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Book Review: Stay Alert, Act In Time

The book it seems is also a result of experiences gained from Wucker’s company Gray Rhino & Company, which she established in 2015 to help leaders and companies to identify and strategise their responses to risks

Michele Wucker is a recognised policy analyst specialising in the world economy and crisis anticipation. Wucker’s previous works Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong when Our Prosperity Depends on Getting it Right and Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle for Hispaniola, established her as an expert on the dynamics impacting the global economy.

In The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore, Wucker takes a step back from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan phenomenon and educates her readers to think about and recognise those events that are taking place in plain view, foretelling of the high-impact threat heading toward us or, as Wucker labels these events, the charging gray rhino. For instance, according to Wucker, Hurricane Katrina, digital technology replacing the print world, the fall of the Soviet Union are all gray rhinos — clues that were there all along, but people chose not to react at the right time.

A colourful analogy that leaves no doubt as to the consequence if one does not get out of the way. Throughout this reading are numerous examples of charging gray rhinos, like the 2008 financial crisis that displayed red flags financial leaders choose to ignore.

The author’s ability to clearly connect the events leading to these upcoming threats and explain the biases that were in place to ignore them bring a fresh perspective to why so many crises are not addressed at all or until such a point that any action taken will have minimum positive impact.

The book it seems is also a result of experiences gained from Wucker’s company Gray Rhino & Company, which she established in 2015 to help leaders and companies to identify and strategise their responses to risks.

A common theme throughout the book is the psychological steps people go through to deny or wish away what is heading straight at us and when we finally decide to act it is out of panic.

As a US Naval Officer, I saw this first hand on the bridge of ships as officers would delay making a course correction in an obvious close crossing situation with another ship. Officers would have the data at hand from 2-3 different radar sources as well as visually from lookouts, but hesitated to make the call to the Captain to recommend a course change. The fear of looking foolish, making a wrong recommendation, not having the correct information would all play on the officer’s better judgement to take action. This invariably would end up with the officer looking reckless and the Captain coming to the bridge and making the needed course changes in a more complex and urgent situation.

This example although not as complicated as the gray rhino scenarios, illustrates the influence of our psychological bias to not want to deal with unpleasant or uncomfortable situations.

The Gray Rhino is a must read for the C-Level suite, start-ups and anyone that has been trampled by a gray rhino.


This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated 'Dec. 26, 2016' with cover story titled '35 Years Anniversary Special'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.



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