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  • Diane Pierson

Black Swan Series: Finding Opportunity in Black Swan Disasters

Third in the Black Swan Series:


Black Swans are, by definition, unimaginable before they occur. They impact your business in complex, idiosyncratic ways ranging from inconvenient to disastrous. Are there opportunities a tech product team can take advantage of when a Black Swan lands? Yes, but only if you think about them differently than most businesses do.


In this series, I explore how you can battle a Black Swan with market-driven product and marketing strategy and win. This post is about focusing on the outcomes of Black Swans to identify opportunities to not only survive but succeed.


When a Black Swan occurs, it’s natural to think about how to respond to that unique event. But you'll respond more effectively to a Black Swan if you stop thinking about the Swan itself and look to the Outcomes that Black Swan drives - and the Opportunities it creates.


Stop thinking about the Black Swan itself and respond to the Outcomes it drives and the Opportunities it creates.

Let’s explore this with an example of Black Swans, Outcomes and Opportunities. Let's say you offer a “special occasions” gourmet food subscription box to foodies in the U.S.:



The Black Swan

A Black Swan is the event that causes the problems: 9/11, COVID-19, the rise of cloud computing. For our example, the Great Lakes have overflowed, and the state of Michigan has flooded. Who could guess that would happen? What could you possibly do about it? In fact, because it doesn't seem to directly impact your business, you might not even think about it. Black Swans are unique – literally unimaginable before they occur. If you try to “solve” the Black Swan, chances are you’ll spend a lot of cycles to very little effect or, possibly worse, ignore the Swan because it isn't directly impacting you.



The Outcomes of a Black Swan

A better way of thinking is to brainstorm what Outcomes the Black Swan could have on you and your markets. Outcomes are the consequences of the Black Swan that get in the way of your success.


In our Michigan example, an outcome of the flood is that grocery stores are closed. People who are struggling to save their homes now have to worry about how they’re going to eat. And although they still have to eat, they may not be whipping up fancy meals during the rebuild, which means they may suspend or even cancel their subscriptions with you.


The good news about Outcomes is that they can be anticipated and certainly reacted to.




Find the Opportunity in the Outcomes

You can respond to Outcomes – they may even provide big opportunities for you to help your current customers out of a dire circumstance! Maybe, in our example, you could deliver ready-to-eat meals and other staples – by boat, of course.



Don't try to "solve" Black Swans. Rather, battle the Black Swan by identifying the outcomes that put you and your markets at risk, and respond to the opportunities they create.



About the Author

Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at dpierson@innovateonpurpose.com.




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