Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Fallibility of Inevitability
Big Brown was paraded in front of the crowd at Belmont not once, not twice, but three times as part of the pageantry demonstrating the complete dominance of this unbeaten three year old. In the Derby and the Preakness, this horse made his competitors look like they were walking, even though they were running with all their might. This was the horse that made winning look so easy, the one whose capture of the Triple Crown at Belmont was so inevitable that his trainer guaranteed it as a "foregone conclusion." He was also the horse whose thoroughbred pedigree seemed to disappear while his jockey was still riding him; he seemed to age irreparably in one quarter of a mile; he was Errol Flynn at 50.
I was there to witness it, I was one of the throng applauding Napoleon launching his attack on Russia, watching the Yankees take the field against the Red Sox at Fenway for Game 4 in 2004, and I was that good looking guy wearing a superior smile as I squired a beautiful date past a wonkish Roy Orbison as he whistled a forlorn version of "Pretty Woman."
Yes, I was full-throatedly with the conquerors when Big Brown came into the home stretch in the third position a little on the outside just like he had in the Derby and the Preakness just before moving out to an unbeatable lead. Thousands and thousands of us were hailing his supremacy. But, we were wrong.
It was quite an experience being part of a mob that was so sure that it was right about something only to see the longest of all the long shots, Da’ Tara, pay $79 for every $2 bet on him to win. It was a lesson in how little we know, a reminder of the power of futuring.
Futuring is the learning process of considering the logical and improbable possibilities present in every moment. Da' Tara's triumph is the stuff of magic; a reminder of how much there is to fear. It is exactly the thing that is never supposed to happen, and, yet, it so frequently does. It is the tragic comedy of Condeleeza Rice saying "Who could imagine that someone would use an airplane as a weapon" only to find herself equally shocked that elections in the Gaza Strip would bring the fanatics of Hamas to power: "Nobody saw it coming."
Deep futuring through methods such as Structural Dynamics frequently demonstrates that somebody did, in fact, see it coming. Katrina, forecast by many. Resolution of the energy crisis, just around the corner according to the modern day Edison, Stan Ovshinsky. Dentistry upstaged by a mouthwash? Hey, it could happen.
Over and over again through such publications as his Book of the Damned, reality critics like Charles Fort have provided data to prove that the absolutely and often ridiculously impossible is, in fact, an everyday occurrence. Got a problem with today; follow Annie's advice and just hang on till tomorrow.
As implied by the deeply thoughful (and very wealthy!) Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan, the inevitability of the highly improbable has tremendous ramifications for leadership, especially in this era where more and more drivers of change and stability are matrixed to each other. Randomness is to be expected. Chance is certain.
The psychological consequences of such an era are absolutely monumental. It is natural to search for meaning and certainty, but they are likely to be ephemeral, especially the latter.
A leader and a leading organization or social unit brings a degree of unity to this cacophony of stimuli. He, she, they or it impart a sense of meaningful journey to what might otherwise be no more than a horrific stampede of noise. Just like Gregory Hines in Tap, a leader discovers the combinations where there aren't any.
So, Da' Tara, this one is for you. May every one hit wonder be as beautiful. Thanks for proving, yet once again, that inevitability ain't all that it's cracked up to be.