“Instead of worrying about “what’s going to be new,” focus on what won’t change. That will be time spent wisely.” The Daily Coach
”What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” Plato
“Any time a new change is foisted upon us, very quickly there is a bias to thinking that the new present is the future. That is almost universally never the case.” Amy Webb
(Day 51 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)
This week I learned a new term: “black elephant.” A “black elephant” is a cross between a “black swan,” a rare, low-probability, unanticipated event with enormous ramifications—and “the elephant in the room, a problem that is widely visible to everyone, yet that no one wants to address, even though we absolutely know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.”
There is, and has been for a while, a herd of global “black elephants” gathering “out there.” “When they hit, and they already are, we’ll claim they were black swans that no one could have predicted, but in fact they are black elephants, very visible right now”—We’re just not dealing with them according to the scale and speed needed.
We will weigh the “black elephant” events with how the global security community is keeping up with the ramifications. This subject is enormously important for our businesses, as well as for us as individuals.
The nature, scope and spectrum of conflicts, and security are changing. The emerging security paradigm is framed by new asymmetrical warfare, increasingly easy to access powerful weapons, violent extremism, conflicting motivations, and a relatively chaotic organization (sic) of the parties involved. The diversification of threats and actors is generating new challenges to the defense (sic) and security communities, as well as to society as a whole.
Just how quickly is the world changing around us? There is a wonderful scientific axiom called, “Moore’s Law.” Moore’s Law, first postulated by Gordon Moore, is what happens when you keep doubling the power of microchips every two years for fifty years, which he postulated would happen—for example: if you took a company Intel’s first-generation microchip from 1971, the 4004, and the latest chip that Intel has on the market today, the sixth-generation Intel Core Processor, you would see that Intel’s latest chip offers 3,500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more energy efficient, and about 60,000 times lower in cost.
To put it more vividly, Intel engineers did a rough calculation of what would happen had a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as microchips did under Moore’s Law. These are the numbers: Today, that Beetle would be able to go about three hundred thousand miles per hour. It would get two million miles of gas per gallon, and it would cost four cents! Intel engineers also estimated that if automobile fuel efficiency improved at the same rate as Moore’s Law, you could, roughly speaking, drive a car your whole life on one tank of gasoline.
There are tectonic changes occurring at such incredible speeds around the world today that we as humans are having a difficult time keeping up. We have anticipated many of these changes, such as the current coronavirus, but our capacity to develop policy, responses, and crisis planning for them have been outstripped by the acceleration of their unfolding. Think for a moment, about your New Year’s goals for 2020. How many of you included, “stay-at-home orders” in your goals? Let me remind you that it is only the first part of May. This situation is a “black elephant.”
The coronavirus is a “black swan” that nobody specifically predicted. Though there were certainly some forecasts about it, few were prepared to discuss the possible global ramifications of such a pandemic. Certainly, no one foresaw that the coronavirus could become a global event that would cost trillions of dollars from which to recover.
Let’s turn our attention to the matter at hand. If a “black virulent elephant” could take the world by surprise, what are some other “black elephants” that might be lurking around the corner, especially regarding potential global security crises? How will accelerated global changes affect your personal security and lifestyle in the very near future, sooner than you may realize? Here is just a sampling of potential “black elephants” in our lives.
- There is a reality quickly emerging, and in many ways already exists for much of the world. In the very near future, there will be an end to the online/offline dichotomy. Soon our entire lives will be perpetually online.
- The first “black elephant” listed will produce, or I should say increase a phenomenon that emphasizes our dependence on devices, even for the simplest tasks.
- Both of the above “black elephants” will bring about, or more accurately stated, increase the end of privacy as we have known it in the past. It will perpetuate the continued rise of surveillance in an effort to protect us from those who would abuse the reality that we are always online and utterly dependent on our devices.
- Soon there will be a loss of human autonomy in the face of artificial intelligence. To quote Gerd Leonhard, CEO of the Futures Agency: “Machines will know us better than our closest friends and spouses, giving us utterly flawless comments, advice, and recommendations and very accurate personal predictions–in fact running our lives to a very large degree… The backlash will be strong, as well, but for the most part addiction and convenience will prevail.”
