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In his 2008 book 'Fooled by Randomness' Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced the theory of Black Swan events. He then turned that into the highly successful book 'The Black Swan' which is where the idea really caught the public imagination.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept already, Wikipedia summarizes it as follows.
"The black swan theory ... is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after the first European encounter with them."
The theory was developed by Taleb to explain the disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
And it's a great concept. I love the idea.
But it's the 21st century and we no longer worship volcanos or mythical gods (at least most of us don't). Equally, I'd suggest we stop using the excuse of 'hard-to-predict'. The time has come to hold a wake for the Black Swan.
Here we are in the early stages of the third millennium with a global pandemic earthquakes, locusts, bushfires, and financial. An epoch of unprecedented volatility and risk. Can we really allow ourselves to think that it's OK to be blindsided by the unexpected simply because we will have 'black swan events'. Swans are swans. Black, white, red, or green, we need to be prepared and even expect to meet them.
Using black swans as an excuse for being unprepared is to my mind, lazy thinking. it might make for good media or a handy excuse for our political leaders. But as risk managers we we need to move on. There are very few risks that we can't visualize. And even less that we can't prepare for with an all-hazards approach. No matter what comes, we will need first-aiders, fire-fighters, scientists, and researchers.
Let's build an 'Anti-fragile' world. People like Elon Musk are preparing for the inevitable destruction of planet earth by the sun or a random meteor by working towards becoming an interplanetary species. We're smart enough collectively to identify and address the risks of war, AI, alien attack, quantum computing, pandemic, climate-change, bio-terrorism, and countless others.
RIP the Black Swan (the theory that is - nothing against actual Black Swans).
Time for us to get on with the job of managing uncertainty in an era when nothing should come as a surprise. And there is lots that we can do to end the excuse of being a 'Black Swan Event'. Join me in the webinar for a few ideas and methods.
Julian is a researcher, writer, and consultant helping startups grow and large organizations manage their risk. You can find his books on Amazon and some of his articles here on LinkedIn or at JulianTalbot.com
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