Project Management

VUCA Means It’s Time for a Bigger Cup

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by Conrado Morlan


The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world has been around for a while. But 2020 will be remembered as the year that forced every organization to deal with the VUCA world. And the most successful ones will be those that find ways to improve the capability of their leaders by acquiring new ways of thinking.

Yet even before COVID, PwC’s annual CEO survey found a majority of executives reporting they didn’t have the talent needed to grow their organizations and respond to increasing complexities.

         Today’s VUCA world demands vertical development. What exactly does that mean? The acquisition of skills, certifications, and experience is essentially learning or horizontal development. Vertical development helps the individual change to become more sophisticated, mature, and capable.

Put simply: Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think.

Typically, vertical development involves the following:

  • An unprecedented experience that derails a person’s habitual way of thinking
  • Meeting with people who have different perspectives to find a different way to achieve outcomes
  • A process of integration to help the leader gain a different perspective and develop a new way of thinking

Vertical development isn’t exclusive to leaders at the top of the organizational hierarchy. It’s for anybody in the organization, including project professionals.

If project managers and/or organizational leaders respond to the VUCA world simply through learning a few more skills, it’s not going to produce any significant benefit. They must develop their capabilities, adapt, and expand their ability to respond to the challenges. Vertical development involves a transformation of their consciousness.

To understand the difference between horizontal and vertical development, think of a cup of water. Individuals developing horizontally are pouring water into their cups. Individuals developing vertically need a bigger cup.

As project managers grow into their leadership roles, it becomes less about their mastery of frameworks, methodologies, tools, and techniques, and more about their container. The level of consciousness to navigate the complexity of the VUCA world requires a bigger cup.

One of the greatest benefits of vertical development is how it fosters increased mental complexity, innovation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to resolve conflicts constructively. This translates to an improved ability to interpret situations and make effective decisions—two essential skills needed to tackle problems in the VUCA world.

         How are you and your team using vertical development to deal with today’s VUCA world?




Posted by Conrado Morlan on: September 29, 2020 11:03 AM | Permalink

Comments (13)

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Thanks Conrado, your VUCA analyses is so vital for season as this.
This phrase is so insightful,

"Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think"

@mohamed ELsayed,
You are welcome, thank you for taking the time to read the article.

Thank you for reading the article. I am glad you like it.
VUCA is part of the daily lives now and I think is here to stay.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

thank you for sharing your article!
sentence is very impressive that
"Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think"

Very interesting. I do think that my own personal way of thinking has changed over the course of this year due to VUCA. Personally I did it by deciding where I can put order in the midst of chaos. Perhaps at an organizational level, this would require discussing where we need to be in crisis mode, and where we need to put more structure and order into our new normal.

We keep saying with COVID 19 that we will come out of it in a new normal. Well the new normal is here. At least for a season. We need to stop acting like this is an acute crisis that we need to get out of, and adopt a new normal with the mindset that the normal may change again in 3-6 months.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read the article. I hope it was useful.

All the best,

Thank you very much for taking the time to read the article. I hope it was useful.

All the best,

Sun Young Lee,

Thank you for your comment.
A friend of mine after getting a certification told me that "Knowledge is power." I agree to a certain degree, I think applying the knowledge is the real power and that will move you from the horizontal development to the vertical development.

All the best,

Thank you for your comment.
I concur with your opinion, organizations need to take an adaptable and flexible approach to the current situation and change their cope to produce outcomes in a short period of time between three and six months,
All the best,


I love this statement that is the gist of the whole article – “Individuals developing vertically need a bigger cup”.

Well, during & after the COVID19 my vertical development included challenging my felexibility, communication skills, strategic decisions, unlearn / relearn dealing with sub–contractors handling the Fibre Optic infrastructure upgrade, monitoring IP Cameras Project, coordinating & handling the Road Signages for enhancing our Business process & better Customer Service, etc… the list goes on.

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"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."

- Mark Twain



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