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2'18 Day 14: The Gray Rhino

January 15, 2018



I started reading Michele Wucker's The Gray Rhino. When I saw the book my first thought was, "hmm, I read a book called The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I wonder if there is any relation." I was surprised to find that, indeed, The Gray Rhino is a complementary text written specifically as a counterpart to Taleb's work.


Rather than attack Taleb, Wucker brings the other side of the story under a magnifying glass. While a Black Swan is an event that is highly improbable, highly unpredictable, and one which has a high impact on our society (Taleb references World War 1 and the Internet, for starters), a Gray Rhino is an event which is both probable and predictable and yet actively ignored by society until it is too late.


Wucker does not attack Taleb's work, but she does point out that Taleb's book appeared just before the subprime mortgage collapse of 2007-2008. The timing of the book caused governments and corporations to fixate on Black Swans and ironically pour resources into restructuring to brace for the unpredictable, all the while abandoning focus on clear and present dangers. The logic behind such desertion is as follows: because the problem and its parameters are known (for the most part), the problem can be left alone until it gets a little worse because we assume it won't get so bad that we can't fix it. Wucker uses the example of someone putting off an oil change just long enough that it can still be fixed before the engine seizes and dies.


There's lots more going on, but I want to get deeper into the book before I form any larger conclusions.

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