(Well, maybe more of a zoo…)
This may not seem like a logical time to talk about animals, but trust us, the ones we’re about to introduce to you make some of the best arguments for Futuring, starting with the Black Swan.
The theory of Black Swan events was introduced by Nicholas Taleb in his 2001 book, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and In Life, to explain major shifts in financial markets that were unpredicted. He later expanded on the topic in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and extended the concept to areas outside of finance. For Taleb, in order for an event to qualify as a Black Swan, it must be unexpected, have a high impact, and rationalized after the fact -thus making it seem predictable (at least retrospectively). Examples include the Internet, smart phones, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Some of these happen suddenly, while others are in progress for years before appearing as an unexpected phenomenon. For all Black Swans, predicting them is not the goal, but remaining resilient in the face of them is. So, while Futuring may not always allow you to predict a Black Swan, it does prepare you to deal with it more expeditiously should one show up.
The Red Herring is a mischievous creature that can interfere with our view of both the present and the future. While we are typically underprepared for the Black Swan, we are over-prepared for the Red Herring. Readers of mysteries are familiar with the notion of the Red Herring, which presents itself as a useful clue, but is actually misleading and false and intended to guide the reader to forming incorrect assumptions about the crime. The Red Herring lures us in with its seductive ideas, convincing us we are onto something, only to fizzle out after commanding time and resources that could have been directed to more fruitful ventures.
Think of the millions of dollars spent trying to find medicines to reduce amyloid deposition in the brains of Alzheimer patients. It is still not clear whether the amyloid is cause or effect of the disease and targeting the protein has had little true effect on the disease to date. This type of Red Herring can be costly and divert resources from other theories that may yield a better outcome for the patient.
One way to be alert to (and avoid swallowing) potential Red Herrings is to monitor changes over time, using the outcomes of Futuring as our guide. As soon as a hot trend begins to go cold, we can reasonably suspect a Red Herring is in play and adjust our attention accordingly.
Next time, we’ll introduce two more of our animal friends, The Elephant in the Room, and the Gray Rhino.