Predicting Black Swans – Part II

In the earlier post we dealt with the concept of predicting a ‘black swan‘.

In this post, I intend to explore the concept a bit more: what exactly we monitor to notice a ‘black swan’ in time?

In doing so we would be forced to consider the natural response of a system.

The starting point of our exploration would be to understand how any system, as a whole, whether natural or engineered, would disturbed by a ‘black swan’.  A system is disturbed in three possible ways, which are as follows:

a) A system loses energy till it reaches a tipping point

b) A system gains more and more energy till it crosses the point of system resilience

c) A part of a system emits more energy than it is normally supposed to, that is going beyond the linear response of the part. 

So the natural way to watch a system to expect a ‘black swan’ in time, is to keep a tab on the ‘energy’ of a system in the following ways:

a) Monitor the entropy of a system. As a system functions the entropy of a system gradually rises till it hits a threshold limit indicating the appearance of a ‘black swan’ or an outlier. 

b) Monitor the energy gain of a system till it crosses the ‘resilience’ point to give birth to a ‘black swan’, outlier or a ‘wicked problem’. 

c) Monitor critical parts of a system for excess emission of energy till it goes beyond the linear response of a part. 

It is useful to remember that energy is transferred in ‘quanta‘ or in packets of energy. Therefore, it is natural to expect jumps of energy levels as we record by capturing the different manifestation of energy levels on monitoring trend charts. So when a ‘jump’ is big enough to cross a threshold limit or resilience point or linear response level indicated by its presence outside the Gaussian distribution range  we can be quite sure that a ‘black swan’ or an outlier or a ‘wicked problem’ would soon arrive on the scene. We call such an indicator as a signal.

Therefore, the central idea is to capture such signals in time, just before a ‘black swan’ makes it way to appear on the scene to dominate and change the system.

However, the question is how early can we detect that signal to effectively deal with the inherent ‘black swan’ in a system, which is yet to appear on the scene?

That would be explored in the next post.

Moving between States of Awareness for Problem Solving

Of late, the word ‘awareness‘, ranks high in the public consciousness and is being used a lot.

What does it mean?

In plain language it means ‘paying attention’ to something or ‘noticing something’ or being ‘mindful’ about something and then extending that awareness to different dimensions through understanding, reflection and action. Awareness is not something which is fixed and static but rather fluid and flowing.

All that might seem very confusing to begin with.

Actually we move through different states of Awareness. And this ‘flow’ is achieved in a particular way.

So let us begin by asking, “What are the different states of awareness and how does it move?

The First State of Awareness

1. Awareness of the Physical:

It means anything that we can physically sense through our senses. It is generally an object but it can be something more fluid like smelling something ‘burning’. Or for example, it might be a simple building or a gear or people passing on the street or the sounds one hears in a city or simply a part of one’s body or pain area in a business ….

This is called point awareness, i.e. our awareness is focused on a fixed point.

In this state of awareness we are using our usual senses or extension of our senses through some form of instrumentation.

Note: In this way we can fix our attention to many fixed points present in a given context or ecology.

The Second State of Awareness

2. Awareness of Connections and movements:

Now the awareness moves in a different direction. It starts looking for connections and movements that link the ‘fixed point’ to other points and pieces in the ecology. For example, if we are aware that we are tensed and stressed out and aware about our tiredness and not too good digestion we may be able to link the these together to form a link. Or for instance if we are looking at ‘low order volume’ of any organization and the waste they are generating in their value creation process we might be able to link the two to form a link. Similarly, if we are examining a vibration frequency spectrum and we notice high amplitude vibration of a bearing and then notice high amplitude of the fan blades then there is a clear possibility that we might link the two to form a relationship.

We can then further pay attention about how a movement in one affects the other. Or in other words we understand ‘How a change in one creates a change in the other’. While extending our awareness in this stage we also notice the function the relationship does like — a) holding something, b) releasing/eliminating something, c) producing or reproducing something, d) moving or stopping something, e) expressing or communicating or feeding back information or withholding communication …

This is called line awareness, i.e. our awareness is now moves from independence to interdependence focused on relationships and their changes (interdependence) and their functions.

Note: Like in the earlier case we can create many ‘lines’ (relationships and their interdependence through changes) in this fashion.

