Was the pandemic a grey rhino or a black swan? Best-selling author, Michele Wucker opined that it was more predictable than people realise.
The pandemic should encourage policymakers to pay more attention to other known but poorly managed risks. These include rising inequality, climate change and financial imbalances such as dangerous corporate-debt levels and asset bubbles. Picture each of these obvious dangers as a two-tonne grey rhinoceros with its horn pointed our way and its massive weight bearing down on us: they are very visible and their impact can be foreseen. The interactions among these rhinos heighten the danger. You could appropriately call them a crash—the zoological term for a group—of grey rhinos.
Politicians, pundits and investors often invoke the metaphor of the “black swan” to describe highly improbable, even unimaginable events. In particular, the global financial crisis of 2007-09 is often described as a black-swan event, despite warnings about derivatives and a subprime housing-market bubble. By definition, black swans cannot be predicted, so nothing can be done to prepare for them. This kind of thinking makes things worse by encouraging fatalism, rejecting accountability and giving the nod to short-termism and wilful ignorance, which in turn generate volatility and tail risk. To face the looming risks of 2021, we must replace black-swan fatalism with grey-rhino constructive pragmatism.
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Michele Wucker is an award-wining global thought leader who draws on three decades of experience in media and non-profit management and policy development.
Michele is the author of several books, the third of which is the highly praised “THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore”, which grew out of a presentation at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland in which she coined the term “gray rhino” for highly probable, high impact crisis events.
Michele founded Gray Rhino & Company in 2015 to help leaders and organizations to identify and strategize responses to gray rhino risks that are neglected despite -and all too often because of- their size.
Michele has been recognized as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and a Guggenheim Fellow, among other honors. Her previous leadership positions include Vice President for Studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; President of the World Policy Institute, which she re-launched in 2007 in a dramatic turnaround; and Latin America Bureau Chief at International Financing Review. She also has taught master’s students at the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, of which she is an alumna. An engaging keynote speaker, moderator, panelist, and facilitator, she has delivered presentations in 16 countries on five continents. She lives in Chicago.
Michele’s speaking topics include:
- Gray Rhino-Proofing Your Future: A New Way to Think about Risk and Response
- Gray Rhinos, not Black Swans: A New Way to Think about Risk and Response
- Demographic Gray Rhinos: Robots Meet Aging and Migration
- Beyond Kicking the Can: How to Stop Muddling and Innovate