Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Swans and White Squirrels

Driving home from work one evening last fall a white squirrel ran out of the woods, across the blacktop to rustle among the leaves there. A white squirrel.

If blending in was this guy’s goal he was a little early. He stood out on the road and amongst the copper leaves like a polar bear in a coal-mine. But come winter… when the snow flies and the world turns white, this little fellow will have the advantage. While his grey cousins would be risking life and limb leaving their nests, he could freely scamper out. And he looks pretty cool - if I were a young lady squirrel… just sayin’. Maybe generations from now there will be grey squirrels that turn white in the winter, taking the best of both adaptations.

As owner of a social enterprise, I can relate to the white squirrel. We stand out now, looking perhaps a little foolish to our grey-backed brethren. But the snow is coming. The leaves are falling, leaving bare the skeletons of traditional businesses we thought were evergreen. There’s a time coming soon when being a white squirrel may have its advantages.

I gave a silent thank you to my small white messenger, and felt my heart lifted by the idea that we’re doing something important.

I’ve read about Black Swan Events. Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests in his book, The Black Swan, that many historic events (Think World War, the rise of the Internet, September 11)are rare and unpredictable, but because we crave understanding, we create stories after the fact to explain what happened in a way that makes it seem predictable.

I’d like to suggest that there are also White Squirrel events. Both are rare and unpredictable, and they both result from our desire as human beings to understand through the creation of a story around that event. But while Black Swan Events have a large impact and cannot be ignored, White Squirrel Events are easily and often ignored at which point they sink back into the background of our lives and are easily forgotten. But if you are open to its message, a White Squirrel Event can help lead you somewhere new, and if you follow through, in hindsight it will all make sense and seem like the natural course of events.

I’m willing to accept The Black Swans, but I plan to be on the lookout for White Squirrels.

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