Jamais Cascio in a recent posting for Fast Company Magazine may have gotten it just right in his vision about "the future" and the metaphors we use to consider it's ultimate arrival.  

The Dragon, the Black Swan and the Mule, all ring true as cautionary tales for both advisors and Clients and yet, do so in different ways.  

Here's some quick definitions;  

  • The Dragon- a segment in a topic area that is uncertain and dangerous to consider. It's something that we steer clear of, but should know much more about than we do.
  • The Black Swan- this is something we don't know much about but probably should, like the emergence of the Internet, or the fall of the Soviet Union or 9/11.
  • The Mule- this is something that we don't know much about and likely can't. It's something so far out of the realm of knowing that we can't conceive it.

I don't think that I could write any more salient a thought than the one that Jamais closes his Fast Company piece with.... 

"Here's the thing; It's easy to assume any surprise is a Mule. It's much harder--ultimately more valuable- to recognize when you are looking in the wrong direction (a Black Swan) or refusing to open your eyes (a Dragon). The task for the futurist is to be able to tell these three animals apart. Good luck." 


The bigger question for sure, when considering personal financial matters is this; if you have no defined future (because you're not planning one or creating it) doesn't everything show up as the Mule?  And, in reality isn't the most likely of the trio to spawn an "unrecoverable event" that very thing?

Consider that spouses die, get sick, divorce or some other calamity. A Dragon to be sure but the impact of the Dragon can be measured and understood and alternative plans can be made to employ upon it's appearance. Those plans, figured out now, might well save the day. 

The stock market crash, continued high unemployment, changes to Social programs like Medicaid and Medicare? Black Swans to be sure but again, they can be measured and judged, evaluated and prepared for, at least in the realm of "contingencies" they can. 

Reality is that most people will be meet one of these intruders at some point. Be that intruder Dragon, Black Swan or Mule will largely be determined by the context it shows up in.  

Again, the admonition; "Control What You Can Control." 

You control the context if your write the context. Want to ensure that at it's worse, your unwanted "visitor at the door" is either a manageable Dragon or a less co-operative but manageable Black Swan? 

Then let your well thought out plan be your context, otherwise you're just letting the Mules in.