“An obsession with the “unforeseeable” black swan metaphor has promoted a mentality that led us straight into the mess we’re in now: a sense of helplessness in the face of daunting threats and a sucker’s mentality that encourages people to keep throwing good money after bad. And the facile willingness to see crises as black swans has provided policymakers cover for failing to act in the face of clear and present dangers from climate change to health care to economic insecurity. This accountability vacuum has pervaded U.S. policy on financial risk and on the pandemic,” she wrote, calling for readers to use the coronavirus crisis as a catalyst for adopting a more pro-active response to the obvious risks we tend to ignore. “Let’s trade the black swan for the gray rhino: a mind-set that holds ourselves and our government accountable for heeding warnings and acting when we still have a chance to change the course of events for the better instead of waiting for a crisis to act,” she wrote. Read the full article HERE.
Ben Zimmer of The Wall Street Journal quoted the Washington Post piece in an article published March 19, 2020 online and in print in the Weekend edition: ‘Black Swan’: A Rare Disaster, Not as Rare as Once Believed [paywall], noting her challenge to the black swan trope –for unknowable, unforeseeable events– which became popular during the last financial crisis.
The European Union has known since the creation of the euro that the currency was bound for trouble if did not create workable ways to adjust for the wide differences among its national economies. Yet well into its second decade, its failure to do so threatens the currency’s future. The deadly defects in ignition switches and airbags at General Motors and Takata, and the emissions test fixing at Volkswagen were hardly a secret inside the companies, which covered them up instead of correcting them. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change caused by human activity, temperatures keep rising, with this July marking the hottest month ever recorded.
The reasons are different in each case, but the pattern is the same: humans consistently fail to respond to looming dangers, at astronomical costs in lives, money, reputation, and lost opportunities. Once you start looking at how many crises began with clear but essentially ignored warning signals, it becomes strikingly clear how often we miss opportunities to head off predictable problems.
Too many people take for granted that we cannot react in time to change the course of the disasters even when they are right in front of us. It’s well past time to challenge this assumption.
I sat down with Reuters Breakingviews US Editor Jeffrey Goldfarb for a conversation on The Exchange about why it’s more important to look for gray rhinos than black swans and how to keep from getting trampled. The interview aired June 23, 2016. Click the image below to view the video.
It’s time to pay attention to “gray rhinos,” says policy expert Michele Wucker.
Parker Richards interviewed me for this piece in the New York Observer, published April 2, 2016. “It’s not just a book, it’s a new way of thinking about the world’s problems,” he wrote. Read the full interview HERE.