What do cleantech 1.0 and the current oil and gas landscape have in common? At first glance, it might seem like nothing.

Both suffer from what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “platonicity” — or more simply — focusing on the map instead of the terrain.

There are important qualities of the map we must keep in mind:

  • Maps represent a single point in time, just like data, and therefore by definition represent something that no longer exists
  • People draw maps and lead us to the conclusions they want us to have
  • Human nature is to consume them as truth without doing the work ourselves

In cleantech 1.0, we knew what was possible with innovation, but mistakenly tied it to the map of technologies like semiconductors without understanding the externalities of the energy industry.

Now, the oil and gas industry is making the same mistake. Once again, a sector reaches for the familiar map it knows by saying “we’ve been here before” and pointing to data skewed by the past. In this case, that is the high price of adopting renewables early.

As we our knowledge grows, and we become more intelligent, the better we are at constructing maps that make sense to us. We neglect the unmapped and become overconfident in our own knowledge.

This phenomenon has no ideological or sectorial boundary, we’re all vulnerable to it and we never notice until it’s too late.