How to Survive a ‘Black Swan Event’

Gavin Wingfield | 28 April 2020

A ‘Black Swan Event’ is an event of extreme rarity, but significant impact. A contemporary example would be a thousand-year flood, or 9/11. An even more contemporary example would be what we are experiencing right now, worldwide.

The Black Swan Theory derives from the Old World presumption that all swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers. In that context, a black swan was impossible. However, in 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans in Western Australia. The term subsequently led to the idea that a perceived impossibility might later actually be disproven.

What are the impacts of a Black Swan Event?

Usually: blind panic and an inability to know what to do! This isn’t an occurrence that has been expected, nor one that has been planned for. Therefore, when two planes hit the Twin Towers back in 2001, the world stood in complete shock, flights were subsequently grounded and the stock market plummeted. We had never seen anything like this before, nor had we ever imagined it. The US economy took years to recover – but recover it did!

The ramifications that the UK are facing right now bear stark resemblances. There is an enormous emotional element attached to this crisis. Our friends and loved ones may be suffering potentially fatal illness, anxiety levels go through the roof, our hard-earned money that may be invested is dropping in value as the stock market continues its downward direction and businesses/jobs are put at risk.

The government is changing its guidelines day by day and big, bold decisions are being made left, right and centre – arguably to the advantage or disadvantage of some people. The frantic balance that is trying to be struck by businesses to remain productive and profitable, whilst also ensuring the correct level of due care to its people, is difficult to pull off. Likely more so than if this was something we could plan for in advance.

How do we recover from a Black Swan Event?

Given the nature of the event, it is often hard to see the wood for the trees. Our first priority is the health of our families and friends, along with protecting our own financial and mental well-being. As human beings, it is very challenging to think about the opportunities that may lay in amongst devastation – it goes against every fibre of our being. However, we fortunately (or somewhat unfortunately) have recent experiences to learn from i.e. 2015 Ebola outbreak, 2008 great recession, SARS, 9/11 and so on.

The answer? Look at the bigger picture. We will work through the problem, markets will subsequently bottom-out and bounce, people will come out of isolation and resume their normal lives. People will need to travel on planes and trains again in huge numbers. Products will still need to be manufactured and sold. Children will be back in school, workers will be back in offices. Therefore, there is huge opportunity here for those who can, to get on the front foot. In the same way as some people foresaw an investment opportunity in the airlines in the aftermath of 9/11, on the basis that air travel would still be necessary requirement, others can take this opportunity to forward plan.

In my network, at the moment, is the largest amount of talent I have ever seen. Rarely available interim and consultancy professionals, who have operated in the manufacturing space for upwards of 15-20 years, without any gaps longer than two weeks between assignments, are now free. Make no mistake, the circumstances we find ourselves in today are unprecedented. However, for anyone in a position to make that investment earlier rather than later, it is likely to help businesses massively capitalise on that ‘bounce’ with the best people the market has to offer, before the race to resume business as usual begins. Similarly, interim and consultancy professionals could take this opportunity to promote their services at a reduced rate in the short term, in the interest of ensuring the Manufacturing sector has a speedy recovery – and ultimately benefit all of us.

In closing, I would like to cheekily point out that, unlike the media, I’ve managed to successfully write a story without mentioning the ‘C-word’!

If you have any urgent interim needs to assist you in your business continuity planning, please do contact us. I can have a shortlist of candidates for you to review in a matter of hours. The right interim can be retained and begin engaging with your organisation within days.

Keep calm, prepare, persevere and stay healthy.

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