A Black Swan making the world green…

Black SwanNo, I am not color-blind.

Yes, the headline is still logically correct.

I’ll explain.

“Green” in this context is used as a synonym for “more energy-efficient” or “less CO2-consuming”, whatever you prefer.  A “Black Swan” here is not the bird in the image, but the phenomenon of a highly improbable, totally unexpected event with a huge impact on an  existing market or industry. Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term in his book  “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”.

So, why is this important?

While the financial industry had its “Black Swan” in 2008 with the crash of Lehman Brothers, by then one of the most important banks in the world, with all its negative consequences on the world, we just witnessed another “Black Swan” in a different industry and this time, it is actually good that it appeared.

In the storage industry, that is the IT hardware manufacturers producing all the hard disk drives ending up in our computers, an unwritten rule was that prices for these disks fell continuously due to increased demand. As the world saves more and more data, companies in this industry could still make profit, despite falling prices and low margins. Falling prices required more and more economies of scale to remain profitable. Over time, this resulted in high barriers of entry for potential new companies and more and more concentration within the industry itself. This led to a de facto oligopoly where the remaining players in this industry felt comfortable – too comfortable in fact to innovate which is why we still use basically the same disk  technology from 30 years ago, just with more and more capacity.

Now, a “black swan”, a highly improbable event with a major impact, has occurred to this industry, in form of a severe flooding in Thailand, where the majority of disks are produced. The result is a externally-driven shortage of supply for hard disk drives and a consequent extraordinary price increase for the same. The “unwritten rule” completely flipped and the oligopoly’s old-fashioned, non-innovating companies find themselves suddenly out of their comfort zone. On a sidenote, the managers of these companies probably collected a lot of bonuses over the years, just by sticking to the “unwritten rule” of falling prices for hard disks while demand increases and are now completely “surprised”. Well, that is a black swan.

But this black swan, as uncomfortable as it is for the industry itself, is great for the world and offers a huge opportunity –  that is the big difference to the Lehman Brothers’ black swan and its extremely negative impact. Here, a non-innovating industry can be forced to innovate again through this external shock and produce better, more energy-efficient and maybe revolutionary products. At the same time, the other side, the consumers of hard disks or better disk space, can, in sight of rising prices, be forced to become more aware of how much and what to consume and also contribute to more efficient use of data by eliminating waste.

A “greener” world after a black swan arrived. I really like that idea.


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