Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s bestselling ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ has to be one of the most timely published books ever – and as a taster if you haven’t read it I’d suggest this excellent interview with the author by Bryan Appleyard of the UK’s The Sunday Times.
Bryan’s summary is excellent – ‘The name of the book comes from the discovery of black swans in Australia. Before that, any reasonable person could assume the all-swans-are-white theory was unassailable. But the sight of just one black swan detonated that theory. Taleb proposes that every theory we have about the human world and about the future is vulnerable to the black swan, the unexpected event. Taleb says, among other things, that most economists, and almost all bankers, are dangerous. That they live in a fantasy world in which the future can be controlled by sophisticated mathematical models and elaborate risk-management systems.’
Nassim’s prescience couldn’t be more acute.
One waits for a bus for ages and then three come along at once, and recently not one but three black swans have landed in the pond of the chief officer. By definition, these black swans require the chief officer to think again how they provide leadership and how they manage cost, value and risk in the delivery of outcomes they have the chief responsibility for.
The black swans are:

  • The credit crunch; changes the game in socio-economic systemic risk and opportunity with no-one yet sure what the new game is, only that the old game is over
  • The Web effect; global information connectivity and people’s personal access to information technology creates unprecedented opportunity and risk for every organisation’s information system of operation
  • The commoditisation of the IT market; the shift from product-based to service-based IT has led to commoditisation in the IT market. The benefits of IT commoditisation are significant but require a different approach to IT vision and delivery to that of well-known and established practices.

Transforming an entire organisation to address a new world order takes time and competitive advantage goes to the business which is fleet of foot or the government which makes a conclusive decision and can make it stick.
So, hand-picking a few critical issues to tackle head-on, getting a fresh perspective on them, and taking the decision making authority to address them away from existing line management and into temporary governance structures with authority to act is one proven approach to responding to such world-changing events.
The overused corporate buzz word for this approach is tiger team – and while the word is overused the real application is, if anything, underused – you should never ask a frog to drain the pond as the German’s say.
Well, three black swans would appear to have made themselves rather at home in the pond of the chief officer, and perhaps now would be a good time to let the tigers get acquainted with them.