The Impact of the Highly Improbable
'The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable' was a book long-praised when it emerged, including 'World's Greatest Business Guru' Tom Peters.
Its message was this: leaders believe they control more than they actually do. A message which modern Leadership Development has still not caught up with.
What is a 'Black Swan'?
In Europe all anyone had ever seen were white swans; indeed, "all swans are white" had long been used as the standard example of a scientific truth. So what was the chance of seeing a black one? Impossible to calculate.
Or at least they were until 1697, when explorers found Cygnus atratus in Australia. Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of 'Wired' Magazine
We put too much weight on being able to predict the future by what we have already experienced, or what has worked for others. 'Black Swan' events are the completely unfathomable that no amount of planning will prepare for, and often the most important events. Success becomes about what we do not know.
Leaders have to Learn what they Really Control
Modern Leadership Development has never stopped teaching leaders to assume cause and effect - ‘plan then do’.
But cause and effect is actually pretty murky. 'I made the decision in the Board meeting and pulled the lever of power so something will change for the better' is the kind of flawed organisational leadership thinking that Taleb helps to challenge with his insights into patterns, causes, effects and complexity.
From the book:
“The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves ... The strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I love that – ‘tinkering’ in areas you don’t know, and that’s a form of Emergent Strategy, as Henry Mintzberg and other academic strategists call it.
Because that’s what we do with our Leadership Communities; constantly experiment with things and some take off and others die. We don’t know in advance which things we introduce will be popular. The pattern emerges from experimentation and piloting, as it can’t be planned in advance because of things like ‘the law of unexpected consequences’ and ‘the assumption of control’ - the belief that you control more than you actually do.