Frieda de Bruyn

Mastering BANI: Learning design in an uncertain world

Acronyms are as popular in New Zealand as the good old cheese scone or cheese roll, depending on which side of Cook Strait you find yourself.

Back in 2001, the United States Army War College, was one of the first organisations to use the acronym VUCA to describe the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous scenarios they were faced with and had to plan for.

It has since been adopted as a managerial tool to strategically plan for challenges an organisation might be faced with.

Then 2020 hit and VUCA no longer seemed to accurately describe the challenges we were facing.

Author and anthropologist Jamais Cascio reflected on the rapidly changing post-Covid world and created the acronym BANI, to align more with the new reality:

How can we use the BANI-model to create learning that will have a positive and uplifting impact on the lives of our people?

Let’s take a deep dive into each of the four elements:



B is for Brittle

Think of a frozen lake.

It looks sturdy and strong, but there's no knowing how thick or thin that ice really is. You can take a few steps and all seems fine, and then suddenly you hear a tiny crack and the consequences could be disastrous!

Our new reality is an interconnected one that feels brittle. It appears sturdy and strong, but when it breaks it's dramatic.

A war or issue in one country, has a global ripple-effect on produce, the economy, fuel etc. Okay, fair enough, but you may be wondering what does this have to do with our people?

We need to analyse whether there might be brittle aspects within the organisation that could be addressed through L&D. It may be a single point of failure (SPOF) in the organisation.

For example, Martha works in the finance team. She’s everyone's go-to person but if she’s sick or on leave no one else can help.

How do you make sure that an issue in one part of the organisation, doesn't create an unwanted ripple effect on other parts of the organisation?

Could you upskill people to be knowledgeable in more than one area of the business?

Could you have multiple ‘Marthas’ instead of one?

It's also imperative to focus on the soft skills needed to support and enable your kaimahi to feel safe, secure and resilient in this brittle reality.

Skills we need to focus on to equip our people for a Brittle world:

  • Create a culture of mahi tahi.
  • Have a plan B.
  • Strengthen your team by investing in learning to foster capacity and resilience.

LEARN: Building Personal Resilience (free eLearning module)



A IS for Anxious

With a multitude of information sources, it's difficult to distinguish between what's real and what's 'fake news'.

People are anxiously awaiting more bad news to disrupt their personal and work worlds in a major way. When something big like COVID happens, people have to make difficult decisions, that don’t only affect their work, but their whānau as well.

Many could be feeling they have limited or no options, that they're passive in the journey of life. They might be feeling scared and vulnerable which will have a big effect on the 'whole person' each of our kaimahi brings to work.

How can we factor this into our L&D?

Think about the wellbeing learning opportunities and support you have available. How do you provide time and space for kaimahi working remotely to leave their work behind when they live and work in the same space?

Are there opportunities for teams to connect if you have a hybrid workplace?

Do you have any coaching opportunities in place and are your leaders equipped to support their teams effectively?

Think about possible opportunities for growth to empower your kaimahi.

Skills we need to focus on to equip our people for an Anxious world:



N for non-linear

Consequences are no longer linear and cause and effect aren't proportional.

In a non-linear environment a small decision can have devastating consequences. Great effort may not bring great outcomes. The result of an action might come with a huge delay or not be visible at all.

Non-linear thinking is not sequential.

It's the ability to create connections between concepts/ideas, even when they are not related. This type of thinking is more abstract and less logical.

Feels a bit like you're stuck in a scene from the movie Inception?

Let’s reflect on how this applies to L&D.

How do we ensure we are innovative and able to adapt to challenging situations?

What opportunities are we providing for mahi tahi and outside-the-box thinking?

We need to be creative and adaptable.

Skills we need to focus on to equip our people for a Non-linear world:

  • Foster the ability to have an open approach.
  • Maintain fresh eyes.
  • Seek different perspectives and views on tackling a challenge.
  • Be innovative and able to adapt.



I for Incomprehensible

We don't have control over everything.

It's natural to ask 'Why did this happen?'. But, as we know from our reflections on the pandemic, there aren't answers to all our questions and the answers we do have don't always make sense.

We rely on data and information to try to make sense of it all. However, overload results in incomprehensibility; the more we try to understand an incomprehensible situation, the more we feel overwhelmed.

We know that feedback, data and metrics are all important aspects in helping us to improve on our L&D practice.

Take a moment to consider what you are measuring through your L&D?

Are you focusing purely on the data/metrics or are you measuring against the learning and organisational outcomes? At Inspire Group, we focus on ‘be, know and do’ learning outcomes.

It’s not only about the knowledge and skills we want our learners to gain, but also the mindset and attitude. What do we want our learners to believe about their role in the organisation, themselves and place in society.

There’s something much more powerful in focusing on that, rather than whether a large percentage of the kaimahi obtained the pass rate.

Are we adding value to their lives?

Are they feeling confident, secure and empowered?

Skills we need to focus on to equip our people:

  • Develop intuition.
  • Build on the trust relationship within the organisation through transparency.
  • Focus on self-directed learning and intrinsic motivation.


Our reality has certainly changed from what it once was, but it doesn’t need to be one that leaves our people feeling lost and defeated.

American businessman and actor, Jimmy Dean said: “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

Working in learning and development gives us that opportunity to help our people know how to adjust their sails, be able to do it and have the confidence and belief that they play a valuable part in the process of reaching our destination as an organisation.

We will leave you with these call-to-action reflection questions:

  • What's one thing you're dealing with in our BANI world?
  • What skills do you (or your learners) need to be equipped for success?

And, if you're looking for a tool to help you build a learning strategy which utilises the BANI framework, check out this free eLearning module we've created!