Will the Gray Rhino Trample You? Some Obvious Risks You Ignore

Wisdom Letter #82 | The Gray Rhino Effect

Hello and Welcome to The Wisdom Project. Your weekly dose of human-curated wisdom in a world full of algorithmic noise.

Last week we talked about highly improbable, unforeseen risk identified by the term The Black Swan.

Today, we look at another risky beast. The Highly probable, massively impactful, and yet mostly ignored risk, identified as The Gray Rhino.

So What is The Gray Rhino effect, how it impacts us, and what we can do to deal with it?

Let's find out👇

What is The Gray Rhino Effect

The Gray Rhino is a term coined by speaker and author Michele Wucker in her book of the same name.

It’s a model to better think about risk in our personal lives, in business, as well as in geopolitics.

Imagine a 2-ton rhinoceros, with a pointy horn staring at you, warning you every day, ready to charge at you anytime. Ready to crash into you and change your life forever.

And yet you ignore it.

You ignore it for weeks, then months, years and you keep ignoring it for decades.

One fine day it does crash into you and dismantles your life forever.

And you call it a black swan.

Climate Change - The Most Dangerous Gray Rhino

Yes, we are all aware of it, we are careful of our carbon emissions, we talk about recycling and waste management all the time.

There’s even a Swedish teenager skipping school to spread awareness about it.

But as a species, we are still ignoring climate change.

There are countries still haggling over the tiny details of the Paris agreement. Figuring out ways to do as little as possible to meet their climate commitments.

There are countries blatantly ignoring their commitments, and of course there are countries who are straight-up walking out of the Paris agreement.

The risks of climate change are obvious, will change life for all inhabitants of this planet, and yet we ignore it.

This is related to a concept called the tragedy of the commons — Common resources being overused by individuals for selfish interests.

Personal Gray Rhinos

Climate change is a geopolitical gray rhino that is impacted by the tragedy of the commons. There is very little an individual can do regarding it, apart from spreading awareness.

But there are a few personal gray rhinos that we nurture in our own backyards, sometimes for years on end.

The most obvious example is how we treat our body & our mind.

What we eat, how much we work out, do we even workout?

What we read, watch, listen to. How much do we stimulate our minds? How do we take care of our mental health?

There’s an old saying — Junk in Junk Out.

It stands true for our mind as well as our body.

But we are not careful about what junk enters our mind and body. And even when we see signs of physical or mental obesity, we keep ignoring them.

Currently, we are living through an obesity pandemic, and the next decade is predicted to be the decade of a mental health pandemic.

The signs are obvious, the risks are known, and yet we keep kicking the can down the road.

So What can we do about it?

The first step to solving any problem is admitting it.

We must reflect, we must ask ourselves: “What is my Gray Rhino?”

What is the one thing that will trample me in the future if I don’t deal with it today?

Next is figuring out a way to deal with it.

Sit with a friend or a loved one, talk about the problem, discuss, and find ways to solve it.

Here’s a small list of things to keep a check on.

Common Gray Rhinos You may be Ignoring:

  1. Health — Do you get regular health checkups, are any of your health parameters worsening over time?

  2. Wealth — Do you have decent emergency funds, do you have insurance? Do you save and invest regularly?

  3. Wisdom — Are you able to think through problems easily? Do you feel overwhelmed quickly with any challenging situation? Are you able to stay calm even in the most high-intensity moments of your life?

Signing off for the week, here’s something to ponder over—

“What do you do when you see a big scary problem coming at you? Especially when its solution is entirely in your control?

Do you run away from it, or worse, ignore it? or do you deal with it right now in the present?

The Gray rhino teaches us a very fundamental lesson in life👇

Hard Choices = Easy Life

Easy Choices = Hard Life”

Thank You for Reading🙏

Of course, you will know plenty of people who keep ignoring gray rhinos and still do pretty well for themselves. They ignore grave risks, and live to tell the tale.

We have all heard stories of people smoking all their lives and still living beyond the age of 100.

Well, we call them survivors. And if you are learning to live your life only through survivors, you are falling for a cognitive bias called Survivorship Bias.

Next week, we return to our series “Mind Your Brain”, and discuss the curious case of Survivorship Bias.


📺 Watch Michele Wucker’s Ted Talk on The Gray Rhino Effect

🔎 A really fun exercise to do is to Google “top 10 risks of the decade” and read through the search results. Almost all “risk experts” around the world have the same list of probable risks, and have had a similar list for a long time. Yet it seems like we haven’t done anything about it.

🧾GE has this list of 10 risks of the decade from 2014, that looks exactly like something it could write in 2021 as well. Every risk on that list is still relevant today.

Clearly Nothing much as changed in 7 years, we are indeed rearing Gray Rhinos in our backyards.

What are you reading?

Last week we started a section on reader recommendations. It’s a really fun exercise for us to go through.

Here are a couple of book reccos from what we received👇

  1. Games People Play — Eric Berne

  2. How to sell your way through life — Napolean Hill

Love these recommendations, keep them coming.

Is there any book, blog, podcast, video that you consumed that you think can benefit other readers of The Wisdom Project, just hit reply and let us know🤗

So What are you reading?


Last year we wrote and curated a couple of posts around risk and uncertainty and the black swan & gray rhino effects:

Of Black Swans and Grey Rhinos | Wisdom Letter #28

Swans, Rhinos & The Elephant in the Room | Wisdom Letter #47

Important Note

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ICYMI 👉 Are You a Sucker for the Unexpected? | Wisdom Letter #81

This Week Last Year 👉 Learning For Life | The One about Education | Wisdom Letter #30

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This was Wisdom Letter #82. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 81 letters, check out our entire archive.


Aditi & Ayush