On blackswans

On blackswans

Written by
Gautam Bakshi
Date published
March 10, 2023

Photo by Caz Hayek / Unsplash


You can't really make much precise use of it in your daily life. The entire point is that it's only recognizable in hindsight. When you look back on what happened, you say "Of course, it was sooo obvious that was going to happen" but really it had such a slight chance of taking place that had anyone advocated preparing for it (and, after spending money on preparations it didn't happen), everyone would have been "Of course, it's sooo obvious that wouldn't happen".

But besides being rare and having a significant impact, "retrospective predictability" is essential in studying Black Swan events.

9/11 was a Black Swan event. Sure, there was a memo about "bin Laden determined to strike in the US". There was "chatter" about something big about to take place. But no one could have predicted the magnitude of those attacks. Even the most cynical anti-terrorism expert in the world wouldn't have imagined the scale of it.

However, people love to look back and say things like "Of course the government knew" or "Obviously the government should have known". But what would those same people have done if GW went wild and shut down American airspace from late August until the threat was identified and mitigated? And if plans changed, and the attacks never happened, he'd have been harangued as a great fool.

Instead the reason studying events like this are useful is to reduce the impact of negative events and capitalize on the impact of positive events.

Like the meetings that were taking place shortly before the Nepal earthquake. They were preparing for an event of great impact that could have happened that day or 60 years from now. California is fairly well prepared for "the Big One" and has been slowly increasing their readiness as time goes on. That's basically all you can do.

Imagine the worst, do what you can to reduce it to within acceptable limits of risk, and continue on with your life. And keep an eye out for good fortune, and be ready to take advantage if you can.

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