Of Black Swan events and Revolution

Part of my previous life involved working with offshore drilling crews and training them in leadership and communication.  I found this group of people to be some of the most interesting and delightful I’ve ever met. If they didn’t like what you said you’d be left in no doubt as to their response.  I liked that.  I also met some whom I describe as muppets.  They were the ones you wouldn’t trust with a rowing boat on the Serpentine let alone a sixth generation rig working deep-water on a highly deviated well.  They tended to be known about and people worked around their incompetence, minimising their influence in ways that was sometimes subtle and, at other times, well, not.  

One of the concepts to which I introduced them was what I called a Black Swan event.  Developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it’s a metaphor for something that appears to have come out of nowhere and then, as my former colleagues would say, ‘bites you in the ass.’  I prefer the British term, arse.  Anyway, same thing, same effect, same pain.  It was only when you looked back could you see that ‘it was obvious, really.’  You then have it rationalised by hind-sight.  Anything recently come to mind?

Let me ask you a few questions.  What do you think happens when people feel ignored?  What do you think happens when people feel disenfranchised?  What do you think happens when people see an elite continuing in its own way with no penalty for their previous misbehaviours?  (Bankers come to mind here as well as others responsible for the 2008 financial crash.)  What do you think happens when the party meant to be representing the ‘common man and woman’ is now just a big money-raising machine beholden to those whose money they’re asking for?  (Wall Street and Corporations come to mind.)  What do you think happens when someone offers a way out of this vicious circle, no matter that he’s a millionaire himself and known to be a liar?  I could go on but you get the picture.  The answer is simple – Revolution.  

In the UK we had the revolution of Brexit.  In the US the revolution was the election of Trump.  Currently there’s a sense of triumphalism in both camps.  There’s also the triumphalism of the Far Right in Europe, their expectations are quite high as I write.  Don’t count on it though.  It may now be the time of such beliefs but as the Persian Sufi poets would say, ‘this too shall soon pass.

The same with revolutions.  There’s something that I feel such people should remember, revolutions have a habit of devouring their own children.  History is replete with examples.  In the end, one ends up with more of the same and the saying, ‘Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss’ comes to mind.  When this happens, and it will, the reaction will be anger.

The outcome then won’t be a Black Swan, it’ll be something completely unexpected.

That’s when life has the potential to become a tad dangerous. 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

2 thoughts on “Of Black Swan events and Revolution

  • 22nd November 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I have to say it does feel that the world is completely out of kilter and that someone or something is playing a terrible joke on us all (and I don’t just mean Brexit and the American election!). I dearly hope that you are wrong but fear you may well be right!

    • 22nd November 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Regrettably so, I’m afraid, Polly.


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