Precarity; the new word for our era – an insight from The Fourth Training is Here by Neil Howe

The Fourth Turning is HerePrecarious:  characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger.


“For them, the middle class was always shrinking and mostly inaccessible. Coming of age, one word they have heard frequently (its use has skyrocketed since 2008) is “precarity.” They cannot recall the presence of strong institutions and have grown up fearing—even expecting—another crisis in their absence.”The Fourth Turning Is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us about How and When This Crisis Will End by Neil Howe


On the one hand, there are plenty of organizations and companies that go about their business, making products or providing services that we all need. They are “successful.”  We buy their products, eat the food they provide, pay for their services. They keep our world working well.

On the other hand, practically all of us feel…uneasy.  As though things are really about to get worse than bad.  From unhappiness at work, toxic workplaces, global warming, and on and on, many feel like the world is…precarious.

I felt like the above passage from The Fourth Turning is Here just leapt out at me.  I am presenting my synopsis of this new book at the September 1 First Friday Book Synopsis.  It is a provocative, sobering book.

But it is especially this word precarity that has captured my thinking.

In a lunch group, I said that maybe precarity is the fifth word to add to VUCA.  We’ve been using VUCA for a few years to describe the unsettledness of our time.  So, my suggestion was this update:

V – Volatility

U – Uncertainty

C – Complexity

A – Ambiguity


P – Precarity

But a sharp, astute consultant had a better observation after our lunch discussion.  She said:  Precarity is not the fifth word to the formula, but instead is a result of a VUCA era.  In other words, all of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity have made our world, and more and more people around us, feel that things really are precarious. Precarity is what we are experiencing.  Precarity is what VUCA has created.

I think this coach was right.

So…what do we do about it?  Tune in for the synopsis…but… I’m not sure there will be a satisfying answer…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *