Monday, February 8, 2010

Hiding in Plain Sight

In retrospect, we should have seen it coming. All of it. The problem is the same thing that's always the problem: the future is hiding in plain sight.
Everybody knew that an obscure Republican state legislator couldn't get elected from Massachusetts to the U.S. Senate--not to Ted Kennedy's old seat.
Everybody knew that Toyota is synonymous with quality--there's now way Toyota would need to make a massive recall.
Everybody knew that the Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play football--if not the greatest. No way the Colts don't win the Super Bowl.
(Add your own "everybody knows" here.)
But that's not the way it works. The Bay State voters were feeling rambunctious about the economy, Martha Coakley ran a bad campaign, and the future is hiding in plain sight.
Toyota rushes to overtake GM as the world's largest car company, and when a mistake gets into its assembly line process, its efficiency works against it instead of for it, and 8 million cars later, the future is hiding in plain sight.
And the Super Bowl? Who dat!
Maybe it's just human nature: we write the narrative we expect to see, and having written it, no longer expect to see it but begin to believe that it's the only possible narrative.
Or maybe we just don't want to think about the unthinkable. Focus on what you can imagine and all those other things won't happen, can't happen.
But every company needs one; every startup requires one; every political office should have one; every newspaper and blog ought to go get one right away: someone whose job it is to think the unthinkable, to ask the "what if?" question, to play the role of the in-house skeptic. Because that thing that's hiding in plain sight? There's a name for it: we call it "reality."

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