"In VUCA, you're making things up as you go along. We tell people not to wait for everything to be 100% perfect and don't make the simple complex. Go with your gut and your best professional instinct," she adds.
As an IT leader in a VUCA world, Clement-Holmes says her totem is a chameleon, the lizard whose eyes can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. This is because IT must pivot between long-term growth and short-term efficiency gains, "regardless of VUCA," she says.
"At P&G, we have to increase revenue by billions every single year, and we've had our share of headwinds like commodity costs, the global recession and economic instability in Europe. There are a lot of levels of uncertainty, and it will never go back to the way it was," she says. "The pace of change is also different. Before, the windows were wider and longer and you had more time."
At the same time, IT must aggressively drive cost savings and productivity improvement. That means much shorter planning cycles and a need to continually reinvent the IT organization.
"Predicting what the business will be five years out is not realistic," she says. "Five years is forever. IT years are like dog years."
Two years ago, P&G created an incubator organization called FLOW, which Clement-Holmes describes as "a kind of special forces to quickly address really wicked business problems with dedicated full-time staffers with the right skills."
In a FLOW initiative at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, members of the team quickly set up a P&G-sponsored house where Olympians could visit with family members. "They needed to have it up and running in two weeks," she recalls. "With FLOW, we can staff a project with the right staff with the right skills in less than two days."
She likens the group to a medical triage unit. "They assess what you need and get you going out the door to the right place. But if they need to do surgery on the spot, they can do that, too." Every year, 20% of FLOW team members are transitioned out of the unit "so we have more people with a mindset of agility," she says.
4. Lighten up
At Pearson PLC, a London-based company that offers education services worldwide, globalization and a seemingly insatiable consumer appetite for online learning are driving VUCA to new levels.
"One of the biggest shifts has been from a local to a global focus," says Pearson CTO Graham Calder. For example, with demand for English language training skyrocketing, particularly in Brazil and China, he says, "We're teaching English in a consistent way on a global scale."
The new and growing demand has prompted a seismic shift in IT strategy and technology investments, from on-premises enterprise systems to cloud-based and consumer technologies.
"We put consumer technology at the heart of our technology strategy and made the decision to embrace cloud knowing that it can mean compliance challenges," Calder says. This kind of "asset-light" computing infrastructure enables Pearson to expand quickly into new markets. An added benefit is the ability to "fail fast" and move on quickly, because the technologies are cheaper and easier to drop when something isn't working out.
In comparison, when there's a big financial investment that would have to be written off if a project were canceled, "it makes people continue longer down the path than they should," says Calder. The cloud, he says, "enables a fail-fast culture because it's asset-light. You can quickly figure out whether it has legs, and if it does, build it out."
While building a new messaging collaboration platform, for example, Calder's team made several midstream course changes.