Peter Ho was the head of the civil service in Singapore. He invented the concept of the Black Elephant, which he described like this:
“The black elephant is the evil spawn of our cognitive biases. It is a cross between a black swan and the proverbial elephant in the room. The black elephant is a problem that is actually visible to everyone, but no one wants to deal with it, and so they pretend it is not there. When it blows up as a problem, we all feign surprise and shock, behaving as if it were a black swan.”
(Black swans refers to Nicholas Taleb’s term for unknown unknowns)
The reality is that we are surrounded by black elephants. It seems that this is the one species that is not due for extinction any time soon.
Here is a list of black elephants that spring to mind immediately:
– a no deal Brexit
– major split of the UK Labour Party
– climate change and life-threatening environmental degradation
– a political system that is no longer fit for purpose
– an economic system that, by design, keeps driving increasing concentration of wealth
– a financial system always teetering on the edge of collapse
– an unsustainable, and growing, level of public and private debt
– a world trading system that cannot cope with the rise of a state controlled Chinese economy
– culture and identity wars
At Radix, we hope to raise awareness of Black Elephants and try to energise action to tackle at least some of them. Of course the first step in such action is to make people face the fact that they actually exist.
I invite our readers to contribute to generating as long a list of black elephants as they can think of and to put them in order of which they think should are the more important ones.
This is not meant to be an exercise in generating mass depression. But, as Ho says, accepting that these beasts exist is the first step towards tackling them.
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