Blog: ​COVID-19 Is No Black Swan — It’s in Technicolor

In his blog, IIA President and CEO Richard Chambers, CIA, QIAL, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA, shares his personal reflections and insights on the internal audit profession. Here’s an excerpt from his latest post:

At first glance, the coronavirus pandemic threatening populations around world appears to fit the textbook definition of a “black swan” event. But looks can be deceiving.

The term black swan describes an event that can’t be foreseen but can have serious consequences. Europeans couldn’t imagine an actual black swan until they first arrived in Australia and New Zealand, where black swans are quite common. The term has been used with increasing regularity over the years — sometimes appropriately and sometimes not. Some are referring to this year’s coronavirus outbreak, and the COVID-19 disease it spawned, as a black swan. However, pandemics are hardly unforeseeable or unimaginable. Human history is replete with pandemics even more devastating than COVID-19. In recent years, both former U.S. President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke in predictive terms about the threat of a pandemic.

So, while COVID-19 may not be a true black swan, its consequences are much greater than one could have imagined from a pandemic in the 21st century. I, for one, could not have foreseen how a single event could entangle itself into so many facets of business and life, and could have such a profound effect on the world’s population of 8 billion people. As a CEO, if you had told me a year ago we would have a pandemic in 2020, I would have anticipated a disruption similar to other global catastrophes, such as the 9/11 attacks or the Great Recession of 2007–2009. This, clearly, has eclipsed those events  by orders of magnitude.

Read the full blog post from IIA President and CEO Richard Chambers.