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TECH TALK: Black Swans: Expect the Unexpected

August 9th, 2004 · No Comments

Close your eyes. Imagine a swan. White in colour. Imagine another swan. White in colour. Imagine one more swan. It is also white in colour. Go on. Imagine more swans. There is no colour other than white that we can think of. Now, paint one of the swans black. Something doesnt seem right. A black swan? Hard to imagine. Hard to contemplate. Its almost unreal. Whoever in the world has seen a black swan? This column is about the unthinkable and the unimaginable. It is also about the possible. It is about black swans. Well get to talking about them soon.

The other day, I was expounding my vision to one of my colleagues and mentioned to him that I wanted to build the next Google. Not in the context of a search engine, but a company which has transformed thinking and created a dramatic, almost unbelievable impact on the competition. For the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, Google came out of nowhere or rather, Googles influence has almost stunned them. Because if it had not, they would have taken action a long time ago to stunt the growth of Google.

So, I was saying, I want to build the next Google. It is a dream I share with a million entrepreneurs around the world. Some want to build the next Microsoft, or the next eBay, or the next BiggestCompanyYouCanThinkOf. Thats the dream which keeps every entrepreneur running day after day. We want to build the next Google or Microsoft because a company like that gets built only once in a long time. A very long time.

More importantly, it is almost impossible to predict before hand that such a company will at some point of time in the future occupy a position of great power and influence over not just across its vertical but across the industry. Because, if we knew, we would do something about it. Competitors would seek to put roadblocks and hurdles, or failing that, try and possibly acquire it. Even otherwise helpful partners may think carefully if they realise they are going to help in building the next big behemoth. In other words, events and circumstances which lead to the creation of the once-in-a-lifetime companies are rare and almost unpredictable.

As I was talking starry-eyed about my Google-of-the-future dream to my colleague, two words suddenly flashed. Black Swan. That was it! I wanted to create a black swan (not that black swans are really created, as we shall soon see). But semantics aside, I realised that these two words capture the essence of the dream of every entrepreneur. So, I decided to dig deeper to understand about black swan events. This column shares my learning and discusses the possible opportunity for a black swan in the technology industry in the coming years. After all, somewhere the next Google is being born even as we speak. We dont know where, and we dont know who. So, why cannot it be us? Why cannot one of us spark the next black swan event?

Tomorrow: Nassim Taleb

Tags: Tech Talk

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