The Black Swan, the Grey Rhino and the Pink Elephant.

Right now, it’s a jungle out there.

Nassim Taleb’s notion of the Black Swan , those high impact, low probability events that can upend our understanding of our world rapidly became part of business folklore. From 911 to financial crashes, it also became a management “get out of jail free” card. A license for helplessness. “Nobody could have seen it coming”. Not true, but convenient.

Michel Wucker added to the leadership zoo with her “Gray Rhino” metaphor, a highly probable high impact event that is in plain sight and charging towards us, that we choose to ignore. It is entering business folklore. Housing bubbles, well dressed Ponzi schemes, and more recently the pandemic. Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss and Inequality are all Gray Rhinos.

We also have of course the Pink Elephants, the rather showy, noisy, trumpeting fellow zoo inhabitant that all the visitors flock to. The highly improbable, highly attractive fantasy. Beloved of politicians and social media it comes both friendly and unfriendly versions. The seemingly friendly – the stock market fantasy beloved of Redditers such as Gamestop, through the social media memes, to the lottery. Highly distracting fun, diverting us from the Gray Rhino charging at us and driving the Black Swan into invisibility.

If we know about these things though, reality is we’re culpable. Black Swans are as difficult to spot as they are inevitable, but Gray Rhino’s? We have increasing amounts of data, but those talking about it are billed as alarmist. They are a genuine threat, and highly inconvenient truths, but they can still be stopped if we pay attention and act accordingly.

What concerns me personally is the number of people, in businesses large and small who are following their own Pink Elephants, hoping to win the lottery.

There is an alternative. Conversation. Setting some time aside to talk with people you trust, without agenda, just looking round the zoo. Not only do our own Gray Rhinos become clearer, so do the opportunities they leave in their path.

We are not helpless, but we do need to pay attention.

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