Black swans are everywhere these days

By August 8, 2011Uncategorized

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I’m just back from a very enjoyable two week holiday with the family and on my travels to the very nice but somewhat eccentric Chateau de la Motte Beaumenoir in France I encountered the black swan pictured above.  This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this rare bird recently, far from it in fact, and I strongly suspect that black swans have become fashionable to own following the success of Nicholas Taleb’s seminal book ‘The Black Swan’, and I’m highly amused by the irony of the fact that Taleb’s success is undermining the premise behind the title, namely that black swans are such rare events that no-one expects to see them.

I’m also struck by the fact that unexpected events on significant magnitude are happening more and more frequently these days (Japanese nuclear meltdown, US downgrade, Facebook worth $100bn).  We live in exciting times.

For those that haven’t read The Black Swan, go do so now!  It is highly recommended reading for anyone in the business of investment or who wants to understand uncertainty, society, and change more generally.  According to Wikipedia it has sold 1.5m copies and been translated into 27 languages and The Sunday Times described it as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II.

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  • Thought provoking post, Nic. I haven’t actually come across a (living) black swam before, but I guess I won’t be so surprised when it happens… 🙂
    Interesting times indeed. The normal appears to be highly ephemeral nowadays. Times are rapidly changing. What we consider normal is not normal anymore as the paradigm shifts in front of us. Perhaps we’re not thinking about these fat tail events in the right context…

  • Of course, if you buy the book,, realise that while Taleb may be brilliant, he is also (in his writing at least) pompous and bombastic.

    It’s a marvellous read. Just quell the impulse to throttle the author for his self-absorbed narcissism

  • Hi Nic,  I covered the issue of ‘black swans’ in the context of strategic planning at this link – http://articles.bplans.co.uk/business/black-swans-strategic-planning/747

    May be of interest to your readers.

    regards

    Alan

  • I generally read a book (good one) in two to three days, but I have been now working on with Taleb’s book for one month. Simply because his narcissism is so disgusting that I need to breathe every now and then in order to not to destroy his piece. However, the book itself is brilliant, but takes a lot from a non-native english reader.

  • Agree with Nicholas – it’s a fantastic book which, along with Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” are the ones which have affected my thinking the most in the last few years.  Unfortunately they’ve affected my thinking by making it far more cloudy and somewhat nihilistic, but they’ve affected it all the same!

  • nic

    I found his wit and arrogance quite amusing. It kept me going through some of the more turgid parts of the book.