As I write this, it’s been just over 120 days since the hard lockdown started in South Africa. During that time, my colleagues have been working hard to produce information and research to give us and our clients the information we need to make decisions.

I wanted to take a different tack today. I wonder what innovation lessons we can learn.

I’ve written previously on how this pandemic really illustrated what “exponential growth” means, and just how scarily and almost unimaginably fast it is.

So here are some other innovation lessons I think we can learn.

It was a grey rhino, not a black swan.

It’s popular to think of the global pandemic as a so-called black swan, a term popularised by Nassim Taleb’s book of the same name.

It was once believed that all swans where white, until somebody spotted a black one. That one sighting upended centuries of conventional wisdom. So the metaphor of a black swan is of a single event that makes us question everything we believed up until that point.

But people did, in fact, predict a pandemic. At Accenture we’ve been using another animal metaphor: we call it the grey rhino. A rhino may be a bit difficult to see, but it is ever-present in the environment and ready to charge. It’s just a question of when. And when it does happen, it’s very sudden.

When the pandemic rhino hit us, we responded quickly. We realised just how many people can feasibly work from home. It has been a painful transition for many people, and we are still feeling the ripples, but the parts of the economy that could function remotely, did, and remarkably quickly.

What other grey rhinos are heading our way?

We don’t need a Bill Gates TED talk to tell us that global warming is a crisis. Already this year, some coastal cities have recorded temperatures so high that they cannot sustain human life.

When it gets too hot, humans can’t cool down by sweating, which leads to overheating and death.

It’s only a few days a year so far, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that these things can take off exponentially.

These hotspots tend to occur along parts of the Persian Gulf shoreline and the southern coast of California (think Los Angeles), where sizzling lands border sultry seas. Also in South Asia, where, just before the monsoon season begins, they experience a combination of extreme heat and humidity.

But I saw a map, and Durban’s temperatures looked dangerously high to me. As for Qatar, it’s so hot there they have started air-conditioning outdoor markets.

Another grey rhino is the switch to electric vehicles. This may be as painless as the switch was from leaded to unleaded fuel, but probably not. It’s likely to cause havoc as the fiscus loses the money it collects from taxing fuel; and what will happen to the network of petrol stations and all the people they employ? We can see the rhino, we know it’s going to charge. The only variable is when exactly that will be.

I also believe “grey rhino” thinking has profound implications for leadership in general, and for innovation in particular. You can read my thoughts on that in a later blog.

I’ve spoken about three grey rhinos in this article. I’d be interested to hear about the grey rhinos you can see in your landscape. You can email me at