black cats, black swans and the rise of obstacle racing

By SOLO

“Meow”.
“Yes, Casey”.

“Meow”.
“Yes, baby”.

“MEOW!”.
“It’s ok, Casey”.

This is the conversation happening in my car this morning, as I drive Casey to the vet to get microchipped. Few months ago, we adopted two cats – Casey and Emma, and Casey is an all black, emerald-eyed drop dead gorgeous 18 pounds of wimp.

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His morning has been hijacked. Unexpectedly.

Casey is experiencing a black swan event.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb characterizes a black swan event as follows:

1. The event is a surprise.
2. The event has a major effect.
3. The occurrence of the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected.

*If you haven’t read the book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and you love to geek out on reading about decision making, logical fallacies and how we know what we know, you should check it out.

You can see that the stressful morning my cat had was a black swan (to him), meeting at least the first two of the criteria.

The above example also highlights the subjectivity of a black swan event – just because the event was a surprise to my cat (aka the victim), does not mean it was a surprise to me (aka the perpetrator).

I have known about this vet appointment for weeks. The clinic called, they asked what day of the week would work for me, and I added the date and time to my calendar. No surprises.

For Casey, on the other hand, getting shoved (ok, ok – gently coaxed) into a pet carrier right after breakfast, and being driven somewhere in a large noisy metal box, is completely unexpected. Nothing in his regular routine of jumping on top of Italian at 4.30am (he tried jumping on me in the first few days, but gave that up as a useless endeavor), being fed, and petted, could have predicted this horrible morning.

As I watch Casey cope with the aftermath of the vet visit by stress eating, I think I catch a mournful expression in his eyes.

Perhaps, he, too, is playing back the events of the day, and asking himself if he should have known.

* *  *

Increasingly, in obstacle racing, there is the talk of how the rise of these events was inevitable.
The sport of obstacle racing has grown more in the last few years than any other sport. As people participating in the sport, documenting the sport, writing about the sport, and making movies about the sport tend to look back to try and rationalize why obstacle racing became so popular, the popular argument is that the explosion of OCR was “bound to happen”.

I mean, look at us! We are lazy. We like convenience. We do not like to be uncomfortable. Sitting at our desks for twelve hours a day, eating processed food, wrapped up in the conveniences of our civilization – we are as far as it gets from our hunter gatherer roots.

Obstacle racing makes perfect sense! It HAD to come along. And it had to succeed. Chop wood, jump over fire, crawl under barbed wire. Push outside our comfort zone. Yes! YES!

We have been yearning for excitement, craving for a challenge for a while. And it was just a matter of time before someone gave it to us.

It was inevitable!

Was it?

The rise of obstacle racing was a surprising outcome with large impact, that we are now retroactively explaining away with the benefit of hindsight.

Black swan event?

Check, check, and check!

Consider the opposite scenario for a moment: If the sport of obstacle racing flopped and floundered after few years, we could have just easily explained that outcome also.

The flop of obstacle racing makes perfect sense! I mean who thought this would succeed anyway?

I mean, look at us! We are lazy. We like convenience. We do not like to be uncomfortable. Sitting at our desks for twelve hours a day, eating processed food, wrapped up in the conveniences of our civilization – we are as far as it gets from our hunter gatherer roots.

As a society, we are starting to strongly resemble the humans from WALL-E, Pixar/Disney film from 2008, that explored the “what-if” of technological progress.  Sippie cups and hover chairs – just missing the cellphones glued to the palm.

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Why, on Earth, would a sport like obstacle racing take off?

YOUR TURN: Do you think the rise of obstacle racing was BOUND to happen? What other black swan events have you observed in sports?

LIKED THIS POST? Check out my essay on whether obstacle racing have the feet of clay.

Hugs,
SOLO

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Posted November 18, 2015

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