Managing, Anticipating, and Promoting Black Swans at Work

How to Foster Workplace Creativity & Innovation

Explanation of a Black Swan

Have you ever been underestimated by others in work or life?  You, my friend, just might be a Black Swan.  Black Swans are generally companies and events who’s success, risk, or an event is highly improbable and almost impossible except when you look back in the rear view mirror of life.  The risk is unanticipated and it’s players and competitors are unprepared.  I’m not talking Natalie Portman.  Think Google, Facebook, wikis, and the Apollo 13.

Now, Black Swans aren’t always good or always bad.  An answer, innovation or individual comes from seemingly out of the blue.  So how do you prepare for which you know not?  Deloitte’s 2009 Report, Are You Prepared for a Black Swan?, goes into the usual rhyme and reason discussing crisis management, preparation, and having an emergency preparedness plan in place.  But what if Black Swans are not only events and businesses but people too?  Are you prepared to anticipate, manage, and properly prepare for hiring, fostering, or developing a Black Swan in the workplace?  What happens if you miss out?  Are you willing to take that risk?

In 2009, I worked in Corporate HR.  I was a middle manager field director participating in the daily work grind.  The company didn’t understand me, and to be honest maybe I didn’t understand myself.   I had found my calling through blogging, technology and the use of social media at work.  The problem was that no one certainly not my boss understood.

It was fear that was driving them, and  in 2009, I was nearly fired for recruiting on LinkedIn.  My boss walked into my office reprimanding me for what they thought was my after work activities as a third party recruiter posting jobs on LinkedIn.  My termination papers were in their hand, and just before they could fire me I made my case.  Black Swan situations aren’t always the way they seem to be, and mine was no truer than that.  I was sharing jobs on LinkedIn for the company where I worked using alternative job titles to attract a different set of qualified potential employee.

How to Foster Workplace Creativity & Innovation

If a Black Swan strategy like Deloitte describes involves anticipating and managing risk what if that risk is something that needs to take place to drive innovation, change, or the business of a company or an individual like me?

Get to Know Your Staff.  

  • Talk to them.  Know their passions, interests, and spend time understanding what it is that they do.

Support Them Don’t Throw Them Under the Bus.

  •  Just because you don’t understand a way of doing something doesn’t mean it’s wrong or it’s right.  Ask questions, but don’t backstab or manipulate your employees.  I’m like an elephant.  I never forget.  I just blog about it.

Develop Vision.

  •  Businesses must change and innovate to stay competitive and as a business leader it’s your job to see that through.  Develop a vision to understand where the industry is moving and how you can leverage a competitive advantage by being first.

No One Gains a Competitive Advantage By Playing It Safe.

  •  Except for NASA and the successful failure during the Apollo 13 mission demonstrated how quick thinking, creativity and innovation led to success but also created a real team atmosphere.  Part of my job in the industry is to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them so I can train, consult and help companies and clients learn from those risks.

Turning Points in Life

Looking back, I’m thankful the skeptics were there pushing me, motivating  and helping drive me into the business owner and professional I am today, but I am also sad for the opportunity I missed to help an organization and take them to the next level.  Their lack of understanding was one of those important turning points in my life.  I channeled my emotions and anger into doing what it is I’m doing now.  Fast forward 3+ years later and doing what I do, I like to think I understand now.

I know there are amazing people working at companies trying to make a difference.  They are frustrated  and yet they still take that chance.  A chance to do something better just because it’s the way they are hard wired to be.  How are you going to tap into that creativity and expertise of that Black Swan at your workplace is up to you, but do it before the biggest risk is the opportunity you missed out on with them.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

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