Five Questions to Keep You from Getting Trampled

If you're reading this, you already know that a gray rhino is a highly obvious challenge: the thing that’s right in front of you that you’d rather not see or deal with. While we’ve all heard stories about seemingly sudden disasters, the truth is that we’re far more vulnerable to obvious, highly probable issues that we take for granted. That’s why decision makers who regularly assess their gray rhino risks are the ones likely to come out ahead of the game instead of being trampled by dangers that often are preventable.

Here are five questions to help you to assess your gray rhino readiness:

  1. What are the top three gray rhinos facing you or your organization?

Just recognizing how likely it is that you are missing the dangers right in front of you puts you ahead of the game. To avoid unpleasant “surprises” that shouldn’t be surprises at all, do a gray rhino reality check regularly. Make an extra effort to recognize and act on the most obvious challenges that aren’t getting the attention they need, whether it’s because the problem is seemingly mundane or because it feels overwhelming. Once you’ve identified your top gray rhinos, take stock and prioritize them. To avoid unpleasant “surprises” that shouldn’t be surprises at all, perform this reality check regularly.

  1. Are you (or your organization's leadership) denying or dealing?

Take another few minutes (or more!) to think about how your or your organization are doing in dealing with each of the gray rhinos you identified in the last question. Are you or your organization’s leadership paying attention to obvious challenges, or taking them for granted? Have you recognized your top threats, identified solutions and acted on them? 

  1. How good is your (or your company’s) rhino detection and response system?

There’s a learning curve in spotting gray rhinos, but there also are systems you can put in place to make it more likely that you’ll see one in time to keep from getting trampled. The first is a regular reality check, like the one in these questions. The second is a designated gray rhino spotter. In your personal life, this might be the best friend who’s not afraid to say it like it is. At an organization, it could be a formal position like a chief risk officer, or it could be a more informal designation. The third is a way to translate warning signals into action, often an automatic trigger that requires a specific response if, say, your bank balance goes below a certain level or if an employee reports a safety violation. Finally, a system for measuring your progress in dealing with gray rhinos can help to keep you on track to avoid getting trampled.

  1. What opportunities do your Gray Rhinos create?

While gray rhinos can be destructive, channeling their power can create new opportunities. Can you build a solution that will help others to solve a looming problem? If a technology is becoming obsolete, will you let the old one go and open space for a better one?

  1. What actions have you taken to respond?

What specific actions have you taken to respond to the obvious danger in front of you? Sometimes you don’t have much power other than to alert people who do have power. But you may find you have more ability to change things than you thought. Wrangling a gray rhino doesn’t simply mean getting out of the way. Ideally, it involves preventing a catastrophe from happening. And sometimes, it means letting the trampling happen and taking a new path entirely.


The Gray Rhinos of 2016
Seeking Alpha, August 11, 2016
Every year, analysts list top risks for investors and policy makers. Combined and filtered, they make a pretty good Gray Rhino map. How have the year's risks changed after the Brexit vote and US presidential campaign developments? 

From Black Swans to Gray Rhinos
A LinkedIn Editor's Pick, September 2, 2016
Too many people take for granted that we cannot react in time to change the course of the disasters even when they are right in front of us. It’s well past time to challenge this assumption.

Turning Breakfast Waste into Food for Commerce
strategy+business, September 13, 2016
My first article for strategy+business, inspired by one of the key questions in THE GRAY RHINO: How do you turn a challenge into an opportunity?

Hot Off the Presses
These new books are worth checking out:
Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul by Andrew Schulman
Inclusive Talent Management: How Business Can Thrive in an Age of Diversity by Stephen Frost and Danny Kalman (September 6)

Design a Better Business: New Skills, Tolls and Mindset for Strategy and Innovation by Lisa Solomon (September 16)
The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership by Danielle Harlan (September 30th)

Join the Readers Legacy Community 
Readers Legacy is is a new site for authors and readers where you can earn "litcoin" credits toward free books for participating actively. It's an interesting model, sort of like amazon meets facebook meets bitcoin, where people are much more engaged than on goodreads. Just signing up, setting up your profile and library and starting to follow authors and readers is enough to get you your first free book. I'd love for you to pop over to become a fan of my author page.

BCI World Summit

Novotel London West
London, November 8-9
Order your copy of THE GRAY RHINO. For bulk purchases please contact Karlyn Hixson at St Martin's Press.
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