In my (futile) attempt to get caught up after taking a week for focus on CNU, I missed perhaps the most important event on my calendar yesterday, that being an appointment with my wife to look at a house. Definitely a wakeup call that I have too many things in the hopper right now. So please forgive the short post today. Despite the length, it is definitely worth your time.
I took three books with me last week to Atlanta, two of which attack essentially the same problem from a different direction: uncertainty.
The highly-regarded book The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb attacks the issue of uncertainty somewhat quantitative and forces the reader to come to grips with the idea that, just because a person may have only ever seen swans that are white, it does not prove that all swans are white. Some may be black, an unexpected phenomenon that, when observed, would lay waste to a belief system built on the observations of only white swans.
The second book is called The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It by Joshua Cooper Ramo. While I am only 2/3rds of the way through it, so far he has discussed many ways in which we are not seeing the complexity around us and how that repeatedly leads us to stumble rather blindly and ineffectively into the future. He stresses the importance of seeing systems, not objects, and in working to build resilience, not offense or defense.
Taken together, these books highlight something alarming, but true: we are finding out that our systems are very fragile at the same time that we are growing to understand how unexpected events change the world very quickly. We've built this fast-moving, highly-connected society - one that seemingly accelerates the frequency of black swan events - but we have not adapted our systems of living to provide us structural resilience in this new world.
We can't fight a war on terror the way we fought the first war in Iraq just like we can't educate kids in 2010 like we educated them in 1950 just like we can't build communities today like we did before the market correction. These systems are no longer good enough - they leave us too vulnerable to change that we know is coming (even though, as per Taleb, we do not know exactly from where it will come or what form it will take). We seem to be tightly wound and lacking flexibility. What we lack is, in a word, resilience.
Note, this is not a discussion of the American spirit but of the systems we have developed.
Yesterday we posted a bonus podcast of James Kunstler at CNU, which will give you a little of the dire side of what a failure to be robust and adaptive could bring. I'm going to write more about The Black Swan especially in the future, but for now, this video is a lecture from Nassim Taleb that gives a good, shortened version of the concepts outlined in the book.