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  • 03.23.11

The Hidden Beauty of Japan’s Black Swan

A Black Swan event is a metaphor used to explain a disproportionate, hard to predict event that is beyond the realm of normal expectation. Perhaps there is no more apt metaphor to describe the macabre ballet of destruction that has engulfed Japan.

A
Black Swan event is a metaphor used to explain a disproportionate, hard
to predict event that is beyond the realm of normal expectation in
history, science, finance and technology.  Coined by epistemologist
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the
Highly Improbable”,
perhaps there is no more apt metaphor to describe the macabre ballet of destruction that has engulfed Japan.

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It has been a little over one week since a massive 9.0 earthquake struck
Northern Japan and a devastating tsunami pummeled its coastal cities.  The
number of lives lost continues to grow and millions have been left
hungry, cold, without electricity and homeless. The Nikkei has
plummeted.  The explosions and release of radioactive caesium-137 and
iodine-131 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant pose a very real
public health threat to those in surrounding areas and potentially to
the entire country. This nuclear disaster is now considered by most to
be the second worst in history. As Prime Minister Naoto Kan remarked,
this is his nation’s worst crisis since World War II.

This catastrophe represents not only a turning point for Japan, but one
for all nations that forces them to reexamine their energy policies and
societal attitudes. Notwithstanding the Obama administration’s push
forward with issuing construction permits for new nuclear plants, many
countries including Germany are making significant policy shifts away
from nuclear energy and looking to solar and wind installations as a  safer and reliable alternative. Perhaps the tragedy in Japan and
the unfortunate implications from this catastrophe will work to shift
public sentiment around the world and force a global move towards a
clean and safe energy future.

It is also important to note, given the seemingly apocalyptic chain of
events and tremendous losses, that the bonds of Japanese culture
have appeared to remain intact. There has been no looting, no crime, no
mass stampedes or finger-pointing. Order and compassion prevail.
Civility and honor have neither been swept away by a 30-foot wave or
shaken by the earthquakes, aftershocks and threat of nuclear meltdown. I hope that this too is an outcome of this Black Swan event–a hidden lesson
in humanity for people of all cultures and nations. It is worth
acknowledging the Japanese resilience and dignity in these
circumstances.

Synergizing this uniquely Japanese attitude towards society with its
leadership in sustainable development and design will surely produce
something transformative. Based on the trend-setting work by prominent
Japanese designers and architects including Tadao Ando, Hitoshe Abe and
Toyo Ito, the rebuilding effort will likely reflect innovative
thinking and sensitivity to the environment–something that will be
paramount in the rebuilding effort. The hope and most probable
prediction is that places like Sendai and Natori will be rebuilt stronger and better. The Japanese people will demonstrate to the world
their command of design, architecture, transportation and urban planning
in a way that balances the needs of people and nature with technology
and society.  While New Orleans remains largely
dilapidated and Haiti ravished by its catastrophe, these Japanese cities
will become models for sustainable living and shining lights for the
rest of the world to follow.

Along these lines, there is little doubt in my mind that we will see the
emergence of sustainable cities and towns on par with, or exceeding,
that which is part of  Masdar City, the jewel of sustainable
development in the United Arab Emirates.  I even venture to hope that
along with solar and wind power, we will see the use of wave energy
embraced as a reliable source of energy, generating power for schools,
homes and businesses that were once destroyed by that very same force of
nature.
 

Judah Schiller is co-founder and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a San Francisco based consulting firm focused on activating companies for good.

Read more coverage of the Japan earthquake.

About the author

Judah Schiller is co-founder and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a San Francisco based consulting firm focused on activating companies for good. Judah architects social movements and people strategies that link the creation of meaning, inspiration and purpose for employees with building stronger, more responsible companies and sensational brands have made him an influential change agent for good.

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