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Black Swan Risks

In this 2011 paper Bob Prieto discusses the likelihood of the unexpected on large programs

10 March 2015 – An older paper by Bob Prieto, senior vice president at Fluor corporation in the United States, has been posted in the PM World Library (PMWL). “Black Swan Risks” is a paper published in the Second Editions section of the March 2015 edition of the PM World Journal. Originally published in the PM World Today eJournal, it can now be found in the PMWL.

According to the introduction, “Much has been written on Black Swan type risks, sometimes treated as the risks from Unknown Unknowns. Do Black Swans inhabit the world of program management and are they truly Unknown Unknowns?

In 17th century Europe all observable swans were white and by extension all swans were therefore assumed to be white. No non-white swan had ever been observed. In the 18th century, however, black swans were discovered in Western Australia and that discovery undermined the statistics of swans to that date. Previously, the “risk” of a Black Swan was essentially nil but upon recognition that the improbable was not the same as the impossible the possibility of Black Swans became more likely.”

What had changed that made Black Swans more probable? Simply put our perceptions were broadened. In this article we will look at large programs, what creates the possibility of Black Swans and what are some of the new risks we must pay attention to.”

To read this paper, go to Bob’s author showcase page at and click on the title. Must be a logged in library member to access after 10 April 2015.