Skillsets in a Black Swan World

As a white collar professional since 2001 I, like a lot of my colleagues and friends, dutifully skilled up for a linear predictable world. “Learn X skill, do Y job. X skill will be relevant for decades” went the thinking. Most of us ensure our kids skill up similarly. For a stable predictable world. 

But now I am pivoting to thinking these skills are only useful in the spaces between two black swan events (BSEs). And that gap between two BSEs seems to be getting tighter, smaller, more narrow. It’s a VUCA world now.


This last few decades the globalized world rewarded people who were best at communicating ideas than it did people with the best ideas. Steve Jobs did not invent the smartphone, IBM did. But Jobs was a goddamn genius at selling the proposition and then placing Apple as the defacto choice. The Apple smartphone was a black swan event for a lot of industries, not just Blackberry. Blackberry was still optimizing for a expensive low bandwidth world that soon disappeared.

Had ‘cheap bandwidth’ not become a thing at the turn of the century, many of us would be in a different country doing a different thing. Most of us in 1990 never imagined that among the TOP 3 things that would change our life “Cheap bandwidth” would occupy a slot. 

Office work benefits extroverts who are great at talking. Pre Covid we were all in offices. Now post Covid, we are in the world of Remote work. Remote work benefits introverts who are great at Writing. A skill some of us lost between the day we submitted our last essay assignment in college and when our employer issued us our first Blackberry. The guy who worked to get better at talking is now likely at a disadvantage vs a guy who can communicate well in writing. 

Covid was a BSE for us (except maybe for Bill Gates who saw it coming). Most of our dads and teachers prepped us, berated us and cajoled is to prep for a world that never came about. “You will never have a calculator with you all the time, learn trignometry and facts by heart you fool! You should know when the Third Battle of Panipat was fought or else you will likely fail in life!”


Things we did not anticpate when we were skilling up in schools and colleges, learning trignometry and that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell :

  • Cheap Bandwidth
  • The Internet
  • going mainstream
  • The concept of offshoring work (delinking end result of work from work location)
  • Google
  • 9/11 and how it changed the world order
  • iphone 2007 and the revolution it birthed
  • GFC 2008
  • Covid19

Skilling up for a specific domain with likely relevant skillsets now seems a riskier proposition by the day to me. BSEs will derail most plans on that front. Maybe Scott Adams in bang on the money when he promotes STACKING TALENT vs chasing specific domain skills.

I am certain in 2030 many of us are going to look back and lament “Can’t believe I was prepping and skilling for THAT useless at work scenario and that work scenario!”

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