Hundreds of years ago, the people of Aneyoshi, Japan, erected stone markers on the hillsides warning, “Do not build your homes below this point!” The warnings were followed by succeeding generations, which kept them safe from tsunamis. Even the giant tsunami that struck on March 11 fell short of the markers.

The people of Aneyoshi had pretty good foresight.    

This week, approximately 750 people met in Kansas City to discuss possible “tsunamis” that could affect U.S. agriculture. One of the speakers at the FBI International Symposium on Agroterrorism encouraged attendees to think of the various possibilities, including deliberate acts of terrorism.       

“Forces of creative destruction are always at work,” said Rick Funston, of Funston Advisory Services and author of the book, “Surviving and Thriving in Uncertainty: Creating the Risk Intelligent Enterprise.”  

So far, there hasn’t been a big disaster or terrorist incident affecting the food and agricultural sectors, he acknowledged.  Often, it takes a really big disaster to get action. But people can at least work through the process, mentally, and prepare for extreme events.  

Funston called it the TAS approach, or Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis.  

A thesis involves a person’s assumptions of reality; an antithesis is the exact opposite. For instance, you might assume that all swans are white. The antithesis of that is a black swan. By acknowledging the possibility of a black swan, it becomes part of your reality.

“You can use this method to defend against Black Swan events (that normally wouldn’t be seen or thought about),” he said. And, it also allows you to become the “Black Swan” by imagining new things and then accomplishing radical innovation.

Companies and industries have died by not envisioning the possible realities, he pointed out. For instance, “How many of your kids know what an encyclopedia is?” he asked the audience. (Very few hands went up.) Funston went on to say that encyclopedia publishers, and to a large extent the print media, failed to take the Black Swan view and acknowledge the new realities of:

  • Media other than print.
  • Information updated instantly.
  • Information delivered to mobile devices.
  • Information delivered free.
  • Information developed by users.

Instead, they took the White Swan view that they would always been needed. 

Quoting Mark Twain, Funston said. “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Another Mark Twain quote: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.”