What Fortnite is teaching us about the next generation of leadership in a VUCA world

This post is written by Kim Arellano, Executive Consultant for AchieveForum. It is the first in a series of blogs on Next Generational Leadership to be released over the next couple months. Click here to learn more about Leading in the Digital Age.

Fortnite is an online video game that has captured the attention of Gen Z (born after 9/11), much to the exasperation of parents struggling to pry the controllers from their hands and kick them outside to play.  To orientate those without a 13 year old in their life here is a short description of this award-winning game. In Fortnite, specifically the free version called Battle Royale,  100 players are parachuted without weapons from a flying “Battle Bus” into an environment with the sole goal of being the last ones to survive.   Teams of 2 to 4 people work together to gather supplies and move to safer areas to set up their survival structures in areas that won’t be destroyed by the “incoming storm” that starts after 5 minutes.   All of this takes place in a very limited amount of time and once the player dies, they are out and can join the next starting mission.  Thousands of missions are going on right now.  Players will join missions over and over again, just for the chance of being the team who survives.

Of the many challenges, is there is no time to “get to know” your teammates in random mode. You don’t know what support you will find, you have no idea who else you are battling, and what they have planned for you!   The Avatars give no clue as to who is leading the strategy, or who has what skills.   If you have a microphone, you can talk to your teammates, but there is not a lot of time to argue about who is in charge or develop any kind of complex strategy.  To survive, you need your teammates to help you by finding and giving weapons, transportation and potions (like slurp juice and chug jug) to build strength to keep going.  The traditional models we think of leadership, where strategy is defined, commands given and feedback determines next steps, is not possible in the Fortnite world defined by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (known as VUCA).

Fortnite is a great metaphor of how social media and globalization is shaping the next Generation of Leader in a VUCA world.  The important characteristics of Fortnite that help you survive are behaviors of:

  1. Trust: You trust and accept an intent of all the players to help each other for a common good.  There is not room to work out personal differences.  The user will need to trust participation and presence in the mission.
  2. Self-reflection: This is manifested in the quick self-inventory of what the player is good at and how can this skill be demonstrated (not discussed) quickly to others.    I watched my daughter play the game and saw that there was a transport vehicle close by.  I asked her why she didn’t jump in.  She told me she wasn’t good at driving the vehicle, so she wasn’t going to jump in and signal to her team that she could drive.   No one grabbed the vehicle, so the assumption is that they didn’t have the necessary skills as a team to use that tool.  They moved in unison and without discussion to the skills that worked for them collectively.
  3. Adaptation:  The individual needs to assess and adapt their resources, the skills of their team, the skills of their enemies and the changing landscape.  Again, there was no long analysis, rather quick decisions about tool use, direction and other tactics based on their own skills and that of their team.

The Gen Zer is a native to social media, globalization and the endless supply of data that needs to be quickly analyzed for usefulness.  He or she learned very early to navigate intuitively through online actions of others how one may behave or interact.  Fortnite allows this generation to hone their skills of self-leadership and adaptive collaboration in a fun way that older generations are not typically exposed to, yet.

The term VUCA was coined by the military as a way to describe how radical war has changed since Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the distributed network arrived on the scene.   Rather than plan to plan, the US Military learned to win, one must learn how to plan to adapt and to collaborate better across networks without waiting for leadership to analyze, organize and command.  These are the skills the next generation of leaders are honing through gamification.  They will be joining our workforce in the next 5 years.  How can we capture their experiences, including the wildly popular Fortnite, to help us learn the skills leaders will need to navigate through the VUCA world that is impacting not only our business environments but also our world?



Did you like this article? We think you’d enjoy reading: Digital Age Leaders: Saving the World from Workplace Dystopia?



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