At this stage we are not using our usual five senses any more. We are entering into what researchers call ‘one’s own perception’. Technically it is called ‘proprioception’. Proprioception does not come from any organ of the body but from the nervous system. So we go beyond our primary sense perception and start forming a more holistic picture of what we are aware of. This stage brings into play both non-cognitive and cognitive skills at the same time. It is process through which we start extending our minds.

The Third State of Awareness

3. Awareness of Contexts, Perspectives and Feelings:

From our ‘line awareness‘ we move to ‘surface awareness’. This happens when we put many ‘lines’ together. This is quite similar to what we do in geometry. For example when we place three lines together we get a triangle. Similarly by placing four lines together we get a square or a rectangle and so on.

Likewise, when we relate different parts of our ‘line awareness’ together we form a ‘surface awareness‘ of the context. At this state of awareness we form a perspective or understanding or a point of view. With each ‘surface’ we have a different perspective. So with multiple ‘surfaces’ we create and hold together different ‘perspectives’ or view points. The idea at this stage is to increase the number of perspectives (diversity) so that we reach closer to a fuller and more holistic understanding of a phenomenon or context we started out with.

Note: Like in earlier cases we aim at developing as many surfaces as possible to get multiple views or perspectives on something. We are consciously encouraging diversity to view reality which is complex enough. This is the stage where we have gone beyond our primary ‘senses’ and ‘proprioception’ and entered the domain of feelings. This is because each perception evokes in us different feelings and emotions. So the idea is to harvest a diversity of feelings about something.

The Fourth State of Awareness

4. Awareness of Shapes:

From ‘surface awareness’ we move to what I call a ‘3 Dimensional awareness‘ of a situation, phenomenon or anything we are paying attention to. Why is it 3 dimensional? This is because when different surfaces come together we get a ‘shape‘ which is essentially 3 dimensional. That is we have captured the reality (of course depends on how much we are able to capture) into a ‘shape‘. Again geometry would help. For example, when we bring together 4 triangles we form a pyramid. Or for instance when we stitch together 6 square surfaces we get a cube and so on. Or it can take the shape of a moving spiral of say gases.

In any case we create a ‘volume‘ (an empty space) by bringing different surfaces together. This gives us a holistic understanding of ‘reality‘ to which we are paying attention to.  The emptiness of the shape is the source of the creative potential for change to happen with all the relevant information existing on the sides of the ‘shape’.

Now we can pay attention to the ‘whole’ and find possibilities of creative change, redesign or better maintenance depending on possible ’emergence’ that either unfolds or remains enfolded.

At this state of paying attention we can have insights both in the form of intuition (noncognitive skill) and reason based on our cognitive skills. However both intuition and reason must come from what we are paying attention to and not from our memory. This is a higher level of emergence of our ‘nervous system‘ as a whole, which involves both the mind and body.

Why is that?

This is because as we pay attention to the ‘whole’ shape our nervous system provides the insight and our mind provides the ‘imagination’ and the reasoning based on our scientific understanding which in turn trigger the emotions and energy trapped in our bodies inspiring us to act. So the three basic elements — ‘nervous energy’, ‘mental energy in the form of imagination followed by reason’ and ‘physical energy‘ are called into play.

However, the most important element at this stage is the ‘imagination’ part. We are not imagining the past or the future but the ‘gap’ existing between those. This imagination is directed towards ‘empathy‘. Unless we can empathize at this stage our subsequent thoughts, reasons and actions would not produce the right results (right for the context).

The Fifth State of Awareness

5. Awareness of effortless creativity and joy:

Armed by the right imagination we are now ready for the last state of awareness that is bringing creativity into play. By now we know what is the existing imperfection, what the ‘shape’ is trying to drop (generally its past) and the quantity of information that needs to be changed along with its speed. This helps us to be in the flow of things just as they are and just as they  “want to be”. Through our creative action we can bring about the required and right changes to experience happiness, joy and equanimity. How would we know about what actions would bring about joy, happiness and equanimity?  If things become better and we become or stay healthy our creative actions are right enough. If not, we need to improve upon ‘paying attention’.

