(Originally Summer 2010)
In my world of problem solving there are four classes of work, puzzles, mysteries, rabbit holes and black holes. Puzzles are those problems where you have all the pieces and you know what the end result will look like. All you have to do to a puzzle is solve it. Puzzles are just a matter of time and effort. Mysteries are tougher. You don't know all of the pieces and you might have to build some of them to get the solution, so you know what things are supposed to be, but how to get from point A to point B is, well, a mystery. Mysteries unravel as time goes on and soon become puzzles, if you're crafty or lucky.
A rabbit hole is a problem whose solution begets more problems. When you begin to address it and solve one part, you create new parts. These new problems may be puzzles, they may be new mysteries. There may even be rabbit holes within rabbit holes. Often the wisest course of action when faced with a rabbit hole is to avoid it altogether. Alternatively, the wisest course is bravado, overkill and simplification. Don't even pretend that you can solve the problem with any finesse, just jump in and get busy.
The black hole might sound like an infinite rabbit hole from which there is no escape. But it's actually worse. It's a rabbit hole that you didn't know you were already in. In the argot of the intelligence business, it is the unknown unknown. Not only do you not understand the class of problem, you don't know if you have it, how long you've had it or what you've been doing all this time to make it better or worse. A black hole is where people in the Matrix live, who've never heard of the Matrix. One might equally call a black hole a black swan, but I'm trying to be original here and there is this subtle difference. Whereas a black swan is necessarily a future event upon which much or little might hang, a black hole is a present condition - one whose origins and ends are unknown. Leave it at that.
Adding to this, I would say that upon the discovery that you have been in a black hole and that is revealed, you get one of those 'everything you know is wrong' moments. In that way it is like a black swan. A black hole moment is like discovering the lyrics to a song you thought you knew all of these years and suddenly you see them printed and you're like 'wow'. Sometimes it changes the meaning of everything you thought. Most of the time, you kind of interpolate yourself out of trouble - because you might not have been that far off with the mumble you mumbled in place of the actual lyrics. But it still warps you because you never knew you had a problem.