How To Hatch A Black Swan

A black swan event’s an unpredictable scenario.

The term has nothing to do with the Natalie Portman movie. The only similarity between the film and what I’m about to talk about’s one of a shared theme. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I thought the phrase would have a more interesting etymology than this. But imagine seeing a group of regular white swans.

Fine. Great, even. Nothing unusual about it certainly.

Then imagine a black swan swimming up out of nowhere.

Wow. Surprising. Exciting. Unpredictable.

That’s it.

It’s a phrase used to describe unpredictable events, specifically ones which through the benefit of hindsight appear to somehow be inevitable.

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In a modern business context, Uber’s a good example of a black swan event. 

You look back on it now and think “of course, app taxis.” But it hadn’t been done at scale before. And so Uber made and dominated a niche no one had much skin in.

Now, they’ve tens of thousands of staff worldwide, and we use it every time we’re running late for a meeting or getting a four o clock flight to Marbella.

Recruiters need to keep tabs on black swan events.

It signals their market’s about to be disrupted.

There’ll be a boom in jobs, as new players startup, scale, and need staffing. Which means new vertical specialisms, desks, and avenues to grow your business.

For the individual Consultant, a chance to plant their flag in a market no one’s tapped yet. And all the fresh business and rewards that come with it.

So wouldn’t it make sense for a commercially savvy Recruiter to seek out a sector that pretty much specialises in black swan events occurring?

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I was talking to Dionne Atwill and Douglas Bates at Intelligent People about this kind of phenomenon. They’re seeing more of it as the digital and online sector grows 4x faster than the rest of the UK economy.

We got onto the subject when they told me around 60% of their placements are in Product Management.

Doug defines a Product Manager as someone who “ideates and conceptualises new offerings to connect people or disrupt markets”.

They’re the architects of modern business empires: they take ownership of, build, proof, and release products. Think about the explosion of tech companies like Netflix, Spotify, Amazon.

Probably everything you own had a Product Manager behind it. Your car. The toiletries you use.

Tinder, for example, has entire teams of Product Managers.

Forgetting digital and online for a moment, the Parker Pen you were given for being polite about not getting promoted last year had a Product Manager taking it to market.

And before that, albeit a relatively low tech offering, fountain pens would’ve had PMs of some description behind them. Whoever invented the quill pen was technically a Product Manager.

Steve Jobs definitely qualifies.

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Product Managers exist at the apex of marketing, function and design.

Whether inventing a new product or updating an old one, Product Managers are the ones asking: “What’s it’s function? What should it look like? And where’s the gap in the market?”

Some products are built to satisfy demand. Others are designed specifically to disrupt.

The job once suited data-conscious marketers in the e-commerce space. They’d take an idea, scope it, develop it over a few years, and release it as a finished product.

Then Web 2.0 happened somewhere between 2004 and 2009. And the internet became a much more dynamic place to hang out. And, crucially, to buy things.

Now, companies have never been closer to their consumers. Think about how you’d go on holiday 10-15 years ago.

You’d have to physically go to a shopping centre to speak to a person dressed like a flight attendant, cough up your medical records, financial history and dietary preferences, and they’d bill you for booking a timeshare in Kos.

Now we now book holidays in our lunch breaks with a handful of apps. 

Apps that’ve been designed and released into the wild by Product Managers.

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Shopping for anything in 2019’s infinitely faster, occasionally cheaper, and arguably better quality than it was a decade ago.

The reason I use historic examples is to emphasise how far technology’s advanced in a relatively short time. It’s Moore’s Law in action.

Are 2019’s consumers likely to wait 3 years for the next groundbreaking app?

Wouldn’t’ve thought so. And here’s where Product Managers and insane ballerinas diverge: the former’s no longer bound by the constraints of perfection.

Companies won’t wait 3 years to develop something which may or may not be a hit. The plan’s to get a MVP to market, test it, then build it from there.

And ideally, you’re the next black swan.

Something no one saw coming. Something which changed the way an industry operates – permanently. Something which by extension, changed the way we conduct our lives too.

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So what’s next?

It’s impossible to predict the future. Although it’s equally impossible to ignore certain innovations on the horizon.

Autonomous, driverless vehicles are one such juggernaut lumbering closer in the world’s rearview.

Which won’t just affect freight industries. Think about all the different links on that particular food chain.

First off, you’ll have your black swan event.

Hooray! Disruption, innovation, and plenty of roles to fill.

A handful of challenger brands will inevitably spring up. They’ll need bums in seats, too.

There’ll be movement in job markets with drivers either upskilling or making lateral moves. And a new wave of hiring for tech candidates: developers, programmers, engineers, etcetera.

Any company that transports anything will experience the impact of driverless tech. And if there are benefits, these’ll ideally be passed on to the consumer in some way.

Now go back in time 10 years and try explaining that vehicles need neither petrol nor someone to physically drive them.

Then try explaining what drone delivery and predictive buying means. The folks in 2009 would think you were suffering some sort of malady.

The point is, not only is technology advancing increasingly quickly, but the nature of that change is largely unpredictable.

Driven, in no small part, by the emergence of black swan businesses changing the game. Because the barriers to entry are more open now than they’ve ever been.

Black swans can be hatched by almost anyone.

Whether it’s two mates working out of a shed. Or a name executive with a massive backing who’s been smashing their sector for decades.

It starts with an idea.

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Yes you’ve got to incubate it.

But if it’s good enough to change the world, there’s never been a better time to crack into previously saturated markets with never before seen ideas.

Which means talent pools and client profiles in the market are diverse, forward-thinking, and constantly evolving.

And in recruitment terms, working with an Uber on your books is great evidence your brand delivers to big customers.

But there’s just something about being able to say you built the original dev team.

Or staffed the programmers that scaled it overnight. Or installed the big dog with a C in their job title who ended up driving the success of the whole operation.

What would those kind of placements do to your networking credentials? To your testimonials? How you’re introduced to your market?

What would it do to your personal brand?

Impossible to quantify but fun to speculate.

A bit like predicting the next big thing in business.

One thing’s for certain: Product Managers are in high demand.

Intelligent People have had a hefty footprint in the game for a decade (google “product management recruitment” and let me know who’s the first result under the ads) which affords them a degree of influence with their clients that other agencies don’t have.

You’d be recruiting for companies shaping the modern world, on projects that’ll genuinely blow your mind.

How do you hatch a black swan? Get into Product Management recruitment.

Then wait.

And be ready for anything.