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Black Swan

The Black Swan

Dependence on Gas from Russia - Fatal Misconceptions in Politics, Economy, and Society

In the pandemic, organizations quickly learned how to deal with the Corona virus. Pandemics run according to natural laws, and we were able to adjust to what to expect and how to deal with it.

The current Ukraine war is not proceeding according to natural laws, nor are the developments and decisions that led there. We had to witness how politics and business were guided by serious misjudgments.

Social systems tend to reinterpret something unexpected into something expected, so that their own picture of the world can be confirmed. The financial mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes this phenomenon in his book “The Black Swan: The Power of Improbable Events.”

From a systemic-constructivist perspective, it can be explained why social systems tend to negate the black swan or reinterpret it as a white swan.

The Black Swan

Historical Background of the Metaphor

The image of the black swan was already used by the Roman satirist Juvenal. Since black swans were completely unknown in Europe at the time of the Roman Empire, the satirist often used the image of the black swan jokingly as a figure of speech for absolutely impossible events.

After the Australian continent was discovered and subsequently black swans were actually sighted in 1697, the figure of speech in the English language turned into a metaphor for a very unlikely but still possible event.

The black swan being talked white

How can we explain this phenomenon?

According to systemic understanding, organizations have their histories, images, and path dependencies. The past is taken as a model for the future. Thus, organizations create their construction of reality, often without any reference to fact. An organization sees what it sees – it usually does not see that it does not see what it does not see. If – according to existing and accepted understanding – there are no black swans, then they are not perceived. The consequence is that phenomena are either not seen or misinterpreted.

The problem of organizational self-reference takes hold. Notable, exemplary consequences: Financial crisis, socioeconomic consequences due to the Corona pandemic, or climate change.

Events with massive social, ecological, or economic consequences were not expected in advance and threaten the business models of established organizations. In retrospect, the developments appear explainable and the world wonders why it was not prepared for them.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The discovery of the first black swan may have been an interesting surprise to some ornithologists, but therein lies not the significance of the story. It illustrates a severe limitation of our learning from observation or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. A single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from thousands of years of confirmed sightings of millions of white swans. All that is needed is a single black bird.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Researcher in statistics, stochastics, epistemology, and former mathematician of finance
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Does the metaphor of the black swan explain current challenges?

The black swan as an explanatory model of current challenges in 2022

Guest Prof. Robert A. Sedlák explained in a keynote speech for a trade association for the tool trade the importance of the concept of the black swan in the context of current organizational challenges in 2022.

We have provided essential elements of the accompanying presentation for you to download.

Download the digital presentation free of charge. If you have any questions or comments, please contact our front office – if required, we will organize an exchange with our consultants for the relevant consulting fields.

Organizational challenges 2022

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    Consulting elements to bring the black swan into focus

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    Julia Kobert - S&P Consulting

    Julia Kobert
    Consultant for Corporate Communications

    +49 4102 69 93 21

    Frédéric Sedlák

    Frédéric Sedlák
    Senior Consultant and Authorized Officer

    +49 4102 69 93 22