Why we ignore obvious problems -- and how to act on them | Michele Wucker
This Ted talk features author and policy analyst Michelle Walker recorded live at Ted salon. Imagine if twenty nineteen. So what if there were a highly obvious problem right in front of you one that everyone was talking about one that affected you directly? Would you do everything within your power to fix things before they got worse? Don't be. So sure we are all much more likely than any of us would like to admit to miss what's right in front of our eyes. And in fact, we're sometimes most likely to turn away from things precisely because of the threat that they represent to us in business life in the world. So I want to give you an example from my world economic policy. So when Alan Greenspan was head of the Federal Reserve his entire job was to watch out for problems in the US economy and to make sure that they didn't spin out of control. So after two thousand six when real estate prices, Pete, more and more and more respected leaders and institutions started to sound the alarm bells about risky lending and dangerous market bubbles, as you know in two thousand eight it all came tumbling down banks collapsed. Global stock markets lost nearly half their value. Millions and millions of people lost their homes to foreclosure, and at the bottom nearly one in ten Americans was out of work. So after things calmed down a little bit Greenspan, and many others came out with a postmortem and said, nobody could have predicted that crisis. They called it. A black swan something that was unimaginable unforeseeable and completely improbable. A total surprise except. Wasn't always such a surprise, for example, my Manhattan apartment nearly doubled in value in less than four years. I saw the writing on the wall, and I sold it. So a lot of other people also saw the warning spoke out publicly. And they were ignored. So we didn't know exactly what the crisis was going to look like nothing exact parameters, but we could all tell that the thing coming at us was as dangerous visible and predictable as a giant gray rhino charging right at us. The blacks one lends itself to the idea that we don't have power over our futures. And unfortunately, the less control that we think we have the more likely we are to downplay it or ignore it entirely. And this dangerous dynamic masks, another problem that most of the problems that we're facing are so probable and obvious there things that we can see, but we still don't do anything about. So I created the gray rhino metaphor to meet what I felt was an urgent need to help us to take a fresh look with the same passion that people had for the black swan. But this time for the things that were highly obvious highly probable, but still neglected. Those are the gray rhinos lets you start looking for gray rhinos. You see them in the headlines every day. And so what I see in the headlines is another big gray rhino in a new highly probable financial crisis. And I wonder if we've learned anything in the last ten years. So if you listen to Washington or Wall Street, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that only smooth sailing late ahead, but in China where I spend a lot of time. The conversation is totally different. The entire economic team all the way up to president Xi Jinping himself talk very specifically and clearly about financial risks as gray rhinos and how they contain them now to be sure China, and the US have very very different systems of government, which affects what they're able to do or not and many of the root causes for their economic problems are totally different. But it's no secret that both countries have problems with debt with inequality and with economic productivity. So how can the conversations are so different? You could actually ask this question. Not just about countries. But about just about everyone. The the auto companies that puts safety first and the ones that don't bother to recall their shoddy cars until after people die. The grandparents who in preparing for the inevitable inevitable. The ones who have the eulogy written. The menu for the funeral lunch. My grandparents did. And everything, but the final date chiseled into the grains, brave stone. But then you have grandparents on the other side who don't put their final affairs in order. Don't get rid of all the junk. They've been hoarding for decades and decades and leave their kids to deal with it. So what makes the difference between one side and the other? Why do some people see things and deal with them? And the other one's just look away. So the first one has to do with culture society, the people around you if you think that someone around you is going to help pick you up when you fall you're much more likely to see danger as being smaller and that allows us to take good chances. Not trust the bad ones, for example, like risking criticism. When you talk about the danger that nobody wants to talk about or taking the opportunities that are kind of scary. So in their own way are gray rhinos. So the US has a very individualist culture. Go it alone and paradoxically this makes many Americans much less open to change and taking good risks in China. By contrast, people believe that the government is going to keep problems from happening, which might not always be what happens, but people believe it. They believe they can rely on their families. So that makes them more likely to sake certain risks. Like buying Beijing real estate, or like being more open about the fact that they need to change direction. And in fact, the pace of change in China is absolutely amazing. Second of all. How much do you know about situation? How much are you willing to learn? And are you willing to see things even when it's not what you want? So many of us are so unlikely to pay attention to the things that we just wanna blackout. We don't like them we pay attention to what we want to see what we like what we agree with. But we have the opportunity and the ability to correct those blind spots. I spent a lot of time talking with people of all walks of life about the gray rhinos in their life and their attitudes. And you might think that the people who are more afraid of risks whom are sensitive to them would be the ones who would be less open to change. But the opposite is actually true. I've found that the people who are willing to recognize the problems around them and make plans are the ones who are able to tolerate more risk. Good risk and deal with the bad with risk. And it's because as we seek information we increase our power. Our to do something about the things that were afraid of. And that brings me to my third point how much control do you feel that you have over the gray rhinos in your life? One of the reasons we don't act is that we often feel to helpless think of climate change. It can feel so big that not a single one of us could make a difference. So some people go about life denying it. Other people blame everyone except themselves like my friend who says he's not ever going to give up his SUV until they stopped building coal plants in China. But we really we have an opportunity to change. No two of us are the same. Every single one of us has the opportunity to change our attitudes our own and those of people around us. So today, I want to invite all of you to join me, and helping to spark an open and honest conversation with the people around you about the gray rhinos in our world. And be brutally honest about how well we're dealing with them. I hear so many times in the states. We'll of course, we should deal with obvious problems. But if you don't see what's in front of you. You're either dumb or ignorant. That's what they say. And I could not disagree more. If you don't see what's in front of you. You're not dumb. You're not ignorant your human. And once we all recognize that shared vulnerability that gives us the power to open our eyes to see what's in front of us and to act before we get trampled. For more TED talks to Ted dot com. Ex.