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Black swans to grey swans: revealing the uncertainty

A.J. Masys (Institute of Life Long Learning, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 22 June 2012




The emergence of “black swans” represents (according to Taleb) “[…] our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises”. The purpose of this paper is to study accidents and disasters and the inherent misunderstanding and absence of awareness associated with the existence of black swans and their complex aetiology. Red teaming and scenario planning provide a methodology to explore the uncertainties and challenge of the mental models associated with accident and disaster aetiology.


The argument draws upon the successful application of red teaming and scenario planning in various domains noted in the literature and lessons learned from the failure to recognize black swans. An analysis of the literature illustrates how the salient characteristics of red teaming and scenario planning can be applied to the illumination of black swans to support risk, crisis and disaster management.


Recognizing the uncertainty resident within the safety and security problem space opens up the notion that more than one future is potentially open. It is argued that the inherent properties of red teaming, within the context of scenario planning, facilitates an effective approach to bring risk, crisis and disaster planners/managers together to discuss their concerns and explore the factors creating uncertainty and the emergence of black swans.


The value of red teaming (scenario planning) to challenge linear thinking and recognize the inherent uncertainty in the space of possibilities is well supported. Applied to the risk, crisis and disaster management domain, red teaming and scenario planning can provide insights into the emergence of black swans and thereby shape mitigation strategies.



Masys, A.J. (2012), "Black swans to grey swans: revealing the uncertainty", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 320-335.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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