Thursday, October 8, 2009

Falling Coconuts and Management

This might seem like splitting hair, but then I could not pass an opportunity to highlight native intelligence over management knowledge.

As per this article called, The Illusion of Control: Dancing With Chance, based on a book with similar name, the authors discuss subway and coconut to illustrate the difference between the predictable and the unpredictable:

"The authors pinpoint two kinds of risks: subways and coconuts. You can do research and be relatively sure that the subway will be predictable most of the time. On the other hand, you know that coconuts fall from trees, but you can’t predict when they will fall or where they will land. So, you can plan for the subways, but it is difficult to plan for the coconuts."

I have no fight with the substance of the book - of course, everything is not predictable; wisdom is in knowing what is controllable and what is not. But perhaps we can find a solution in how some Bangaloreans manage falling coconuts.

Many houses in Bangalore have coconut trees. And a falling coconut can cause severe damage, especially if it falls on your head or on your car (though I have been told by some of my friends that a coconut never falls on a human head; but that is a different story). And the authors are right. You cannot predict when they would fall. So, what could be the solution? A basket. Yes! A basket. I have seen a basket made of bamboo fitted around the trunk of the coconut tree - near the top. So, it doesn't matter when the coconut falls. It always falls in the basket. Cool!

So, you can plan for the coconut, after all. Basically, if we know the risks a solution can be found. It is the totally unknown that we need to be careful of. We also need to be careful of the Black Swans - incidents of extreme low probability of occurrence but with very high impact.

Coconut falling is a poor example. We know that it falls. We need to look out for things we do not even see in our horizon.

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