Entrepreneurship in the “VUCA Era”

May 15, 2024

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity and is indicating the increasing difficulty of predicting the future for society and business. Several years ago, when the author was a high school student, the trend in university entrance examinations was to “challenge questions with no answers.” There may have been a secret story behind the production of entrance exam questions in response to the “VUCA Era Declaration” in The World Economic Forum in 2016.

The event that can be said to be representative of the VUCA era was the COVID-19 pandemic, which drew attention because the total unemployment rate in 2020 rose 0.4 percentage points from the previous year, the first increase in 11 years since 2009. However, looking at the percentage of newly established corporations for the same period, it can be seen that the number of newly established legal entities has been rising steadily in the wake of the 2020 pandemic.

Figure 1: Changes in total unemployed and workers

Figure 2: Number of “Bookstores” bankruptcies, closures and dissolutions, and newly established corporations (Jan-Dec)

From this figure, it can be hypothesized that people who simply feel a sense of crisis will start new businesses to survive. In fact, in a study of a major French bank under COVID-19, Jihene Cherbib, a doctor of management science specializing in international strategy and organizational strategy, found that the internal contingency (entrepreneurship) and the external contingency (COVID -19crises) and the impact on firms when they are combined. Briefly, it found that the combination of uncertainty with effectuation has a positive impact on firm outcomes [Jihene 24].

Next will focus on entrepreneurship in refugees, where a sense of crisis is thought to be felt on a daily basis. A UK-based research study [K. Nijhoff 21] details that entrepreneurial intentions are higher among refugees who arrived independently than among those who arrived through UN or host country with a resettlement programs. The reason for this is that individuals who arrive independently build “personal capabilities such as autonomy, independence and resilience and felt the need to be involved in local life and culture [Stefan et al. 24].” Thus, although there are still difficulties in practicing entrepreneurship due to the lack of financial resources and opportunities for refugees to start their own businesses, the entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated in times of crisis itself can be seen as similar to the case of a major French bank during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

What were the trends in female entrepreneurship during the COVID-19 pandemic? In a joint study, Filimonau and colleagues, a mobile sociologist, found that “Such studies can provide useful insights into how female entrepreneurship emerges and sustains in the circumstances which are far from normal.” The study focuses on women entrepreneurs in the VUCA era as the study notes that “the literature on women’s entrepreneurship in times of pandemics emphasizes that disasters and crises can have positive as well as negative impacts.” [V Filimonau et al. 24]. This also links to the words of the German philosopher Nietzsche, “From Chaos comes order.” This is because crises can destroy traditional business models and damage communities, but they can also stimulate creativity. Although the research discussed here focuses on women, there is little doubt that entrepreneurship is demonstrated in situations that are far from normal. Specifically with regard to entrepreneurship at COVID-19, the rapid shift online has led to increased Internet traffic, changes in consumer behavior, the expansion of telework, and the GIGA school concept moving forward. Those who felt threatened by these radical changes and took action are considered to have succeeded.

Even after the end of COVID-19, there is a great possibility that the business environment today will continue to change rapidly. Therefore, it is necessary to constantly gather information and keep abreast of the trends of social change. However, even to gather such information, we must overcome the waves of the “Information-Explosion Era”. From those endless information, we must win a handful of highly pure information and create an own scenario for the future. The human resources needed in the age of VUCA are those who possess this kind of tenacious entrepreneurial thinking. Takeo Harada, president of our institute, tells our employees on a daily basis, “Don’t hesitate to make a decision.” The pioneers of entrepreneurship are the ones who constantly scrutinize information, keep a sharp eye on the ever-changing environment, and make decisions on the spot.

Our institute has been involved in a wide range of activities with university students, including the IISIA Summer School (2023) for the sons and daughters of our members as a part of our “entrepreneurship education”. Currently, we also have strong connection with students of the University of Tokyo (details to be announced in the next blog). In addition, Takeo Harada, President of our institute, conducted an independent seminar at the University of Tokyo (2020) and a “Special Comprehensive Course I (Diplomat)” at Gakushuin Women’s College (2022). The plan from next June is teaching “Sports Management” to students in the Faculty of Education from the perspective of entrepreneurship education at Hiroshima University as an associate professor. In addition, he will teach entrepreneurship education in the “Introduction to Biomedical Engineering” course for students in the Department of Bioengineering at the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. Our “entrepreneurship education” will not stop.

Our institute hold a seminar once a quarter. We explain the future forecast analysis scenarios that we have created based on the purity of information about the continuous social changes and global situation. The 2024 Summer IISIA seminar will focus on the topic of “Japan’s Default,” along with the latest issue of our Future Perspective Analysis Scenarios, which will be published on July 20. The content of the seminar is not only for business executives, but also for all those who are living in the “VUCA Era”.

The future is in your hands, the outcome is up to you. 

If you want to change the future, there is only one action you need to take first.

Attend the seminar and ride the wave of the VUCA era.

(Next Seminar: July 20, 2024 (Saturday) Click here to register or Click here for first time attendees)

Corporate Planning Group, Maria Tanaka


[Jihene 24]Cherbib, Jihene. “Exploring the Interplay between Entrepreneurial Orientation, Causation and Effectuation under Unexpected Covid-19 Uncertainty: Insights from Large French Banks.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 200, no. 0040–1625, 123090, 2024, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2023.123090. [V Filimonau et al. 24]Filimonau, V., Matyakubov, U., Matniyozov, M., Shaken, A., & Mika, M.. “Women Entrepreneurs in Tourism in a Time of a Life Event Crisis.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 32(3), 2024, pp. 457–479, doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2022.2091142.