Oprah Time: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A one sentence summary of The Black Swan would be ‘The future is unwritten, at least in Bell Curves’. Taleb ponders the random events that arrive unseen and yet cause a huge impact on the world around us:

Positive black swans: penicillin, cellular phone, micro-processor, worldwide web, Macintosh, the iPod

Negative black swans: Altamont,Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, July 7 public transport bombings

The book has received the most publicity around the role that it plays  debunking many of the ‘scientific’ theorems that run the financial markets. He exposes the limitations of scientific models employed by bankers and demonstrated how analysts and journalists retrofit event explanations around events that they don’t really understand.

However from  my own perspective with my interest in communications and technology (in its widest sense), even more important is Taleb’s ideas on positive black swans.

Developments that make the most impact creep on us over time. I wouldn’t have thought when I was in school at the launch of UK mobile phone networks Vodafone and Cellnet that just about everyone in the UK would have their own mobile telephone. Yet now, it feels so strange to watch films like Bullit, where a large amount of the plot feels odd because Steve McQueen isn’t packing a mobile phone.

A telephone box now seems like an artefact from another time and punctuality for social events has largely gone by the way as our social engagements can be set up and rearranged on the fly with a mobile phone.

Taleb writes in an engaging manner explaining that in order to be better prepared for these unforseen events, we need to think outside the box and learn to be open enough to recognise and embrace the positive black swans before they are too mainstream.