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An illustration of a black swan coming out of a box to surprise to demonstrate the Black Swan Theory.

Black Swan

An unpredictable event, typically one with extreme consequences

The nuts and bolts: The Black Swan Theory is a metaphor for events that come as surprises. These unpredictable, major effect-generating occurrences are often inappropriately rationalized with hindsight. That’s because they can’t be predicted beforehand and their negative outcomes weren’t expected.

Most people experiencing Black Swans in real-time, or even afterward, aren’t able to know what has happened from one day to another.

A Black Swan…

  • is a rare event
  • carries an extreme impact
  • gets explained away after the fact (making it seem predictable)

“There are so many things we can do if we focus on… what we do not know. Among many other benefits, you can set yourself up to collect Black Swans (of the positive kind) by maximizing your exposure to them. Indeed, in some domains—such as scientific discovery and venture capital investments—there is a disproportionate payoff from the unknown, since you typically have little to lose and plenty to gain from a rare event. … Contrary to social-science wisdom, almost no discovery, no technologies of note, came from design and planning—they were just Black Swans.

The strategy for discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. So I disagree with the followers of Marx and those of Adam Smith: the reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or “incentives” for skill. The strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.” -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan

Prevent Black Swans Before They Happen

One way to stop Black Swans is to put your product to the test with Helio. We’ve got several easy to use templates. But for this we recommend our Feature Finding template. Measure whether what you want to be discoverable actually is for a target audience.

Feature Findability Test

Evaluate the findability of key features as a specialized way of improving overall site usability.

Use this template for:

  • Product Design
  • Prevent Black Swans from spiraling into problems
  • Identify UI that goes unnoticed, avoided, or underutilized
Use Template