In 2019, the illusions of the Germans would burst, those of the EU anyway, and there would be a very rude awakening in many other countries as well. Experts agreed on that in 2018. In principle, there was no denying that things were changing in our environment, of which we ourselves are a part.
But it was also quite clear beforehand that we have been in a crisis for a very long time. And even greater crises are just around the corner. That was the tenor of the most recent years. We have all taken note of this, in part with a little concern and in part with no concern at all. If it is not more of a crisis, then the crisis should be fine with us. On the meta level, one could even go so far as to put a Supertramp album title in the room: “Crisis? What crisis?” Despite all the anticipation of crisis, the future seemed to be safe.
The future has been here since 2020 at the latest. Completely different from what everyone expected. No one can seriously ask today “Crisis? What crisis?” For almost a year now, we have all been living, professionally and privately, in a kind of crisis mode, in a kind of perceived state of emergency, having managed the first lockdown, being in the middle of the second. And because, despite the vaccine, we don’t know when it will all end again, we live in the present and the future at the same time. At present, we always have to be prepared for all options at the same time; which the common turkey generally is not.
Nassim Taleb published his fascinating book “The Black Swan” a few years ago. This black swan had already played a prominent role in Critical Rationalism and the falsification principle of Karl Popper. It is about what is and what could be; about the “true” and “maybe” and thus finally also about the power of highly improbable events. Which then again are not so very improbable. And it is also about the problem of induction. Taleb uses the turkey as an example. The turkey that is always doing well. Until one particular day.
On March 11, 2011, the earth shook in the Pacific Ocean near Japan with an energy equivalent of estimated 780 million Hiroshima bombs; or put another way, 77 times the world’s 2010 energy demand. It was monstrous, and it remains so to this day. 20,000 dead were to be mourned. Such an earthquake had supposedly never occurred in this region before. But did that make it unlikely?
Exactly not. On July 9, 869, there had been a similar earthquake in this region. For several hundred years the earth continued to shake there and again and again very strongly; for example in 1611 and 1889. But the periods in between were and are too long for the events to stick in the consciousness of the people – or even could stick. The knowledge about it is rationally available via records. But since one has not experienced it oneself, or does not know anyone who has, it no longer plays a significant role. One falls back on the own experiences and derives from it inductively, from the small to the whole, the future. The turkey eats its fill, sits down, becomes sleepy and imagines itself to be safe.
The turkey, reliably fed over such a long period of time, could only get the impression that the human race was one that was kind to him and that the world meant well for him. Yesterday. Today. And tomorrow? Why should he have doubts about tomorrow? We were the turkey.
Now, since 2020, we have Covid-19, a pandemic that none of us had ever seen before. It’s not the first in human history. But experience with it was no longer available. Basically, we could assume that the world meant well with us. By “us,” we meant primarily the strong industrial and economic nations. And suddenly, entire industries collapsed. Jobs that were always thought to be secure are pulverizing. Self-employed people suddenly have no income. Supposedly strong companies are crying out for government aid just four weeks after the lockdown. The social aspect that is fundamentally inherent in human beings can now only take place virtually. No one knows what will happen next. The turkey has suddenly awakened: the farmer is standing in front of him; without food, with a knife. Things are going wrong. Suddenly it’s a pandemic. Everything is different. So what to do? Buy toilet paper?
In the blog article “BANI versus VUCA“, which is more than worth reading, the renowned management and future thinker Stephan Grabmeier has contrasted and compared the well-known VUCA world with the approach of the BANI world. The approach comes from Jamais Cascio, who developed the logic of the BANI world in the article titled “Facing the age of chaos“.
VUCA, the world that was characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambivalence (for more on this, see the BloQ article “Brave New VUCA World?“), is transitioning to a new “meta-world” with new letters (not very important) and new identifying and explanatory highlights (really important). BANI stands for Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, and Incomprehensible. So we now live in a brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible, or as Cascio puts it, a chaotic world. We now have to deal with this privately and professionally, because we don’t have another world. Everything is suddenly different. The farmer has sharpened his knives. And now?
Brittle: We are the turkey and may have to realize that what has held true and been so reliable suddenly and over (Thanksgiving) night no longer holds true. In fact, no longer at all. Not only has the supply stopped; the provider is even coming into the barn with a knife. It’s not just a little different …
Anxious: We are the turkey. We were fine and the world was fine. We had a crisis, but most of us did not perceive the crisis, because the farmer continued to come reliably. We even thought about a bigger stable. Simply because we could. Suddenly we know that Thanksgiving is real. And we can no longer suppress that …
Non-linear: We are the turkey. We’re fine. Most of all, we’re fine because we extrapolate from now to all time. Because there seems to be a linear relationship; a conclusive if-then relationship. The reason for the daily feeding is not apparent to the turkey. Although, of course, it exists …
Incomprehensible: We are the turkey. And we thought we were on top of whatever was coming. Pandemics, asteroids, aliens: our experience is based on Hollywood scripts. That was always fine and entertaining. We were the turkey. And now it turns out that not only the knife, which never played a role before, but also the blackhead disease and other things are in the room. In our room, where there is no obvious and easily passable exit door back to the very recent past.
All of us in all our roles now have to deal with a new future. We will certainly be able to do that. We have to manage it, too. But the conditions are very different. This is not just about Covid-19. Stephan Grabmeier put it very aptly in his article:
“The proceedings in the world are massive, and we do not know their full effects yet. Systems we rely on are subject to changes – including trading, information, social, societal and collaborate systems. And change always comes at a price. […]
With BANI, we now have a new language at our disposal to describe and grasp what is going on. It provides us with a basis to build on and to develop new approaches with. This is a chance to seize, so let us explore the options we have.”
There’s no better way to sum it up.
We are more than a turkey. The turkey must be overcome.
The German version of the article is published in the new book by Markus Reimer: