By Clem Sunter.
Nowadays I ask one simple question in any talk I give: how do you know for certain when a bubble is a bubble?
The answer is, only when it bursts. We all live in bubbles; and a major purpose of identifying the flags changing the future is to be aware of the potential needles that can prick the bubble before our lives are turned upside down by them.
Put another way, you have to be a fox to think out of the box and start acting differently before the box disappears.
Recently a young South Korean, who was really struck by this comment, came up to me from the audience after the presentation was over. He lives in Seoul, is married with four children and is a rising star in the company he works for. He asked me how you could behave like a fox when the sides of the box are so deep that it is utterly dark down there.
He was referring to the red flag of North Korea that I mentioned in the early part of my talk as a potential game-changer in the Far East. He felt that US President Donald Trump would be quite prepared to sacrifice the lives of millions of Koreans north and south of the DMZ in order to stop any nuclear missile being developed in North Korea, which could reach the US.
He said that nobody he knows where he lives wants to raise the topic in the office or at dinner because it was too painful to imagine being the next Hiroshima.
Life just goes on as normal in Seoul with the stock market hitting new highs each week; the shopping malls packed as usual; children going off to school in the morning and coming home with their friends in the afternoon; and everybody talking on smartphones in the streets. As he remarked, if he went to his boss and requested a transfer to London and when asked for a reason replied that he now gave a significant probability to a massive war on the Korean Peninsula, his boss would just say that applies to all of us. Get on with it.
Then the conversation became a lot more absorbing for me when he turned his attention to another point in my talk. He observed that if he understood me correctly, the possible consequences for Cape Town attributable to the green flag of climate change leading to a much deeper and longer drought than previously anticipated could be just as devastating. It was another bubble waiting to burst, another city with all its residents, industry, agriculture and tourism unconscious of the huge challenges that lay ahead.
Immediately thereafter, he admitted that the act of running out of water would be less dramatic than a mushroom cloud caused by a nuclear weapon. People would have a chance to leave the area and the citizens of Cape Town could do something in advance about the threat in contrast to South Koreans who were powerless against the might of America and the unpredictable nature of its leader.
Moreover, in the long run the water problem could be solved peacefully without massive damage to the infrastructure caused by a war.
Nevertheless, he was right on the money with his thoughts. A great Scottish philosopher called David Hume made an unforgettable statement a few centuries ago. Reason is the slave of passion, he said, not the other way round. We believe what we want to believe and that is why we live in bubbles till they burst. Ostriches bury their heads in the sand. So do human beings.
True out-of-the-box thinking demands that you take the blinkers off and see the world as it really is. Foxes have bright eyes precisely because they need to penetrate the walls of the box created by their emotions; and they possess the courage to adapt even when the odds are highly stacked against them. Even in darkness, they can shine a light on the future.
I will not forget the encounter with this young man for the rest of my life. As we parted company, we gave each other a ‘high five’ and said good luck.
Originally published on News24, 25 October 201
Image shows anti-terror drills at subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday 22 August 2017. Credit: Seong Joon Cho.