Malcolm Gladwell is a terrifically interesting writer. In his latest book I found a piece that disturbs and informs me. A fellow named Nassim Taleb turned the inevitability of disaster into an investment strategy by recognizing black swans. The ‘black swan” image is the rarity of the appearance of a black swan in a species that is supposed to be white.
[img_assist|nid=725|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=266|height=189]Taleb runs an equity fund (sort of) called Empirica Capital. He authored several books, including “Black Swan” and “Fooled by Randomness.” Gladwell describes this book as “which is to conventional Wall Street wisdom as Martin Luther’s theses were to the Catholic Church.”
Taleb is a student of the improbable. He has inverted the traditional psychology of investing by noticing that “black swans” will happen. We can’t know when — but they will. So he invests for the disasters. And guess what happened in the recession: he made tons of money.
So what is the lesson? Gladwell says “there is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.”
What’s the relevance to healthcare? Taking risks will be more important than ever. While we do so, we need to be sure we have a “plan B” for the unimaginable….like 9/11. What is the strategy for managing a disaster? What would happen if another “bubble” popped and the economy tanks again? How would we sustain basic services in health care and education? Who is crafting those plans?
We are not used to thinking this way. I am certainly more focused on a positive future. Yet the value of being like Taleb is that it can remind us to plan for catastrophe. Read this chapter: maybe it will help you do so.
Alan is skeptical. We need skeptics. Actually Alan - the chapter notes what happened to Taleb at the very end via an asterix - noting his second book called "The Black Swan" became a bestseller and that in the financial crisis of 2008-2009 he made "billions". You are correct that contingency plans take resources and paperwork. I just think the performance of the markets, the weather (tsunamis....tornadoes), and even societies (Arab spring...) are so unpredictable that Taleb's insight should prompt us to have a plan- the back-up plan for Fukuyama nuclear plant never imagined a tsunami that big or prolonged power outage- so we got what we got.
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