Posts Tagged transition
Last week I learnt a new piece of jargon. A ‘fat-tail event’ is something that you thought was virtually impossible, but it happened anyway. In theory, it could be very good or very bad, but it usually refers to something extremely unpleasant, such as a financial crisis.
The phrase comes from statistics. Many randomly occurring events (such as the height of the person you sit next to on the bus) are assumed to follow what is called a Normal Distribution (the classic ‘bell-shaped curve’). So you are more likely to sit next to someone around average height and less likely to sit next to someone really short or really tall. With the Normal Distribution the probability of something really unusual happening tails off really rapidly the further away you get from the average — it has a thin tail.
However, some things in the real world don’t follow the Normal Distribution curve. Instead of a thin tail, they have a fat tail. This means that certain extreme possibilities are more likely than you might think.
I was quite pleased to be able to use my newly discovered jargon in a session on negotiation skills I was running last week. I was talking about the usefulness of assessing any negotiated deal by imagining how it would look if subsequent events turned out a lot better or a lot worse than you were expecting (e.g. your fixed-rate mortgage doesn’t look so good if the Bank of England cuts rates to zero).
A related term for unexpected events is a Black Swan, coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the unexpected event which you could not have predicted based on your previous experience and derives from the fact that, until they were discovered in the 17th century, most Europeans thought that black swans could not exist.
For several years now I have been expecting something to happen. I’ve been looking out for an unexpected attraction to leather trousers and a hitherto unexpressed fascination with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
As each birthday passes and I discover I still haven’t given up all of my worldly possessions and trekked off to the Himalayas to ‘find myself’, I increasingly wonder what’s wrong with me.
A while ago I came across a fascinating article entitled ‘Graduates’ Construction Systems and Career Development’ by Valerie Fournier (Human Relations 50(4) 1997). The research used a technique from Personal Construct Psychology called the Repertory Grid to elicit the constructs (mental frameworks) through which graduates viewed themselves in the world of work. Fournier examined the graduates as they started their careers, after six months and then after four years.
She then compared the graduates whose careers had been successful with those who were less successful. She used objective measures of success (i.e. promotions) and subjective measures (i.e. reported career satisfaction).
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