- Before long there will be the complete personalization of everything and the end of serendipity, the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. I know many who will find this a comforting thing. For me, it is a looming nightmare causing me to consider becoming a Luddite.
These are just a few of the ways that our lives will be disrupted. These disruptions are primarily technological, ie…brought on by mankind. There are other factors driving accelerated change, including: interstate competition, geo-political relationships, global economics, populist movement influence, and the international order’s structural power institutions that enforce norms.
In a nutshell? If you think the events in 2020 are causing the world to move sideways, just hold on. The next decade will go forward in, as rapid an accelerated rate, as in the past ten years. With the introduction of technologies, such as “5G” we could see momentous gains in technological advancements. We need to be reminded however, that nothing is free. Everything always comes with a cost; costs such as environmental, social, personal freedom, security and most of all, spiritual.
Therefore, “Heads up!” Be ready for these costs. Once we all get our equilibrium back from the current global pandemic, there will be gargantuan opportunities to progress as well as regress. Much of the outcome will depend on how well-grounded we are as we enter the reality of the disruptions. For some, it will be a great step forward. For many, it will be a step backward. The clearer your vision is, the easier the overcoming of the disruptions will be. Author, Tim Jackson once said, “We don’t make it through tough times, we are made through tough times.”
As the future brings “black elephants” into our world, will we face them clearly knowing who we are and what we were created to do? Will we allow these tough times to make us into stronger human beings or to cause us to step back in fear, anxiously casting ourselves at the feet of those who promise to deliver us?
I read recently in the Economist, “The state must act decisively. But history suggests that the state does not give up all the ground it takes during crises. Today that has implications not just for the economy, but also for the surveillance of individuals.” We ought to pay close attention to the ground we are prepared to give up in this crisis and in future disruptions. In stark contrast to the confident years in which most of us grew up, it is difficult to know what happens next. Anxiety has replaced hubris.
Here are a few suggestions as to how you or your company can, not only survive, but thrive in the midst of these chaotic days, coming out on the other side as having benefited from this crisis.
- Think more. What is needed more than ever is greater literacy of complex ideas along with active reflection on future causality. The truth is that we all must understand more so that we can fear less. Read, listen, think. If we are to survive and thrive in this new age of uncertainty, we will all have to learn to navigate complexity.
- Become a better decision-maker. Having a clearly understood vision of your mission is imperative. Studies have shown that those who are decisive and informed are able to navigate the murky waters of crisis much better than those who “wing it” or are indecisive.
- Stay out of debt as much as possible. It was discovered in the same “Harvard Business Review” study, cited above, that those who were debt-ridden were far less likely to come out on the other side of crises with a solid footing. They were more likely to declare bankruptcy, and not be able to weather the storm.
- Resist the temptation to take the “easy road.” The easiest road is not always the best road. It may provide a short-term solution, but when considering the long-term effects, lead to a dead end.
- Stay healthy. It would be easy to allow ourselves to become lazy during pandemic seasons, however, there is never a more important time than during a crisis to stay healthy. Exercise. Use the opportunities you have to get more physically fit.
- Nurture your walk with God. Crises can offer us a season of greater clarity than at other times in our lives. Use these difficult days to reconnect with your Creator. Reconnect with your family as well.
- Learn a new skill. Teach yourself something new. Learn a language. Take an online course. Get an advanced degree. Anything you can do to better yourself increases your marketability as you come out on the other side of the crisis.
By the way, let me recommend a very good book at this point entitled, “Thank You for Being Late,” by Thomas Friedman. This book has helped me to develop a much better understanding of just how quickly the world is moving today and how we as humans are having a difficult time keeping up with it.
COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch…https://www.crisisgroup.org/global/sb4-covid-19-and-conflict-seven-trends-watch
North Korea After Kim Jong Un: ‘How’ matters More than ‘Who’… https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/04/north-korea-after-kim-jong-un-how-matters-more-than.html
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: email@example.com
Friedman, Thomas L.. Thank You for Being Late (p. 158). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.