Black Jellyfish

Black Jellyfish represent events and phenomenon that have the potential of going postnormal by escalating rapidly – even instantaneously.

Postnormal phenomena are not easy to foresee in the unthought future(s) but, of course, they are there. We represent the postnormal potentiality of the unthought future(s) with Black Jellyfish; like Black Elephants and Black Swans, Black Jellyfish are ‘high impact’, but they are ‘normal’ phenomena driven toward postnormalcy by positive feedback—or increasing growth leading toward systemic instability. Why jellyfish? Climate change is having a dramatic effect on the world's water systems. Increasing oceanic temperatures and acidity levels are creating perfect conditions for jellyfish blooms, which have forced shut downs at coastal power plants around the world, including nuclear reactors (Gershwin, 2013). Epitomizing the weirding inherent to Unthought Futures, jellyfish are also known for ‘undermining the world's largest military and fostering political unrest’ (Sweeney, 2013, p. 6). Demonstrating how small things can have a big impact driven by positive feedback, jellyfish blooms provide us with the ideal representation of postnormalcy in the unthought future(s).

In Rumsfeld’s accounting, Black Jellyfish are unknown knowns—things we think we know and understand but which turn out to be more complex and uncertain than we expect. In centering our concept on the escalation of jellyfish blooms, we aim to draw attention to scale: in Unthought Futures we need to examine small things and imagine their impact on larger scales and upon multiple overlapping systems over time.

Black Jellyfish are all about how normal situations and events become postnormal; how they mutate through PNC by becoming interconnected, networked, complex and contradictory.

In this sense, Black Jellyfish resonate deeply with Molitor's seminal work on emerging issues analysis, and we envision Black Jellyfish as decidedly ‘catalytic events’ that herald unthought possibilities, although we do not believe that they all must and follow the famed S-curve model of change (Molitor, 1977), which is useful for charting the impacts of a single event or impact but does not enhance our ‘radar/sonar [ . . . ] for identifying new elements in the territory that have either arisen since the map was drawn, or which are in motion’ (Schultz, 2006, p. 7). As with de Jouvenel’s concept of futuribles, ‘there is not time at which we can enumerate’ Black Jellyfish ‘exhaustively’ (de Jouvenel, 1967, p. 19).


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