It is increasingly certain that if humanity continues on its current path, a confluence of severe global emergencies will cause devastating consequences well before this century is over. These emergencies include climate disruption, population overreach, collapsing biodiversity, clean energy scarcity, economic inequity and crushing migration. As the Cascade Institute notes, the convergence of extreme global stresses, if unchecked in the coming decades, “will disrupt vital natural systems, cripple economies, deepen social divisions and ultimately generate widespread societal breakdown and violence.”
Using intelligence-based research and analysis tools, our mission is to develop and promote “black swan sensitive” leverage point strategies that could bring about a rapid and positive shift in humanity’s trajectory away from global catastrophe toward a more sustainable, rewarding and equitable culture on Earth.
A Little About Our Approach
“Black swan” is a metaphor that was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor, writer, and former Wall Street trader. He describes a black swan as an event that:
- is so rare that even the possibility that it might occur is discounted,
- has a catastrophic impact when it does occur, and
- is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable.
Taleb argues that unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence have in fact played a dominant role throughout history and that collectively these have had vastly larger roles than regular occurrences in taking us to where we are today as a society.
Andrew A. Hill, Chair of Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College, notes, ”When writers invoke the black swan today, they usually refer to Taleb’s meaning, not the older, philosophical sense. This is unfortunate, because in emphasizing the importance of anticipation, Taleb’s concept of the black swan ignores key facts about history and how it is understood by those who live it… Events that we think of in hindsight as tremendous shocks that come without warning have often taken months, years, or even longer periods to unravel. In the time between the weak signals of change and the onset of a deeper crisis, there are often opportunities to prepare and adapt.”
The real challenge with black swan events is not accurate anticipation, but timely recognition. While it can be useful to imagine what might happen, we should focus more on recognizing what is happening as quickly as possible, and limiting the damage through timely learning. – Andrew Hill
Leverage points are the systems analyst’s term for places in a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything. Both the Earth’s climate and modern civilization are complex systems in every meaning of the term. From the viewpoint of problem solving, a complex system is a system whose overall behavior cannot be easily predicted from an examination of its individual parts. “Leverage points are points of power,” noted American environmental scientist Donella Meadows. “[They] are not intuitive. Or if they are, we intuitively use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve,”
Strategic intelligence generally involves the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence that is required for forming policy and plans at a national and international level. Much of the information needed for strategic reflections comes from publicly available Open Source Intelligence (OSI), although other intelligence research methods and sources may also prove key.
Part of our approach involves the use of scenarios. Scenario analysis or the scenario method describes a strategic planning method that some organizations and governments use to make flexible long-term plans when the future is uncertain. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods traditionally used by military intelligence.
As scenario planning has evolved over the last few decades, it may now involve aspects of systems thinking, specifically the recognition that many factors can combine in complex ways to create sometimes surprising futures (due to non-linear feedback loops). The scenario method also allows the inclusion of factors that are difficult to formalize, such as novel insights about the future, deep shifts in values, and unprecedented inventions. Systems thinking used in conjunction with scenario planning leads to plausible scenario storylines because the causal relationship between factors can be demonstrated.
Founded by Blake Harris, Black Swan Strategic Intelligence is currently funded in part through the sale of syndicated content, original feature articles and other media products. As such, Blake and his associates currently take on writing and consulting assignments germane to our mission and to subjects under current investigation.
In a writing and journalism career that has spanned over four decades, Blake’s work has regularly appeared in dozens of publications in North American and Europe. Over the years, he has predominately covered such topics as evolving technologies, business innovation, disaster management, sustainability, futures research and government for a changing society.