How to Make A Black Swan Green

My hometown, it turns out, is special for more than just being my place of birth. When Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh visited what is now Perth, Western Australia, in 1697 he was surprised to discover black swans in great flocks. Well maybe surprised doesn’t quite go far enough.

You see, up to that point, no-one in Europe had even contemplated the existence of black swans. It’s like us first seeing elephants that are blue.

Does This Come In Black?

Today the term black swan has taken on a meaning of its own. In his 2007 ground-breaking book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb described what makes an event a black swan: “First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact.’ Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

Remarkable timing that the same year saw the global financial crash followed by the Great Recession. Taleb could barely have wished for a better example of a black swan event.

Today, many feel that we are living through another event of such rarity and impact that it too is a black swan. Certainly, with the hindsight that we all developed so rapidly in 2020, it was probably only a matter of time before life imitated Hollywood art with a major viral outbreak.

It’s Not Just Black & White

One prominent author has an optimistic take on it.  As a guest speaker in a recent online session hosted by Resonance, strategy advisors on critical environmental and social challenges, John Elkington describes seeing a swan of a different feather. His book Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism outlines how the COVID-19 global crisis is in fact leading to powerful positive shifts in the way we see the world.

A key enabler in this is the fact that changes are happening at a macroeconomic scale. It’s not being driven by any one business, market, sector, interest group or demographic. We actually ARE all in this together, and the rules of the game have changed for everyone. That presents us with a wide range of options, and maybe even some momentum, for making changes for the better.

Elkington describes the pandemic as “like a global x-ray”, illuminating the fault lines in our society and accelerating already-present trends.

So now we have the diagnosis, how do we move forward? Elkington offers a ray of hope: Resilience. Being able to persevere and adapt as the situation changes around us. He argues that the best way to build resilience is to develop regenerative approaches. A “regenerative” approach is one that restores, renews or revitalizes their own sources of energy and materials.

Remember: changes that would have seemed beyond contemplation a couple of years ago have now arrived.

Yes But What Can I Do?

Elkington describes the opportunity to change how economies work, to be more sustainable. The world sure needs big solutions.

I would add that each of us can also adopt regenerative approaches even in our own home.

Let me ask you a question: Look in your fridge – how long ago was your lettuce picked and packed? If your spinach had a mileage clock on it, what would it say? What’s stopping you from adopting an approach that reduced the mileage down to say 15 metres?

Is your first instinct to list the reasons why not? (time, growing kit, knowledge, space – have I missed anything?) That’s an understandable reaction. What would it take to adopt a regenerative approach to sourcing your food?  Only you can answer that question for yourself and your family. But given the magnitude of the situation in front of us, we have to ask: If not now, then when?

It’s a small and simple step, for sure. First we need to stretch our vision, and only then can we stretch our capabilities.

Maybe that swan we’re seeing isn’t black, it’s actually green.

#greenswan #blackswan #johnelkington #growathome #growise #betterlife #betterworld

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