Hunting Black Swans

Are we in the midst of a Black Swan event? It depends on who you ask. Just for context; a “Black Swan Event” is typically quantified as a major event, that no one saw coming, that is then inappropriately rationalized after the fact. The COVID-19 crisis definitely feels like one of those.

If you ask medical professionals, they’ll tell you how for years they’ve been calling out the inadequacies and inefficiencies of our sprawling medical industrial complex. If you ask law enforcement, they’ll tell you the same thing. Even bankers have to go through pandemic training every year. So, why are we so surprised and unprepared for the current COVID-19 crisis?

Preparing and being ready are two distinctly different things.

Preparing for an event of this magnitude has worked well. Most businesses have adapted skillfully; allowing work to happen remotely, slowing the way they engage with the public, and making sure their surface level sanitation is stepped up to reduce the spread. Most of these actions have been rehearsed and played out over time.

What hasn’t been rehearsed are the shortages, the overreactions, and the emotional stress an event like this can have on individuals. How can we correct for this impact? The closest event we have, in our lifetime (short as it’s been) is the September 11th attacks. The country seized up for an entire day and held our collective breath over the next few months expecting some sort of sequel or follow-up to the attacks. It never really came. What did come was the zeitgeist of dread, the malaise, that pushed us slowly in to a near economic collapse less than a decade later.

What will it be this time around? The key to a Black Swan event is the unexpected nature. Second to that is the Monday-morning quarterbacking that goes on once the event is in our rear view mirror. Where will all the blame be put? Where will changes be made? Hard to tell at this point. But, unlike 9/11, this event will likely have more of a “victory” feel to it. Once school is back and businesses open, there will be an air of optimism that was sorely lacking in the first decade of this century.

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