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A Dragon, a Black Swan, and a Mule Walk into a Future...

My latest piece at Fast Company's Co.Exist site is now up. I gave it the title "A Futurist Bestiary", but they went with the more informative title of "3 Reasons Why Your Predictions Of The Future Will Go Wrong." (I've really got to get them to stop using the "P" word.)

Futurism is a richly metaphorical body of thought. It has to be; much of what we talk about is on the verge of unimaginable, so we have to resort to metaphors for it to make any kind of sense. Not all of the metaphors we use are complex: It struck me recently that there are several common futurist metaphors that take a relatively simple animal shape: the Dragon; the Black Swan; and the Mule.

[...] These days, “here be dragons” is a broadly-understood metaphor for something both dangerous and uncertain. And it seems that the future is full of dragons, considering how frequently I’ve heard the term.

Dragons are things we should know about, but don't want to -- questions that we should ask, but we're afraid to hear the answers. Black Swans are, as you probably know, things we could know about, if we asked the right questions -- but we probably won't. And Mules are... well, if you've read the Foundation trilogy, you know who the Mule was.

If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap (and a spoiler for a set of novels published in the early 1950s): a brilliant “psychohistorian” named Hari Seldon--essentially a futurist with above-average math skills--successfully plots out a way for the dying galactic empire to get through a dark age much more quickly than it otherwise would. But after a couple of hundred years, Seldon’s predictions, which all along had been completely accurate, suddenly start going wrong. The reason? The emergence of a mutant able to control human minds, a mutant who called himself the Mule.

In this short essay I've made the Mule a metaphor. Fear me.

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