However, by now it might be self-evident that awareness or the very act of paying attention is something like flow. It is not fixed or static. It simply likes to flow from one state to the other as described above. But like all flows the flow can be impeded or stopped by artificial constraints we set up through our mental filters of likes, dislikes, good, bad, ambition, desires, aspirations, concepts, preformed ideas, memory. When this happens we lose agility in our living and work.

Once we realize this and try to break down or let go of such artificial constraints we not only become agile in our engagements but also develop resilience, which incidentally is always built into our physical bodies. So our bodies either reflect or absorb the energy which might either make and keep us healthy or sick and diseased; active or inactive. So resilience can lead to both health and sickness/suffering. Sickness indicates the presence of artificial constraints that are to be overcome. Health indicates that we have identified the real constraints that help our natural flow. Such constraints are to be retained and developed.

Our minds and bodies are both useful but we perhaps now realize that without a strong nervous energy they can both be rendered useless. Incidentally, the nervous energy is also connected to our immunity system. Therefore, it has a lot to do in keeping our minds and bodies in perfect order since all the three together as a whole are fully engaged in our awareness, our normal senses, proprioception, feelings, perception, imagination, intuition, empathy, understanding, insights, creativity, reason, thoughts, actions and perhaps wisdom. One can’t be sacrificed for the other.

When practiced to a high level of perfection we live in a liberated state – a state where we love what we get and get to do what we love to enrich our lives, i.e. we enjoy being in the flow of things.

It is beyond love. It is kindness to self and others, which flows from the effortless effort we experience in the fifth and last state of awareness a state between perception and non-perception.

That in short is awareness or simply ‘paying attention’.


1. The technique of PLS3D (Point, Line, Surface and 3Dimensional Awareness) is one of the various technique/tools used in Rapidinnovation a process developed by my firm RMCPL. This has been widely applied and taught in India with great impact.  Would be happy to be a mentor or teach it to anyone who might be interested.

2. This is used in various types of settings like – Problem solving, Whole System Design, Design, Systemic thinking,  Manufacturing Systems, Organizational Systems, Entrepreneurship and a host of other applications.. including personal improvement and transformation, which to my mind is the most important application for a better future.

Hang out with Freaks to Master Complexity!

Undoubtedly, one of the essential skills to negotiate complexity is creativity. Many feel that creativity would be the number one skill and mindset for the 21st Century. I also feel so.

It would be used in two ways —

a) to understand the nature of complex problems

b) to innovate solutions to resolve complex issues.

Though every human being is born creative it takes persistence, patience and deep reflection to hone it to the level of effortless skill. However, one of the easy ways to maintain it is to ‘hang out with freaks’. This has been one of my mantras from childhood. And it has never failed me. At least I keep getting inspired.

Here is a complex problem creatively resolved by two of my ‘freak’ friends, Mr. Sudhin Gupta and Mr. P. K. Guha, who make their living by offering their innovative solutions.

The Problem:

The state Government of West Bengal, India, wants to build a major water pumping station at Belur, which is on river Hoogli. To do that they would need to drive concrete piles into the river bed to build the foundation on which the water pumping station would come up.

However, CESE (Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation) the local electrical utility company, raises an objection. They know that many high tension marine cables are lying in and around the very spot of the proposed pumping station. But they aren’t quite sure about where precisely  these cables lay. These cables provide huge power to some of the big industries built on the river banks. So if any one of these is punctured in the process of driving concrete piles it would be a disaster with consequent hazards.

At the same time, the water pumping station has to come up in time for two reasons. First and foremost to provide good quality drinking water to the people. Second it is being built with aid money from the Central Government. If the job is not completed in time the aid money has to be returned. That would be a major setback for the growing population in and around that area who would be deprived of good quality drinking water.

So that is the dilemma waiting for a resolution.

The problem is to find the position of the cables. However, the authentic constraints are the following:

1. The solution has to be minimally invasive but good enough to resolve the issue

2. Finding the exact location of the cables can’t stop the civil work which has to be completed in time.

3. Utmost safety is to be ensured during the procedure. One silly mistake can prove very costly.

4. It has to be very cost effective.

5. And the level of the river rises or falls by 6 meters during tide and ebb.

Hope you find the problem challenging enough. The video that follows gives the innovative solution that worked so well. But before viewing that take some time to think of a possible solution.

Request: If you have any question please do ask in the comment box. I shall try to answer as best as I can.