Anyone who accepts Taleb’s basic premise in The Black Swan that we can understand, assess and predict a lot less than we THINK we can, probably wouldn’t choose any number of professions that require generating results through the analysis of data, particularly about buying trends or people’s behavior. Taleb addresses the inequities inherent in trying to strategize and make decisions based on past occurences, and uses books, movies and music as examples of how talent, hard work and previous popularity cannot predict success. I readily admit I don’t really understand most of what Taleb says, I just know that something about it rings true for me in a place that defies rational analysis. And that’s where Black Swanology comes in.
Two elements make up my marketing bastardization of Taleb’s theory. 1) We can’t ever figure out what people will like, so we must only create what is personally meaningful 2) We can’t ever figure out how the product will eventually reach the right audience, so we just have to put it out there in as many ways as we can and allow it to find them on its own.
I know most people will shake their heads at this theory. And rightly so. If you google the concept of spaghetti marketing, which is what this sounds like, you get a lot of gurus telling you that the idea of simply throwing marketing dollars out there in some random fashion to “see what sticks” is a huge waste of time and money. But Black Swanology is NOT about simply throwing up one’s hands and allowing random events to dictate anything. It’s about opening up to the possibility that there are principles at work that we just can’t know or control, and in order to make decisions we “need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the probability (which you can’t know)…”
Taleb gives some suggestions for what to do when prediction is impossible. They are deceptively simple. 1) Be human 2) Be prepared 3) Understand the true difference between positive and negative outcomes 4) Do not be narrow-minded 5) Seize anything that looks like an opportunity 6) Be aware of, but do not place any faith in prognosticators, official or otherwise.
I would add one more suggestion. Follow your heart. If making business decisions is really about developing clarity of purpose, about knowing that what you do matters to YOU, and about accepting uncertainty, always staying in line with what you intuitively know to be true for YOU can only enhance the process. There’s something freeing in simply following your heart and seeing what happens. Taleb doesn’t specifically address the heart-mind connection as an element of his black swan discussion, but it’s my guess that when he says “You have far more control over your life if you decide on the criterion by yourself,” and “It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself” he’s not far from “follow your heart”. And in the end, if no one notices what you’ve created, if you don’t find great commercial success for your product, you will still have the satisfaction of having done what you love. And after all is said and done, isn’t doing what we truly love really the only black swan that matters anyway?