DesignMap

Navigating In A Black Swan World

by DesignMap
5 min read

Amidst all of the terrifying news about COVID-19, the news about the global economic reaction is almost as unnerving.

While we—all of humanity—hope and work toward containment and eradication of the virus over the next few months, the current market machinations look increasingly like they will suffer a longer term downturn at all levels: from declined consumer-demand, financially, and operationally. Although we are currently experiencing a Black Swan event, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb outlined in his book by the name in 2007, we at DesignMap are keen to lean into the practice of Taleb’s theories for how to best react to these wholly unpredictable scenarios.

His concepts of “robustification” and “antifragility” are fully aligned with how we work with our client partners: preparing product offerings and companies so the internal alignment can be responsive and nimble to the outside world — particularly the dynamic needs of users / customers — while also keeping an eye toward the long-term vision. We likewise believe that this current economic and financial environment is an opportunity to “get stronger” in the long-run… for those organizations up for the challenge.

How to know if your company is durable enough

With some industries seeking government assistance already, it seems impossible to predict which industries, let alone individual businesses, will suffer the most...and which might even end up thriving. There are several indicators that your business has some key components of durability in the face of uncertainty, however. These are the components of your organization that can be built on:

  • The biggest current concern is access to capital in the face of volatile stock prices and nearly disappearing demand for many sectors. While everyone is rushing to find that, it is critical to know how your department’s P&L contributes to the company’s overall dynamic balance sheet. Get ahold of this information asap.
  • Having cross-functional product teams will enable you to get input from the outside while focusing on internal alignment.
  • Product plans that are open to change. Although we are cautious about SCRUM-everything operations, having a mix of strategic planning with organizational flexibility to reprioritize is key.
  • Initiatives to drop departmental silos are a great sign that the organization is ready to weather these conditions as one collective organization.

Getting more robust and antifragile

First, stay focused on work.
Many of us are inclined to sit helplessly aghast reading the news of all the terrors knocking at our doors. We suggest indulging in news reading 1-2 times per day. Then getting busy. It feels good to make progress, and to continue to connect with your colleagues in the face of uncertainty. We’re social beings who like to be productive. Let’s all lean into that human strength. We’ll feel better individually, and we’ll benefit collectively.

Secondly, take stock.
Find out immediately what your users need in this moment. What's still the same? What's suddenly different? Find out what those differences are (we have an article on making the best of your conversations with users), and focus a team on delivering to them what they require to function well. Then deliver those as quickly as possible without getting tripped up on any unnecessarily long process hurdles.

Lastly, keep a steady eye on the horizon.
Tempting though it may be to drastically shorten focus on the immediate future of the business in an attempt to triage, the over-correction will drastically dampen your company’s ability to recover on the backside of the right-now crisis. There is no denying that it is challenging (and exhausting!) to play both the short-term and long-term game simultaneously, but this practice is what will make your product the most robust and antifragile it can be. In practice this looks like:

  • Invite a broader team of people to align on what continuous innovation looks like during this uncertain period. This means at times resisting the urge to hunker down with just your immediate team
  • Scenario plan: outline what factors could be at play going forward and create stories of these multiplied futures
  • Facilitate vision-setting for what the product should still deliver
  • Consider multiple time horizons: what needs to still happen to serve the market in 12 months, 18 months, two years

As always, we're here to help

DesignMap is in the fortunate position to be of help to companies during this challenging time. We are working overtime with our current clients to build these nimble-yet-steady capabilities, and we are here if you would also like that partnership on anything from coaching on the above topics up through Strategic UX efforts to articulate the short- and long-term product opportunities. DesignMap is always available. It is our most sincere hope that as many companies as possible — small and large — are able to weather these choppy waters.

-- Nate, Greg, Chuck and Audrey


If you’re also in a position to help the most vulnerable in our communities, there are a couple of organizations we’re supporting that could use your engagement:

Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s new CDP COVID-19 Response Fund

Feeding America

Please also continue to financially support the organizations you normally would otherwise, as many non-profits are already being hit hard by cancelled fundraising events and volunteerism.

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