Trump: Gray Rhino, Black Swan, or Neither?

I went to sleep in London last night making the reasonable assumption that the election would bear out the predictions of many polls. Like so many people, how wrong I was.

I’m in London for the BCI World Summit, where I delivered the opening keynote address yesterday morning. (You can follow the event on twitter.) Over the afternoon and evening, conversations between sessions often turned to Trump. People wanted to know: Was Trump a gray rhino or black swan?

I define gray rhinos as highly probable, high impact threats. Trump’s candidacy and initial success started as a highly improbable black swan. But, like most black swans, it was driven by gray rhinos, as I wrote this summer: the profound discontent of people left behind by a swelling stock market and stagnant wages, by bailouts of banks but not underwater mortgage owners, by economic anxieties directed toward globalization, immigrants and minorities.

As the primaries advanced and poll numbers accumulated, his primary victory morphed from black swan to gray rhino. The writing was on the wall that he would become the Republican nominee. But it was hard to say that it was either highly probable or highly improbable that he would win the election.

As the election approached, his poll numbers fluctuated wildly. Though a few polls gave him a slim victory at times, at his lows he registered less than a 10 percent chance of winning. The 11th hour FBI announcements about a new investigation related to Hillary Clinton's emails bumped him up, but even so the odds remained against him, though not by nearly as much.

On Election Day, the Upshot described the odds of a Trump win as similar to the odds of an NFL kicker missing a 37-yard field goal. That’s not hugely probable, but not highly improbable either, and hardly possible. Nate Silver's site, FiveThirtyEight, which combines and filters poll results, predicted CIinton as a 72 percent favorite on the eve of the election.

Then again, there were outlier predictions that turned out to be spot-on. An artificial intelligence tool, MoglA, developed by fellow Young Global Leader Sanjiv Rai, predicted the Trump victory. So did Professor Allan J Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the popular vote in historical elections. And CNN, to its credit, asked on November 2 if the polls could be wrong.

The New York Times had a good piece this morning on the failure of polls to predict accurately.

Thus, it's arguable that Trump's ultimate victory was either, or neither, a black swan or a gray rhino.

It’s safe to say, however, that predicting as usual lost the election, and a day of reckoning is here for how we choose our information sources. To clearly see what's in front of us, we need to do better at sorting through the information around us - a "meta gray rhino" challenge.

I’ll leave thoughts on what a Trump presidency would bring to further posts, but my summer prediction about the gray rhinos that created him stands: they are here to stay, and are in urgent need of wrangling.

Read More


Are You Ready for a Gray Rhino? Take the Quiz
October 20, 2016
The more I thought about the personal applications of the gray rhino concept, the more I wanted to help others to use it. I also wanted to make it not just less unpleasant but fun to do a quick check-in on our personal gray rhinos.So I pulled together a quiz to help you do a quick and fun but thought-provoking evaluation of the gray rhinos in your jobs and daily lives.

Gray Rhino Quiz Personality: Tourist on Safari
October 31, 2016
Many of us are like Tourists on Safari. We want to see the big important things that might affect us, for better or for worse. But it takes practice and skill. 

Gray Rhino Quiz Personality: The Ostrich
November 8, 2016
If you’re an Ostrich, you at least see things coming even though you shy away. That’s a lot better than not seeing them at all. Turning away from problems is a normal human psychological defense mechanism. 

BCI World Summit
November 8-9
Novotel London West

Preventable Surprises

Private breakfast
November 10


Bristol Hotel
November 22

50Action50 Committee

Acquire and Retain Female Talent
December 7
Order your copy of THE GRAY RHINO. Email for FREE bookmark and personalized bookplate for copies you give as holiday gifts. For bulk purchases please contact Karlyn Hixson at St Martin's Press.
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Copyright © 2016 Gray Rhino & Company, All rights reserved.

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