Black Swans

I have just started “reading” Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I just the term “reading” loosely as I’m not quite reading the book, I bought the Audiobook version.

What is a Black Swan

According to the book, a black swan is an event that satisfiles the following criteria.

  • It is unexpected to the observer.
  • It has a major event after it first occurs
  • It is rationalized by hindsight as if it could be expected. The event that Taleb uses for the name sake could be considered a black swans.

From Roman times till the 16th century, Europe only had white swans. By all empirical evidence at the time, all swans were white. By the 16 the century, it was considered that to have a black swan was impossible. It went into common language at the time, something was “as impossible as a black swan”. Then Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh became the first European to see a black swan in Western Australia and then brought a pair back to Europe. This changed the perception and subsequently, the saying changed to show later “perceived” impossibility might later be shown to be disproven.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but it does talk about trying to avoid black swans that are bad and exploiting those that are good.

My thoughts for this are, for example, Netflix with their chaos monkey that randomly kills servers is one possible way to try to avoid negative black swans. By causing unpredictable events, learning from them and then trying to prevent them, Netflix’s systems become more resilient to actual black swan events such as unexpected disruptions.

On the other hand, exploiting the black swan can be seen as experimentation. Trying something different, something new and if it works, then exploitng it, and innovating.

The book “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure : Tim Harford” also goes down this line, where constant experimentation, trying new things increases your chances of finding something new and exciting. A positive black swan.

This can be seen through the Unicorn companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Etsy, Google, Amazon etc. These companies continuously try something new. They deploy new functionality multiple times per day. Get feedback and then determine if they need to keep the new functionality, drop it or modify it and try again.

On Audiobooks

I am finding it a little difficult to actively read an audiobook. By actively read, I mean take notes while reading. I find it easier to do with a written book as opposed to a spoken book. I find the audiobook reading a little more passive. Hopefully enough will sink in that I will be able to produce more posts.