Arts Thinking in a VUCA World

Posted Feb. 14, 2023 by Time's Up


Our work is about maintaining positive visions with full awareness of the times in which we find ourselves. The world is perceived by many to be one filled with dangers and risks. And rightly so. For too many people, to imagine the future is to imagine apocalypse, decline and fall, one or another dystopia.

While many future visions avoid these negatives with naive utopian thinking based upon one of many options, from techno-solutionism, neoliberal floating boats or retro-peasantry arts-based research allows us to undertake eyes wide open utopian thought. Imagining what happens when Utopia and Dystopia embrace and dance, intertwined with imagined everyday lives, that is the form of futuring that we like to do.

The climate emergency, geopolitical tensions, ecosystem collapses, resource limits, and the sixth mass extinction are only a few of the fundamental risks that we face.

Closing our eyes to these threats is a brutal form of denial. Our times are, according to experts in organisation science, VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. We claim that these ways of thinking, allied with attempts at control, are of less value than they perhaps once were. Many of the classical planning techniques that have brought us to where we are no longer apply. We need new forms of thinking. We would like to claim that these times are ripe for arts thinking.

In our work we develop arts-based techniques, combining scientific evidence, technological development, and social dreaming with humility and flow to create positive visions and support those who are acting on them. We know arts-based techniques can be used for visionary thinking and to support those who do as they face up to these developments. This futures thinking is an ability that needs to be exercised.

Creating and facilitating futuring exercises as collaborative, guided workshops, is a process of reminding people of their capacities to imagine and choose different courses of action and results. They have Agency and Choice. Imagining steps and discussing them, combining and exploring the nonlinearities of multiple change factors, participants develop Understandings of how the world might develop based on certain choices, certain actions, certain developments. They can collaboratively determine preferences, volitions, systems of Values.

Arts thinking leads us to a new basis for a VUCA world, one in which these properties are paramount and respected. And thus, we propose an arts-based reframing of VUCA: Values, Understanding, Choice, and Agency. This is the VUCA we care about.

This text is featured as part of FoAM's Anarchive