COVID-19 was a “White Swan”

Nassim Taleb popularized the term “Black Swan” and has recently pointed out that COVID-19 can’t be categorized as such. He said it is a “White Swan” instead. Why? Because C-19 didn’t happen all of a sudden with a lack of predictability — we knew enough about it so that we could enact countermeasures, but many countries didn’t do so. It wasn’t, as he calls it, “an unforeseen problem” – which is his definition of a black swan.

Looking back to the early thoughts of Taleb in 2009 on the ideas of risk are quite interesting, as grounded in an HBR piece he penned with collaborators entitled, The Six Mistakes Executives Make in Risk Management.

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Florence Nightingale (1850s)

By examining the soldiers who were dying in the hospitals as compared with the soldiers dying in the field, Florence Nightingale created a visualization to explain how the sanitary conditions of the hospitals were causing more deaths than the battlefield. This was during the Crimean War and an example of how “Nurse Nightingale” should be renamed “Data Scientist Nightingale” plus she was a nurse.

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