Growth Planning, Grazing Elk, and Black Swans

Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, defines this metaphor as a highly improbable event that has 3 characteristics:  It is 1) unpredictable 2) it carries a huge impact; and 3) after the fact, humans want to concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random.  For example, Google is a Black Swan. They just celebrated their five year anniversary, and their stock continues to trade above $575/share. You could say that Barack Obama’s highly effective, a viral online presidential campaign was a positive black swan. The September 11, 2001 events exemplified a negative black swan.

Sometimes, you just have to let the positive black swans (serendipitous events) unfold, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Last Wednesday, mother nature presented me with a black swan.  As I was preparing for a very busy day in the office, 42 elk interrupted my schedule.

Elk view from Bedroom Nov 09

I just had to stop what I was doing to savor the majestic scene. And I am glad that I did.  The rest of my day was not only productive; it was uplifting and memorable.

Black swan events are purely unpredictable. They defy bell curves, economic probabilities, common sense, and conventional wisdom. It might appear as the longstanding Tier A client that has joined your inner social circle, and suddenly takes their business elsewhere. It might be the star employee who wakes up one morning and announces that she is taking a permanent “sabbatical.”

As you develop your 2010 business plan, how will you prepare for possible black swans? (Hint: don’t consult your favorite economist or CPA for an answer).

The secret answer might just be grazing in your backyard.


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