Black Swans and Purple Cows

The notion of “black swan events” originates in the  ancient Latin saying “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” (translated roughly as “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”) that presumed that black swans did not exist. Once they were discovered in the wild late in the 17th century, society needed to re-calibrate its thinking about what we actually know to be true.

More recently, Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s Black Swan Theory taught us–or, perhaps more accurately, should have taught us–that, while extremely rare, events do in fact occur that have massively consequential impacts, both immediate and potentially far more long-lasting.

Seth Godin’s best selling book Purple Cow reminds us that for our brand to stand out in the hyper-cluttered and ever noisier world of abundant choice and the unrelenting drumbeat of marketers vying for our precious attention, we are called to become truly remarkable, much like the purple cow standing alone in the crowded field of everyday, commonplace cows.

When I was finishing writing my soon to be released new book Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption at the end of last year, I certainly did not anticipate we would find ourselves in the middle of a epic crisis that so very few anticipated and, as is becoming heartbreakingly apparent, too many are woefully unprepared to adequately address.

As I discuss in the book, it’s undeniably true that no organization can possibly plan for every possible future outcome. In fact, to defend the status quo or sock away resources for the worst rainy day imaginable in an era where nearly exponential change in both consumer behavior and the disruptive impact of technology is fast becoming the norm almost guarantees our eventual irrelevance.

And until Elon Musk invents a time machine, we cannot go back and address all the things we should have done.

Moreover, there will plenty of time to learn for our policy mistakes, address (hopefully) our systemic failures and deal an appropriate reckoning to incompetent leaders–political and otherwise.

As we face this crisis, we we should not lose sight of our long-term vision and goals. Where ever possible, we should value relationships, over transactions. We should invest in building trust, not make moves that might undermine what is so often our most valuable brand, organizational and personal asset.

Yet, at the same time, we might also do well to remember what noted futurist Mike Tyson is rumored to have said: “everyone has a strategy until they are punched in the face.” And, without a doubt, we all have been punched and punched hard.

And yet…regardless of how hard we have been punched and our own (frankly, ill informed) views of how long and deep this crisis will be, the truth is all we have is now–this moment–to take action, to realize and accept deep down into our bones that we are all in this together, and to be generous of spirit.

Wherever we find ourselves in the eye of the hurricane, as we navigate this black swan event, there has never been a better time to choose remarkable, whatever that looks like for you.

To paraphrase Edward Everett Hale: We can’t do everything. But we can do something.