Leadership: Looking For Black Swans


June 12,2008: A hot topic in U.S. defense think tanks is the "Black Swan" problem. This is all about the fact that unexpected events can have major consequences. Until black swans were discovered in Australia, it was believed all of them were white, and if a black one showed up, consternation would ensue. On a more practical level, the events of September 11, 2001 are considered a classic "Black Swan" event. The Pentagon wants to come up with a way of predicting "Black Swan" events, or at least get a better sense of what kind of possibilities are out there at any given time.

That said, "Black Swans" are not all that rare. Most wars start off with a visit from a dark hued water fowl. And business life is full of such events, but few are reported widely, unless they involve numbers large enough to justify a headline. Many smart people on Wall Street make a lot of money by figuring out where a "Black Swan" will show up next, but the Pentagon has not been able to get much help from Wall Street (which is another story).

Meanwhile, what 911 really did was shift the counter-terrorism argument from, "we have to cope with the terrorists," to, "we have to deal with them." Even before 911, Islamic radicals with long memories tried to warn Osama not to mess with the Westerners, because they will eventually mess you back, big time. The black bird is on Osama's back for now.

But many people, especially outside the United States, are trying to convince America to go along with the more popular "coping with terrorism" approach, rather than chasing after the bad guys with military forces. That's because this approach could, according to many non-Americans, create more "Black Swans". But counter-terrorism experts in the United States disagree with this more passive approach, because they fear that, without the pressure provided by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Islamic terrorists would come up with more "Black Swans". No one is sure which approach is right, and the loser here will get a "Black Swan" as an unwelcome prize.


Article Archive

Leadership: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close