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NSM Focus | Professor Vincent Marchau: “Turn off the tunnel vision and get to work”

Tough challenges, wicked problems, or as they are defined in the new RMa Post-Master’s: VUCA challenges. What are they, and how do you approach them? Professor Vincent Marchau explains. “Not an easy topic, but very interesting.”

Vincent MarchauWe’ll start with those four capital letters. They stand for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. We are talking about complex problems and challenges that are subject to influences from all sides, the course of which is unknown, the outcome uncertain, and involving multiple parties with different interests. “This type of challenge is becoming more prevalent,” says Marchau, underscoring the relevance of the Post-Master’s. “Developments are happening faster and faster, and sectors are becoming more and more intertwined.”

Unpredictable

Marchau is conducting research into the unpredictability around social issues for the Institute for Management Research (IMR), and he is developing adaptive strategies for this. As an example of how “VUCA” a challenge can be, he refers to the energy transition – an issue with many aspects and requiring multiple parties to take action. “We need to develop wind turbines, heat pumps, and solar panels which we have to make space for on the surface of the land and the sea. We must educate skilled craftspeople, the government must provide funding, and so on. Those actions influence each other and are impacted by unpredictable, external developments. For example, the demand for pumps and panels has recently been driven up by rising gas prices due to the war in Ukraine, but the coronavirus pandemic has paralysed supplies from China and the energy sector is struggling with a staff shortage.” Tough, indeed. You could even call it wicked. Taking a careful look at this is certainly not a luxury.

Turning off the tunnel vision

According to Marchau, the strength of the 'Duurzaamheid en strategie - van plannen naar echte impact' Post-Master’s programme lies in the fact that the participants will not just learn to look at problems and solutions in a different way, but will also get to work on their own tough challenge. He hopes to attract professionals from different domains: education, healthcare, finance, government, ICT, retail, etc. Examples of VUCA challenges that organisations in these sectors may be struggling with: “What does the hospital of the future look like? As a supermarket, how do we deal with fast delivery services and new dietary patterns? How can we keep our higher education challenging and relevant?”

In four modules of two days each, participants will address the question of how an organisation can prepare for what may lie ahead. How can you prepare for unpredictable situations? “We will start with the current strategy of the organisation: what assumptions is it actually based on? In what future will these assumptions be correct? And just as important: in what future are they not? My colleague Anna Snel from the VUCA Academy, who is developing the Post-Master’s with me, calls this type of thinking ‘un-learning’. We turn off the tunnel vision and get a broader perspective.”

Visions of the future

“Once eyes have been opened, we will start brainstorming and free thinking,” says Marchau. “Which scenarios could occur in the long term, in theory? How can you prepare for and anticipate them? We think in terms of risks and opportunities, of negative and positive visions of the future, weigh the interests of all those involved, and try to build in room for manoeuvre and decision-making for unforeseen, unfamiliar, and perhaps unwanted developments. You cannot prepare for everything, but you can have a flexible approach. You can have a reasoned strategy that can be adjusted: sustainable and adaptable to new insights and current developments.”


The Duurzaamheid en strategie - van plannen naar echte impact Post-Master’s programme will start on 22 September. In addition to Vincent Marchau and Anna Snel, the following professors and lecturers are also involved. Vincent de Gooyert (responsible organisation competencies and sustainability), Ira Helsloot (governance of safety, crisis management), Hester Paanakker (integrity of management and public craftsmanship), Sandra Resodihardjo (resilient safety policy), Etiënne Rouwette (participative intervention methodology), Sietske Veenman (environment and futures), Ingrid Visseren Hamakers (environmental policy, sustainable development), Ed Vosselman (management, accounting and control) and Sjors Witjes (organisation for sustainable development).

More information and registration: ru.nl/rma/postacademisch-onderwijs/vuca/