Transdisciplinary Design

The era of VUCA; not to be the banality of evil

Posted on November 12, 2018

The era of VUCA

We are living in the current era of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Originally, the word emerged as a military term and is being used as well in business and public policy fields these days (Gergen 2015; Elkington 2017)). Any entities and individuals cannot precisely forecast what the world will be like in 10 years, even just in 5 years. In such the current situation, I sincerely believe we should continue to think, acknowledge, discuss and take small actions from our own perspectives, though it might be harsh and exhaustive, not falling to stop thinking. As Dunne and Raby (2013) argue, I also believe that “design can give experts permission to let their imaginations flow freely, give material expression to the insights generated, ground these imaginings in everyday situations, and provide platforms for further collaborative speculation” (6). That’s the reason why I come to Parsons to learn design.


Data Capitalism – Utopia or/and Dystopia?

Nowadays, we are confronting with Data Capitalism. Personal information that only individuals and organizations could know can be gathered instantaneously, in large quantities, precisely by third parties. Such the information is almost inexhaustively preserved and utilized as an intangible asset by the collectors. Not only the giants of IT companies such as Google, every companies, regardless of the industry, are rushing into the trend, not to miss the ‘Data Rush.’

To be honest, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japanese Government, which is my office, also focuses on three newly technologies, “artificial intelligence,” “Internet of things” and “big data,” as key technologies for new innovation, and proceeds relating economic policies according with the discipline that the utilization of these technologies is the biggest key for Japanese companies to grow and survive. However, I feel somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t mean to deny the importance of the economy. Rather, I think that the economy is absolutely important and economic growth is essential to sustain and develop society. Though that is why I am working at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, I am feeling uncomfortable, even creepy, somehow with the situation that everyone is obsessively excited with these new technologies.

Although the previous advancement of technology has also given impact on industry and society as a whole, what make the emerging capitalism different from past updates are the facts 1) that the extent and magnitude of the influence, that individual economic activities have on all directions, are tremendous, and 2) that the records of these economic activities persist almost permanently. That is to say, people’s current economic activity is certainly led by the past activity of themselves and the future economic activity will be derived from the current economic activity, as well as the mathematical formula leads the answer. At the same time, the economic activity of another person acts as a variable leading the answer of their own economic activity, and vice versa. Although such temporal and spatial interactions in economic activities have been seen before, their certainty, scope and persistence are unprecedented. And it is possible to make the ultimate managed society as a model from at least a technical point of view.

I think that this fact can transform fantasy such as Matrix and Blade Runner into reality, and feel something weird with such a distorted aspect of the Dataism. However, this data management itself does not have only a bad aspect. For example, it prevents tragedies, such as new terrorist acts, with utilizing a huge crime database, and saves life, that could not be saved, combining tremendous amount of medical information to develop a new treatment for an intractable disease. Also, even at the level of daily life of individuals, it is possible to efficiently manage various documents and contracts that are cumbersome to manage, and it is also possible to get information of their own interest one after another from all over the world. We are definitely living in an extremely convenient world.


Not to be the banality of evil

However. Convenience makes people lazy in a sense. The past industrial revolution has released people from physical labor, but modern capitalism releases people from intellectual labor. Data capitalism has come to intervene to human consumption behavior, and that aspect can be said to be accelerating. People are not thinking by themselves. I am very afraid with that point. Hannah Arendt, the author of ‘The origins of the totalitarianism’ (1951), pointed out Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, was the banality of evil and worried that everyone could become Eichmann by abandonment of thinking.

And, this situation that people are falling into stopping thinking is very compatible with Japanese society in a bad way. Japan is a society in which harmony is highly regarded as a virtue, and it means extremely totalitarian in a sense. Nevertheless, after the world war two, people who knew the war sustained the society, business leaders, such as Seiji Tsutsumi, the founder of the Saison Group, which brought about MUJI goods, who had planning ability in a great large scale to realize their own ideal societies through their businesses, led whole economic situation and the entire society was trying to update itself. But as of 2018, such the big discussion hides himself and everyone is energetically enthusiastic about the broad but not deep debate of how to implement a new innovative technology in society in order to make a profit and overcome international competition, and their identities are formed through smartphones without going through their own reflections.

Though I have a strong sense of crisis to to this situation, I do not have a clear vision and an approach to tackle with it, at the moment. However, as Danne and Raby (2013) claims, I believe that “we need to experiment with ways of developing new and distinctive worldviews that include different beliefs, values, ideals, hopes, and fears from today’s. If our belief systems and ideas don’t change, then reality won’t change either” (189).

As Arendt thought that thinking strengthens people even though they are in a crisis, and hoped that might prevent them from being ruined, to build a certain way to realize Arendt’s hope can be one of my goals.





Gergen, David. 2015. “A call to lead: the essential qualities for stronger leadership.” In Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015. World Economic Forum.

Elkington, Rob, Madeleine Van Der Steege, Judith Glick-smith, and Jennifer Moss Breen. 2017. Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World: Thriving in the New VUCA Context. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Danne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. 2013. Speculative Everything: design, fiction and social dreaming. MIT Press.

Rollet, Charles. “The Odd Reality of Life Under China’s All-seeing Credit Score System,” WIRED UK. 5 June 2018.

Dixit, Pranav. “India’s National ID Program May Be Turning The Country Into A Surveillance State,” BuzzFeed News. 4 April 2017.

Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The origins of totalitarianism. New York: Meridian Books.