BANI vs. VUCA: How Leadership Works in the World of Tomorrow

October 24, 2022

How to use the BANI model for your business

The world is on the move. Nothing is the same anymore. The VUCA model, which describes our world today, has had its day. It is being replaced by a new model: BANI. What does BANI mean? And what are the differences to the VUCA world? Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, explains the BANI model and shows you how you can use it for your business.

The VUCA world of the 2000/2010s

The VUCA model is a framework for understanding and addressing the challenges of a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

VUCA - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Photo © Nikkorlai Tapan
VUCA - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Photo © Nikkorlai Tapan

The term was first coined by the U.S. Army War College to describe the challenges of operating in a post-Cold War world. From there, the acronym made its way into management and leadership literature and business school lecture halls at the turn of the millennium. After a few years, the new explanatory model got a little "facelift" and was extended by one or two "Ds" by renowned international scientists due to changing framework conditions.

The VUCA framework is a leadership model that was developed in response to the globalization and digitalization of the business world. This leadership framework emphasizes the importance of having a clear vision, understanding the ever-changing landscape, being adaptable and responsive to change, engaging in thoughtful deliberation, and effectively communicating with stakeholders.

Thinking about a VUCA environment is a useful tool for developing leaders who are navigating the increasingly complex and interconnected business world. The acronym stands for:


Many areas, such as markets, stock prices, business models, and customer requests, are governed by extreme fluctuations. Companies need to react to these volatile circumstances with ever-growing speed. 


Long-term forecasts that enable predictability have become difficult in the VUCA world, leading to instability and uncertainty in both organizations and people.


The VUCA world is getting more complex because globalization and digitalization create more connections between completely different players in the market. It’s no longer about simple cause-and-effect mechanisms; everything is somehow tied together and is becoming increasingly non-transparent. 


In a complex world, it’s never simply black or white, or clearly yes or no. Anything can be viewed and interpreted in myriad ways. It has become impossible to detect causes or estimate effects clearly. 


Companies employ a wide range of people with different world views and upbringings, shaped by diverse origins, genders, and socialization experiences. Corporations can benefit from these differences, using them as opportunities that bring forth more creativity and innovation power.


Rapidly changing and dynamic markets create new challenges for companies, requiring them to become faster and more versatile. Away with the old hierarchies and silos – agile organization forms and work processes are all the rage.

The VUCA model can be used as a tool for companies and organizations to master the challenges of the modern world. It can also help leaders develop strategies for dealing with uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 

The BANI model of the 2020s: Leadership Qualities in an Increasingly Chaotic Age

The BANI model describes a new world in which the old values and rules no longer apply. In the VUCA concept, everything is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambivalent.

BANI - Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible. Photo © Nikkorlai Tapan
BANI - Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible. Photo © Nikkorlai Tapan

The old acronyms used in the first twenty years of the 21st century can be put out to pasture if Jamais Cascio has his way. In his essay titled “Facing the Age of Chaos,” the American futurist described a new paradigm at the beginning of the COVID pandemic: an escalation of VUCA(DD), fit to match the reality of an increasingly chaotic world - BANI

The acronym is composed of the following: 


Brittleness is not just about volatility anymore, it is about a sudden and unforeseen shock to or even the destruction of a seemingly stable system, which may lead to a global ripple effect.


With increasing brittleness, the world is also becoming more terrifying. This can lead to feelings of power- and helplessness, turning people rigid with fear. Anxiety can also be triggered by misinformation and fake news spread online.


In a non-linear world, the author writes, there is no more law of cause and effect – these things are either completely uncoupled or disproportionate. The most minor issues may have unfathomable and complex consequences – that might not be detected until much later. Thus, it becomes difficult to deduce causes. 


The human mind is no longer able to grasp the complexity of information and occurrences in their entirety. Everything influences everything else on various levels.

The BANI model can be used as a tool for effective leadership within the challenges of the modern world, which is characterized by global warming, the pandemic, the consequences of war, and ambiguity. It can also support the leader's ability to develop strategies for dealing with uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

How Does the BANI Concept Differ from the VUCA World?

Both terms describe the challenges of operating in a rapidly changing world, but there are some important differences between them. 

The VUCA concept has long been used to describe the volatility that has become the norm in the business world. However, the BANI model goes a step further and helps companies consider the chaotic and completely unpredictable impacts that can have a major impact on their operations. From Corona and climate change to inflation and armed conflict, companies must put more focus on to cope with completely unpredictable crises.

By understanding and planning for this new normal, companies can be better prepared when they occur. As the business world becomes more volatile, models like BANI will become increasingly important for managing companies that want to stay ahead of the curve.

The leadership behaviors that are most likely to lead to successful organizational change are those that promote exploration and learning, encourage risk-taking, and foster a climate of trust and openness to identify their weaknesses and create structures to address them.

Finally, the model provides a way of thinking about organizational development that is fundamentally different from the traditional linear model. As such, it provides a valuable tool for managing in a chaotic world.

Leadership Positions in the BANI World: are We at the Mercy of Chaos?

Barbara Stöttinger does not share this pessimistic view: “BANI can be answered by the skills that we call ‘pioneers’ qualities’ in our Senior Leadership Program. Successful leaders must face their own emotions and anxieties to prevail.” Stöttinger stresses that leadership styles for the future will need to combine courage and openness towards new things to deal with the adversities of the BANI world.

[Translate to English:] Barbara Stöttinger, Dekanin der WU Executive Academy

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

Or, as Winston Churchill put it: “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision”. Authentic leadership, empathy, intuition, appreciation, and focus are just as important when it comes to management skills for the future.

And another essential factor for more resilience in BANI times, according to Barbara Stöttinger, is accepting responsibility. “This is essential for people in order to stop reacting and freezing with terror and, instead, show courage and get into the driver’s seat of their own (professional) life.

Management in the Bani world requires intervention where necessary. A woman stops wooden dominoes from falling over with her hand.
In times of Bani, it is important to take personal responsibility, not to remain rigid and to actively intervene when necessary. Photo © shutterstock - alphaspirit

Nobody can do this alone, though. In today’s business world, we need to pull together, create a fruitful exchange among the like-minded, and generate crowd intelligence. This is exactly why lifelong learning will play an even more vital role for effective leadership than before.  

Executives – the Jacks-of-All-Trades?

The Dean gives one caveat: “In the Western world, we are all spoiled brats to a certain degree. We are bemoaning a 10-percent inflation rate, when on our last visit to Argentina, we heard that the average inflation rate has been at about 60% for many years – that makes for completely different framework conditions. On our International Immersions to Silicon Savannah in Nairobi we saw the courage and innovative power of people who spend every day scrambling to meet the most pressing needs they and their families have. They find solutions to the most urgent problems, just because they have to. We could take a leaf out of their book, living in a comparatively stable and prosperous environment.”

Leading in a BANI world requires a high degree of maturity and a targeted development of one’s own management personality, Barbara Stöttinger says. At the same time, it is important to cut executives some slack: “People in leadership positions are supposed to make the impossible happen and be able to do and solve everything – the pressure is enormous. In the end, it is important to hand them and also their teams the necessary resources to enable them to stay resilient also in a crisis. After all, it will take a team effort to come out of these crisises in one piece.”

In this infographic we've summarized the most important differences between VUCA and BANI for you: 


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