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Living in a VUCA world: our change process in top speed

It is no news that we are living in a VUCA* world but it is new that this time the change process was initiated by a virus instead of an institutional necessity.

When we received the news about a dangerous virus that was hitting China and then the north of Italy before it reached Germany, we, the Cologne Summer Schools team, were still sitting comfortably in our room of contenment, working on the details of our program for 2020. There is no need to say that we were following the international threat on the news but somehow slowly we were recognizing that the process of leaving our comfort zone had started without our approval.
Working in the summer school business for quite a while made us forget about the "v" that stands for "volatility" of the VUCA world. Accompanied by an undetermined feeling we "sleepwalked" to the room of denial in which we still unconsciously ignored the nature and dynamics of change. We sat in a corner, looking around, asking ourselves what was going on and if the situation might not be as bad as people said. We had the feeling that we could still make it, that we could welcome all these wonderful talented people from all over the world. It took us two weeks to accept that we had to handle VUCA's "U", the uncertainty, somehow. We tried to handle the situation by gathering information on the virus and observed the effects on other international summer schools. Bit by bit we accepted the lack of predictability and embraced VUCA's "c", that stands for complexity. We talked to other summer school organizers and learnt that many of them wanted to wait and see. Others canceled their programs which was no option for us. While passing to the next room, the room of inspiration, we actively decided to embrace also VUCA's "a" and thus to go ahead aside with the ambiguity of the new reality.
This is how our first entirely only summer school was born. What seemed to be a loss in the beginning turned out to be a whole new adventure with happy passengers and hosts.  

* VUCA is an acronym – first used in 1987, drawing on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus – to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. It has subsequently taken root in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that apply in a wide range of organizations, from for-profit corporation to education (

Design and illustration: Marcelo Andreguetti