I’d been reading a fascinating book written by a former FBI top hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It. In it, he talks about the importance of discovering the “black swans” in a negotiation. It’s a term that goes back to seventeenth-century London when impossible things were referred to as black swans because, until 1697, no one had ever seen a swan that was anything but white. In negotiations, black swans are the things you don’t know that you don’t know. Voss goes on to say, “Black Swans are events or pieces of knowledge that sit outside our regular expectations and therefore cannot be predicted.” https://www.goodreads.com/
On Friday, I attended a virtual learning session on COVID-19 hosted by the Institute for Health Improvement (IHI). One of the presenters was a noted epidemiologist who talked about the need for physicians, scientists, and researchers to maintain what he called, “cultural humility” during this pandemic. The phrase relates to not discounting any potential learning or observation that might be useful during this crisis simply because of its source, such as a little known institution or Third World country. And suddenly, I thought these could be black swans, the knowledge that we don’t know we don’t know. We see a similar phenomenon in leaders of organizations who don’t believe there is any value in benchmarking against other organizations outside of their own industry or sector. They lack “organizational humility” to learn from other organizations in the pursuit of excellence.There’s a related concept in the Baldrige Excellence Framework, the potential “blind spots” that are referenced under 2.1a(3), Strategy Considerations. This has never had as much significance as it does now. What are the “blind spots” that have emerged for us in terms of political, economic, social, and technological considerations? How should they inform our future strategic plans?
We keep hearing people wonder when life will return to normal, but the real questions ought to be, “What will the new normal be?” and “How do we plan for an unforeseen future in the midst of dealing with the current crisis?” We have confidence that the systems perspective of the Baldrige Excellence Framework is still the best model for ensuring that all the critical aspects of an organization are evaluated and improved in concert with one another and for reinforcing the mission, vision, values, and culture.