“BANI: the world is in chaos, but you can survive — and lead the way through it” written by Silvia Mekaru Restad
2020 has certainly got feeling overwhelmed. Political mayhem, climate crisis getting more pressing and obviously, unprecedented global pandemic. And even with little signs of hope that life will eventually go back to normal, one thing is certain: the speed and amount of information, innovation and life-altering events we have been experiencing over the last few decades will not be reduced in our lifetime. To most people that brings a lot of angst and questions about being able to handle or fit in. Luckily for us, there’s always people working to help us understand things a little better.
There’s a chance you’ve heard the expression VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) before. VUCA was an acronym largely used in the US Army College for leadership in the 90s to help students understand the turbulence they would face as they took on increasingly strategic leadership positions. After the 2000s, it was adopted by business strategy books, and it framed the challenges of navigating through a post-Cold War world of geopolitical uncertainty, heavily digitalized and globalized. Apparently, the world has stepped up in complexity since then and VUCA no longer covers all of it, and this is why futurologists now talk about a new concept called BANI.
What does it mean?
B for BRITTLE
Something that may seem strong, reliable, solid, but is actually fragile and may break in the most spectacular, unexpected, sudden way. A brittle system doesn’t just break, it shatters. The world under Covid-19 is a perfect example of that: a virus that came out of nowhere, spread on lightning speed and has a dramatic impact on health, economy, and education. From zero to chaos in just a few months and long-term scars that we will have to deal with. One day everything was normal, then suddenly the world was upside down.
A for ANXIOUS
This one is pretty self-explanatory. The realization that you’re not in control of things, because in reality…. we really are not. How to remain calm when everything you know may crash and burn out of the blue? This sense of helplessness can drive to paralysation and passivity, the feeling a decision will leave us in a worse situation than before.
N for NONLINEAR
When cause and effect are not connected or are highly disproportionate. This can be especially observed over the course of a long period of time. Think of that team member who’s got several performance appraisals and they are told how a certain behaviour is holding their development back. When he/she is passed over for a career opportunity, they run to outsource the responsibility to others instead of owning it and driving the change that could open up new doors in the future. The difference now is that this pattern is observed collectively in global events as well.
I for INCOMPREHENSIBLE
When none of the answers we search make sense and no logic or purpose seems to be behind it. The worst part? More information doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity. This concept is highly associated with technological innovations such as AI, automation, software and such. They exist to make our lives easier and we’re quick to adopt them, but it doesn’t mean we understand how they work or how does their “magic” happen. Another example is the increasing amount of data that we create in the hopes of giving more clarity out of an issue but ends up in information overload.
The good news is that incomprehensive now doesn’t mean incomprehensive forever, it just means we can’t make sense out of the current context given what we know.
With the world challenges gaining complexity, no wonder the future of education points to less technical, more humane skills. When we look at the Top 15 Skills of 2025 identified in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Survey 2020’, at least 12 involve being able to see through a smokescreen situation, analyzing new factors and finding unstandardized solutions.
And doesn’t it make sense? It takes a lot of resilience and stress tolerance to handle something you have been strongly counting on to suddenly see shattered beyond salvation (Brittle), and emotional intelligence to cope with the anxiety that comes with it. Analytical and critical thinking are fundamental skills to deal with the non-linearity and incomprehensibility in these situations. Finally, it takes creativity and problem-solving skills to find new solutions along with leadership and persuasion to successfully implement them.
Bottom line is that the problems and challenges leaders will face ahead are most likely confusing, disordered and unknown. They will test their emotional ability to not resist to them, so they need to keep calm and put together all the information in order to find a custom-made solution.
The scary part? There will be less relying on benchmarks and previous experiences and more insecurity when it comes to making decisions. The good part? At the moment, there are no computers, in the world, able to replicate these skills and taking over jobs that operate under this dynamic. Not to mention, when there’s not just right or wrong answers at the table, the possibilities of building something new and unique are endless. Embrace the opportunity.
Top 15 skills for 2025
Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2020 — World Economic Forum