I’ve often believed that Black Swans catalyze transformations. Popularized by the Nassim Nicholas Taleb book, a Black Swan is “an unpredictable or rare event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation, and that has a potentially extreme impact. It is also characterized by the widespread insistence it was obvious in hindsight.” (Investopedia)

I particularly like how Black Swans precipitate national change.

For instance, would the Nigerian presidency have swung to a retired southern general, if another southern politician hadn’t died suddenly? Would Singapore have become the incredible service economy it is today if it hadn’t been expelled from the federation of Malaysia? Would the Arab Spring have conflagrated without the self-immolation of a Tunisian man? And, as we navigate the COVID-19 Black Swan, what lasting national changes will occur?

More interestingly is the fact that behind all these seemingly random events were the structures that harnessed them. As they say, opportunity is unpredictable but it favours the prepared.

The evolution of the British Parliamentary system owes some thanks to the structure of the Whigs. The abolishment of Apartheid would not have been possible without external pressure. For instance, the nationalization of key foreign assets by African countries, the boycotts of key events and the protests at Western foreign embassies. The Protestant Reformation may not have gained wings if Martin Luther had not taken the trouble to write and nail his ’95 theses’ to the door of a church. Black Swans may be random, but strikes, protests, negotiations, political platforms and so on, are planned.

The structure that is necessary to capitalize on a random tipping point often demands strategy, funding and unflagging hard work. It was not easy to plan the 1963 March on Washington or the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The lesson is, every generation has its own Black Swan event.

In mine, it was the ignominious death of a military dictator. In this generation, it was presumably #EndSars. And so, as long as the earth remains, another one will come.

The question is, will people be prepared? Will they put in place the structures that are necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that will emerge?

For more, please read Anger and Political Change.

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