortunes are made when cannonballs fall in the harbour, not when violins play in the ballroom.” His belief was with increased unpredictability of the business environment, greater is the opportunity for wealth creation. Many of our modern age start-up founders and entrepreneurs are driven not so much by creating wealth & fame, which can come because of their efforts, but by a persuasion & passion for curiosity. This desire for discovery is present in our DNA and probably started when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were driven by curiosity attempting to unravel beyond the next mountain or at the edge of the forest. VUCA in start-ups, as a metaphor is an exploration journey by established start-ups who had experienced several VUCA conditions including the pandemic resulting from COVID-19. How much turbulence have you undergone or are undergoing and what lessons do you draw? Have you tried visualising and capturing weak signals?

How to manage the VUCA company and be A VUCA Learner?

The VUCA business world is extremely turbulent, highly unpredictable. However, with the creative dimension and appropriate combination of dynamic capabilities and competencies, the incumbent entrepreneurs will be VUCA ready in their journey. On the other side VUCA stands for vision, understanding, clarity and agility. Thus, VUCA company offers a combination of threats and opportunities with a fast transition witnessed by speedier disruptions. Success in VUCA requires that entrepreneurs must learn slow and fast, by propelling their dynamic learning through adaptability. It is evident that majorly start-up failures are based on poor understanding of finance and crafting strategy with an unrequired rapidly uncontrolled expansion. The key is to be a continuous VUCA learner and exhibit learning capabilities, transferring seamlessly to the team within the organisation. This would certainly lead to improvisation supplemented by agility, tenacity and resilience. 

Seasoned entrepreneurs have acquired knowledge to succeed through several years in working for others and more likely learning through previous failed enterprises. They have acquired leadership, networking, communication and problem-solving skills, all essential skills needed to launch a start-up. While the VUCA world may unsettle people, it provides an outstanding massive opportunity for innovation, learning and change. Only learning in action can prepare an entrepreneur for eventual success. Have you acquired one of these skill sets?

The VUCA journey in Start-ups

Entrepreneurship is often lonely, risky and full of doubting. One has hundred reasons on not being successful. Each entrepreneur will undergo repeated and possibly even bigger challenges than their cohorts. What is imperative, is to not lose faith and continue. The seasoning of each entrepreneur hones with time. The more adaptable they are, the extended resilience they exhibit, the better confidence and a powerful inner self is invoked to take upon the dynamic newer challenges. Unlike their cohorts some select leading Indian start-ups like Flipkart, Inmobi, Quikr, Zomato, Olacabs, Paytm, Snapdeal, MuSigma etc. who took on bravely, and firmly decided to chart unexplored territories. Their founder entrepreneurs had a distinctive engagement in their journey of entrepreneurship embracing organisational medley, stealthily infusing strategic management, design thinking, caressing organisational science and art of decision making at each stage of their firm life cycle. At the global level, we know more about Amazon, Facebook and Tesla than our homegrown entrepreneurs having tasted success despite being born in a very unpredictable and uncertain world. This journey is not easy. It is full of challenges, obstacles, wrong turns, dead-ends, chaos and failures. No one is sure for success in their first attempt. Initial failures and the power to integrate learnings for newer discoveries becomes pertinent for existence.

Honing your foresight

These new age entrepreneurs and their start-ups lead to firming and influencing up the minds of several more who wish to embark on this entrepreneurial journey overcoming the innovation pandemonium. Their lonely journey of emerging from all odds of life from conceiving the idea, birth of the enterprise and its growth trajectory despite impediments, yet each tasted the delight of success. Newer mistakes followed by failures are a part of a start-up’s journey. We are living in exciting times where COVID-19 will force us to question the old order and design anew. A crisis like COVID-19 reflects, what is not working and discover opportunities for new ventures. These brilliant entrepreneurial assets provide valuable insights to newcomers for striving and striking success under daunting circumstances. Have you started honing your foresight?

The unchartered journey is all about the enterprises challenging the VUCA in start-ups, especially during pandemic times, zooming from their cocoons, brilliantly tapping the untapped markets and evidently contributing to wealth creation, job creation, regional development and economic growth for the country.


Written by Dr. Manoj Joshi.

Have you read?

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The World’s Richest People (Top 100 Billionaires, 2022).
Jamie Dimon: The World’s Most Powerful Banker.

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Dr. Manoj Joshi
Dr. Manoj Joshi, is co-Author of "The VUCA Company”, “The VUCA Learner” and "VUCA in Start-ups". He is a Chartered Engineer and currently a Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship and Director, Centre for VUCA Studies, Amity University. He is the Regional Editor India, JFBM; IJSBA and an editorial board member for journals like APJM, JSBM, BSE, JEEE, WRMSED etc. His consulting includes VUCA strategy, travelled extensively with over 30 years of experience in areas of Screw pumps Design, Heat Exchangers, Loading Arms, consulting, research and teaching. He has a deep interest in dark matter, dark energy, astral travel, travelling to woods and life after death.


Dr. Manoj Joshi is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.