Riding Black Swans

August 26, 2022

Company culture

“When you invest in building a culture that emphasizes and values the individual contributor, Black Swan Events don’t have to be an existential threat.”

Since Clarity Innovations started offering services in 1996, we have seen significant changes in education and technology. No single year has been without a transformational event or advancement in the field. I think it’s fair to say that the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have been some of the more challenging and, in some ways, rewarding years.

We employ a diverse team of software engineers, designers, and former educators who are all focused on helping our clients improve their products and services to meet the needs of K-12 education. In just the past two years—during a pandemic, mind you—our staff grew by 20% to keep up with demand for our services. This growth is humbling to our entire team and provides an opportunity for me to reflect on how we got here.

Clarity Innovations invests in the professional growth of its staff and encourages volunteering in our local communities. One of the ways I use some of my Clarity time is by volunteering with Arizona State University’s ShapingEDU. Most of my work with ShapingEDU focuses on increasing broadband access, digital equity, and digital belonging. Through this work, I have been fortunate to meet some amazing thought leaders in education, including Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

One of Dr. Puentedura’s recent talks for ShapingEDU was on nesting grounds for Black Swans. Black Swan Events, especially those that impact the world on a global scale, are rare. Black Swan Events cannot be predicted in advance, have a major effect on systems or life, and can be rationalized retroactively (once they happen, they are obvious). Forbes was among the first to recognize the COVID-19 pandemic as a Black Swan Event.

There are four possible outcomes for organizations from Black Swan Events:

  1. Existential risk
  2. Near-term risk
  3. Resilience 
  4. Antifragility

Existential risk means the organization did not survive the Black Swan Event (e.g., all of those favorite restaurants that are no longer in business). Near-term risk refers to the businesses that survived but are wounded, and their long-term future success isn’t guaranteed. Resilience means that the organization survived and is in a position of stability after the Black Swan, similar to its position prior to the event. Antifragility is the result of a system that increases in capability or otherwise thrives as a result of a Black Swan Event, e.g., an organization is stronger after the event than before.

I believe that Clarity Innovations exhibits a level of antifragility. We were able to achieve this by embracing the evolution of processes and policies rather than resisting change and holding on to how things were “in the Before Times.” Our pre-pandemic structure, support mechanisms, and continued dedication to supporting our team and clients helped ensure our success. I'm sharing this because I think Clarity has many systems and processes in place that could benefit K-12 education overall.

Clarity provides a collaborative and flexible approach to work. You can read what it’s like to work at Clarity here. While many organizations offer remote work opportunities today, Clarity had its first full-time remote employee start in 2005, six years before Zoom was launched! Hiring good people—wherever they may be—and creating a culture where they feel valued and respected is a core value that any organization can adopt. While some staff within a school district need to be face-to-face in schools, there are whole departments that could offer the flexibility to work from home— or from anywhere (IT, curriculum, assessment, finance are just a few possibilities). Another key strategy school districts could consider is the use of a shared messaging platform like Teams or Slack, as this makes it easier to communicate asynchronously and foster connection and collaboration over great distances.

With such a diverse team with experience that spans the gamut of education and technology, we can adapt to our clients’ needs and offer personalized solutions to some of the biggest and most innovative companies in K-12 education technology. No project is the same at Clarity, which helps keep our staff and clients happy. We thrive on creativity and innovation—values that we were able to flex during the COVID-19 pandemic to help us evolve and support our clients. While we hope never to endure another pandemic, we are excited to know that when you invest in building a culture that emphasizes and values the individual contributor, Black Swan Events don’t have to be an existential threat.