Leadership in the crucible of crisis.

SPOTTING THE “BLACK SWAN”

Black swan events are unforeseen or unpredictable crises that often have extreme consequences. The outbreak of COVID-19 and its westward march across the globe has introduced a new kind
of uncertainty:

  • Recessions since World War II have usually been caused by either economic policy mistakes, oil shocks, or financial bubbles. The rapid economic deterioration of economies and stock markets amid the COVID-19 threat represents a new category: a global societal shock. We surveyed more than 4,200 US executives on February 26, 2020, asking them which of the three typical categories— or a fourth “something else” category—would trigger the next economic downturn, and 35 percent presciently selected “something else.”
  • Whereas the 2008 global financial crisis was stoked by the shutoff of the supply of capital, disruptions on both the supply side and the demand side are the cause this time around. In China, for example, mass shutdowns of factories evaporated the supply of products such as auto parts, electronic components and apparel. Meanwhile, the mass quarantining of the population cut off consumption, most acutely in the travel, hospitality, restaurant, and retail sectors.
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