Positive Black Swan Events And Us: The Slumdog Millionaire Example

When Vikas Swarup wrote his novel titled – Q & A; little did he know that he was setting himself up for history. The book went on to win the Boeke prize but the accolades was just starting. The book was later adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy and titled Slumdog Millionaire. The film became the most successful big screen entrant at the Academy awards of 2009 winning 8 out of the 10 nominations it received including best picture which is the crowning glory of any film at the awards.

I am going to explain the link between the film and its being a black swan phenomenon. Let me first explain the term black swan for those who haven’t read Nassim Nicholas Taleeb’s book. The Black swan represents those events in life either negative or positive that are not explainable by man’s generally flawed logic and his tendency to always want to rationalize things. Hence, the 9-11 bombing is a black swan event and so is the entrance of the Internet into our lives. Normally, swans are generally known to be white in color which led many to believe that is the only color possible for these birds; but discovering black swans will always be unsettling for those who have stereotyped mindsets.

Vikas is Indian by birth. When he was asked if he thought that Q&A was ever going to be this great and accepted by people of all nations including the Western world, his answer was straight to the point. NO. It is not his fault to think that a book that chronicled the life of a slum boy in India would become so popular all over the World. If you also asked the producers of the film – British based Celador films if this is going to be their big hit and the film that would get them 8 Oscars; I guess their answer will be NO and they did confirm that when the awards started rolling in right from the Golden Globe awards.

There are many people whose lives have changed due to this event which started in the mind of Vikas. A relatively unknown songwriter and performer – A.R Rahaman won two Oscars on the night which was a crowning glory for his previous golden globe awards. Director Danny Boyle initially turned down the request to direct Slumdog Millionaire but rescinded on his decision when he learned that the screenplay was done by Simon Beaufoy – his initial stance was being skeptical about a film based on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. What a mistake that would have been on his part. Having talked about the film and those who have written their names in the sands of time. I now move to the main reason of linking this great event to our day to day life.

Most times, negative black swan events are beyond comprehension and we do not really have ways of preventing them except to do things in the right way and hope no one gets to spoil the efforts. For example, natural disasters hit us when we least expect but if governments and citizens give some real thoughts to the effect of global warming on our Universe, things might be averted to a certain extent. But to some extents, we have better control on positive black swan events. As much as we can not also predict the next big film or the next big dotcom company or idea; we have the choice to start something even when the end of it cannot be predicted.

The Internet was just a defense project initiated by the United States to improve war time communication. Now, we wonder how we lived before the advent of the information super highway. As much as it is an unexpected success but we know that a group of people decided to start it though this level of success was not envisaged. Same goes for the Google guys whose idea of simplifying search for the whole world led to one of the greatest dotcom companies in the world.

My point is simple – one cannot guarantee the level of success of any idea or enterprise but the most important thing I have seen in the lives of the men and women whose inventions, books, song compositions, etc are shaping our lives today is the fact that they started something! Most people bury their dreams even before waking up from sleep. I can imagine what would have happened if penicillin was not invented. Also imagine the succor that will come to the whole world when the cure for HIV/AIDs is discovered – at least a Nigerian has finally provided cure for Diabetes and we are so proud of him.

The world is waiting for that next big book, screenplay, movie and invention. The only reason we survive in this world is that when life throws us negative events, we get pacified by the positive events that follow. Africa is still left far behind when it comes to big positive black swans happening around us. Is it as a result of the stifling environment we live in? Or have we just decided to believe that not much can come from us? I believe that we have what it takes to make things happen if only we decide to contribute to the betterment of the human race.

A few months ago, majority would have argued that no film could win the best picture at the Oscar if it was not based on a Western Story or with the so called grade A Hollywood actors. But a film shot in India and starring no known actor has made history. As usual, I will advise we all do some soul searching and decide to make an impact on our society and the World at large. I see a lot of new Vikas and dotcom entrepreneur coming up to bring positive solutions to problems facing the World. Why not start composing that song, write that book, brainstorm on that idea and then see as they are given life and expression. Once again, I say – start something today.

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