- Un-predicted (I would say impossible to predict)
- Massively game-changing
- Yet in hindsight completely foreseeable
So, what are some Black Swans, and more importantly, what can we do to mitigate against them?
- 9/11: a handful of extremists with Home Depot box-cutters changed the face of air commerce and started a war!
- Northeast Blackout of 2003: after the last blackout they said it could never happen again, which is what they said about the blackout before that!
- Super Storm Sandy: actually only a Category I hurricane, right?
- Eyjafjallajokull Iceland volcano: only because an insignificant volcano on the 63rd Parallel had an ice cap did it disrupt world travel, costing billions!
- Fukushima quake/tsunami: the authorities built sea walls over twice the median height of tsunami but they were breached anyway, and the 'perfect storm' domino effect crippled a major nuclear plant and changed an entire nation's thinking about electricity!
They caught the world by surprise, but looking back it would have been reasonable to predict (and plan) for them. By the way, not all Black Swans are bad - I would characterize the breakthrough of the World Wide Web as a technology Black Swan: who would have predicted that a nondescript network supporting a cadre of geeky scientists would have evolved into what it is today... both the good and bad?
Although it hasn't happened yet, and world opinion is undecided if it will be, the breakup of the Eurozone and collapse of the Euro as a currency will be looked upon as a Black Swan - yet how many organizations actually have contingencies for the currency and commercial impact?
We can plan for known risks, we can plan for the risks we know we don't know, but the real challenge is to plan for and mitigate the "unknown unknowns", or "Unk-Unks". Challenging, but it can be done! More on how to plan for the impacts of the un-plannable in a future post.
Here is a small list to get the discussion started...
1. The Internet collapses, either from some architectural reason or cyber-atack, and is unavailable for some weeks
2. Extremists figure out a way to undetectably bring down an airliner, reducing air commerce to a temporary trickle
3. (Since my base is Seattle WA) We have a major eruption of Mount Rainier, BUT the enemies of the US figure that's the perfect time to launch a major cyber attack or coordinated set of Westgate-style terror attacks and "kick us when we're down"
4. Small EMP attack over a major world city, particularly a center of finance or commerce
What say you?