Have you noticed the world’s gone BANI?

It’s always been a custom of the present to look back at the past and long for its relative comprehensibility. I’m very conscious this article starts by doing exactly that, however, many of my fellow Gen X-ers would probably agree that as we look around today, it’s almost as if we’ve been transported to a parallel universe.

You’re likely familiar with VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), a concept developed in the late ‘80s that found its way into business to help decision making in an unclear world. And you’ll likely recall Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”.

Many concepts that were designed to help us make sense of complexity and uncertainty simply don’t capture the turbulence and fragility that characterises today.

Enter BANI, a new concept that captures our current environment; brittleness (B), anxiety (A), nonlinearity (N) and incomprehensibility (I).

What is BANI and why should I care?

Coined by futurist Jamais Cascio, BANI provides a fresh perspective on the uniquely challenging combination of systemic fragility, accelerating change, overwhelming complexity and existential anxiety that has come to define the world we live in now.

As established businesses, conventions and institutions struggle to remain relevant, and the logical links between cause and effect break down, BANI gives language to our collective sense of standing on shifting ground.

Understanding BANI matters because it provides a compass for navigating today’s uncertain environment. Making sense of the systemic risks, complexity and anxiety BANI describes enables us to take steps towards building resilience and adaptability into our organisations.

Here’s a breakdown of the key drivers you need to understand:


Think of a company that relies on a single client for its revenue. It may seem like it’s doing well, but if that client leaves, the company can collapse overnight. Or a SaaS company with a successful product that has a major security flaw exposed, leading to a sudden loss of customers.

These are both examples that speak to Brittle – it means systems or structures that appear strong and stable but can break suddenly and spectacularly, without warning.

A brittle organisation can appear stable and resilient on the surface, but is prone to major disruption and possible collapse because it lacks the ability to withstand shocks. Some key factors driving brittleness include:

  • Efficiency – systems optimised for maximum efficiency at the expense of resilience can lack redundancy and buffers, making them vulnerable when unforeseen disruptions occur;
  • Interconnectedness – tight coupling between components in a system can mean failure in one component rippling outwards and resulting in wider system failure;
  • Homogeneity – lack of diversity in resources, processes and ideas creates uniformity across the board, rather than differentiated assets and varied approaches which can provide a cushion when threats arise.


Think about a very successful company in a highly competitive market that’s become so focussed on making the best decision that it suffers from “analysis paralysis,” missing out on timely opportunities.

Anxious refers to the chronic sense of worry, fear, or stress often caused by uncertainty, leading to indecision and inaction. Key drivers of anxiety include:

  • Information overload – the exponential increase in data and information completely outpaces human capability to make sense of it, creating a perpetual state of overload which can generate confusion and anxiety with important signals getting lost in the noise;
  • Lack of stability – frequent change in technologies, business models and operating contexts provokes a sense of impermanence and uncertainty which breeds anxiety and uncertainty avoidance;
  • Perceived lack of agency – a feeling of powerlessness in influencing external events, combined with uncertainty over how the future will unfold, erodes personal agency and contributes to anxiety.


Think about a startup with a unique idea who rapidly becomes a market leader, overshadowing larger, more established companies. Or a social influencer’s single post having a major impact on sales, whereas a major advertising campaign falls completely flat. These examples demonstrate a nonlinear rise to success.

We are witnessing non-linearity when it comes to changes in our climate, whereby factors are so interconnected that they are hard to control or predict.

Nonlinearity refers to situations where the relationship between cause and effect is not straightforward or proportional, meaning small actions may have outsized consequences, or large efforts may result in minimal outcomes. It recognises that change does not follow predictable, linear cause-and-effect patterns. Drivers of nonlinearity include:

  • Black swan events – unpredictable and unlikely events (making preparation difficult) that have severe and widespread impacts;
  • Butterfly effects – small initial changes in a complex system can cascade in unpredictable and chaotic ways, leading to magnified ultimate effects wholly disproportionate to the initial cause;
  • Phase transitions – gradual change reaching a tipping point threshold where incremental change abruptly gives way to a wholesale transformation or shift to a new state.


Think about the global financial system, with its intricate web of relationships, regulations, and interdependencies. It’s often cited as incomprehensible. Or think about artificial intelligence systems making opaque decisions based on machine learning models even their own designers can’t fully comprehend.

Incomprehensible describes situations or challenges which defy human understanding due to their complexity, ambiguity, or the sheer volume of information involved. There are hard cognitive limits to how much data people can process and comprehend, and computing power and AI haven’t (yet) closed this gap.

Drivers of incomprehensibility include:

  • Excessive intricacy – the complexity of emergent systems made up of intricately interrelated and entangled components and the volumes of information each component produces feels chaotic and prevents holistic analysis;
  • Fragmentation – when knowledge and perspectives become siloed into highly specialised niches, it becomes difficult to piece together a unified picture of the underlying interconnections;
  • Unintended consequences – seemingly sensible interventions can yield unexpected systemic reactions in complex interconnected systems leading to outcomes contrary to the original intent.

The forces of BANI will challenge us, but need not overwhelm us

While BANI paints a turbulent picture, accepting this new reality is the first step to navigating it effectively. Embracing fluidity, nonlinearity and complexity allows us to focus on building resilience through adaptability.

Next week we’ll post part 2 of this article which explores practical steps to cultivate organisational agility in the face of BANI; from creating environments which can learn and adapt, to shifting mindsets and leveraging technology. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Share this article