Monday, December 8, 2014

Black elephants!!

You gotta love it! First came black swans. Now, we have black elephants!

And what, you might ask, is a black elephant?

Adam Sweidan tells us (as quoted by Tom Friedman):
A black elephant ...  is a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one still wants to address it) even though we know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.

When they hit, we’ll claim they were black swans no one could have predicted, but, in fact, they are black elephants, very visible right now.
Friedman points out the obvious: "If they all stampede at once, watch out."

So, where to look
The hang-out for most black elephants is the Risk Register! It's the perfect habitat... unlikely and unexpected events, thus ignored for the most part -- at least when it comes to actually funding mitigations -- but certainly visible to anyone who wants to look. Indeed, so visible that like the elephant in the room, they are brought up dutifully at every risk review.

And, what to do
Yelling fire in the theater will likely cause a stampede, so that's not a good choice. The other choice is to do a little private risk management -- whatever you can afford -- to get in position to push back on the risk if it becomes more of a threat. Of course, at that point, funding may appear and all the conventional approaches are then available.

But, the last resort, of course, is step out of the way, and prepare to sweep up the debris! Keep a little in reserve for the sweeper team -- you can always spend it later if you don't need it.

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